GamesBids’ Top Ten: Olympic Bid Stories Of 2019 presents the twelfth annual Top Ten list of Olympic Bid Stories for 2019. These stories impacted the course of Olympic host city bids, or the Olympic bid process, and formed interesting plot lines and story arcs for the year.  For the first time, we are presenting it in a single, easy-to-read format – click on the links for details.

#10 – South Korea fast-tracked as likely host for the 2024 Winter Youth Olympic Games

IOC President Thomas Bach among delegations at a tripartite meeting with sport officials from North and South Korea in Lausanne, Switzerland February 15, 2019 (IOC Photo)
IOC President Thomas Bach among delegations at a tripartite meeting with sport officials from North and South Korea in Lausanne, Switzerland February 15, 2019 (IOC Photo)

Still fresh in our minds, with the announcement by International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach made only this month on December 5, this story neatly summarizes the feel of the events that unfolded throughout the year.

After the Korean Sport and Olympic Committee (KSOC) announced that it was preparing a bid to host the 2024 Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in Gangwon province – things began to move very quickly.  The new IOC Winter Future Host Commission took the bid and ran with it, perhaps literally.  The Commission led by Octavian Morariu (you may remember him from the Evaluation Commission that was responsible for the election of Milan-Cortina for the 2026 Winter Games) advised the IOC Executive Board to begin a targeted dialog with Korean officials with the intent of formalizing a hosting agreement and electing PyeongChang and Gangneung to host the YOG as early as January 10 in 2020.

The new bid process announced earlier in the year made this hurry-up bid campaign possible – removing many formalities and shifting decision-making