BidWeek, Reporting From Toronto, Canada – In Lausanne, Switzerland Friday the International Olympic Committee (IOC) might – and probably will – put the gears in motion to change the 2024 Olympic bid race instead into an allocation. After months of rumour and speculation – including key sound bites from IOC President Thomas Bach about “too many losers” resulting from failed Olympic bids in the past, it’s difficult to imagine a panel of four IOC Vice Presidents recommending anything other than a joint-awarding of the Games.
The remaining two cities of five original candidates are clearly capable of hosting the Games, but the fact that both Los Angeles and Paris remain after campaigns from Hamburg, Rome and Budapest imploded along the way make the double-award plan – sending the Games to both cities for 2024 and 2028 – a logical conclusion.
All that will remain is to determine which city gets to the front of the line, to host in 2024 while the other city waits until 2028. A recent concessionary tone coming from the LA 2024 campaign paints a Paris first, LA second picture – but nothing is yet certain.
With recent challenges attracting, retaining and then electing good bids to host the Games, the IOC needs an unprecedented decision to get back on track. Struggles organizing the Sochi 2014, Rio 2016 and now the Tokyo 2020 Games – as well as the loss of seven of the last 11 bid cities mid-campaign due to cost and risk fears – mean that decision is needed now.
Friday we could get an answer to ‘what now’? But will we get an answer to ‘what next’?
The double-awarding of the Games puts a bow around the 2024 campaign and eliminates the need for a 2028 campaign, buying the IOC four additional years to organize feasible Games and demonstrate to future potential host cities that the system still works.
But then what? Will there be more LA’s, more Paris’, more cities that the IOC can trust with its franchise? And what can the IOC do to prevent a future cost over-run or wasted legacy from triggering another downward spiral.
Planning for an Olympic Games starts at least nine years ahead of time, when the IOC has typically accepted applications for the event. For 2032, the next post double-award Games, the process would begin in 2023. If IOC President Thomas Bach is re-elected for a second term he will remain in office until term limits force the election of a new President in 2025. That means it will likely be Bach who needs to manage the creation of a new process to elect Summer Games hosts.
Actually, planning that process needs to begin now.
It should start with the bid to host the 2026 Olympic Winter Games, a process that is already well-underway at the domestic level. The bid reform panel set to present to IOC Executives Friday are charged with looking at this process as well.
Sion is so far the only officially declared candidate for 2026, having been nominated by the Swiss National Olympic Committee through a domestic vetting process. But the bid must still maneuver through a referendum next year in a nation that is not very Olympic-referendum friendly.
Calgary, host of the 1988 Winter Games, is the only other city that is well into the process. Preliminary reports show good domestic support and high interest in the Games and its now up to the city to decide whether it wants to move forward. The decision from the Canadian city is expected in July – and plans made by IOC Executives this week could play a role.
Innsbruck, already a two-time Winter Games host city, received crucial government support Thursday making the Austrian City a legitimate contender.
Other interested cities including former Olympic hosts Lillehammer and Sapporo have been investigating possible bids as well as Erzurum in Turkey and 2022 runner-up Almaty, Kazakhstan – but these are still speculative at best.
Will the IOC come up with a revised bid plan to carefully conduct the fragile process of electing a winning 2026 bid, even after four of six 2022 bidders chose to exit the race early? Or could Calgary and Sion be the Los Angeles and Paris of the Winter Games? These are important decisions the IOC is now faced with.
But let’s take another look at what’s next for the Summer Games.
Many have surmised that the IOC will drop the current bid system altogether and instead take a proactive approach by engaging only cities that make sense as hosts for the Olympic Games and the Movement. The IOC would take into account geographical areas that would be mutually beneficial and cities that would be capable of delivering, and share the same goals of the IOC. A selection committee would finally negotiate with only one or two.
This sounds so close to how the real business world works, it’s scary. And refreshing.
But hold on while I play devil’s advocate.
Arguably, four years after a hypothetical LA 2028 Games, the most capable 2032 host would be Los Angeles again, or perhaps even Paris after a 2024 Games if the city can find another needed residential development they can leverage for an Olympic Village. This falls into the “permanent host city” argument that has been proposed many times but ultimately rejected because the IOC believes, rightfully, that the Games belong to the world.
Are there other LA’s or Paris’ out there?
There would be very few options of cities that have several ready venues, the required accommodation, the means and the will to host the Games to fit the model the IOC are looking for, unless they are governed by an autocracy – but we’ll save that for another column. So, the IOC needs to change the model, i.e. reduce the size, the scope or change the city-footprint of the Games, in order to open the doors to other regions and soften the risks involved.
That kind of change will not come easy without disrupting the delicate politics of the International Federations and, the special appeal of the Games that make it the most popular event in the world.
Even if the IOC goes shopping for the city instead of the other way around, won’t a bid that isn’t a bid, still be a bid?
Yes, it will be.
Imagine the IOC sets its sights on the ideal Western city, rich with available venues, a youthful sport culture and a market ready to consume the Olympic product. It begins discussions outside of a typical bid process.
Plain and simple, these discussions cannot happen in a bubble, or in a silo; use any other metaphor you can think of. There will be required government approvals, public consultations, and in cases of a referendum or even a city council approval – a full-on public relations campaign. And, rest-assured, there will be a local ‘No Boston Olympics’ franchise to contend with – the Olympic bid opposition group that has made a habit of helping build resistance efforts against bids, with successes so great it has already decimated the 2024 race.
The IOC would then need to negotiate with at least two cities in case one opportunity falls through. Maybe three.
This all takes time; it costs money. It sounds like a bid to me. And it sounds like there might be losers.
Let’s discuss that – losers. Bach said the bidding process creates too many of them.
But have we forgotten what the founder of the Olympic Movement once said about winning and losing? It’s this:
The important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win, but to take part; the important thing in Life is not triumph, but the struggle; the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well. – Pierre de Coubertin
In the 100 meter final there are losers; in the Gold Medal Ice Hockey Final there is a loser. I feel I don’t need to emphasize this further.
But in bidding, just like in sport, there remains value in competing only to lose to the eventual winner.
To support their efforts bids run valuable promotional campaigns for their cities that receive international exposure due to the process. They also engage with the local public, promote sport and inspire youth to get involved – just from bidding. Most importantly, bids engage with those involved in city planning and are inspired to think about the future of the city in a way they never have before.
Effective urban development has been inspired in some cities after planning for, but losing, Olympic bids.
And more, cities that have bid and lost have leveraged the experience to bid again – and win. PyeongChang will host the Winter Games in 2018 only because it bid for both the 2010 and 2014 Games.
All of this time, attention and co-branding benefits the IOC as well. Is it in their interest to lose it?
What of cities that had considered 2024 bids, but after discussions with the IOC decided to instead ‘defer’ the opportunity until 2028? Won’t Doha, Baku and Toronto – participants in the IOC’s 2024 invitation phase – end up as losers?
And Istanbul and Madrid, the two cities that lost the 2020 Games and have invested in five and three recent bids respectively, but are now shut out. Aren’t they losers too?
I’ve used many question marks in this piece and it’s true, I don’t have the answers. But Bach needs to find them fast. A double-awarding will calm things for a short while – but not for long.
There are many hurdles in his way, the most significant being the body of about 95 IOC members who previously approved his Agenda 2020 bid reforms that now, finally, can be sent to the shredder. These members will not want to lose their most cherished privilege, casting a ballot in host city elections.
Long-time IOC member Dick Pound told insidethegames Thursday “clearly, if the [dual-award] decision is made, it will remove one of the few remaining powers of the IOC members.
“I think some will be annoyed about this, I certainly am.”
Bach will be up for re-election as IOC President in 2021.
If the IOC moves forward with the double-award plan but without a broader long-term road map leading to the successful selection of host cities, maybe Bach will be the final loser.
Follow Robert Livingstone on Twitter @enotsgnivil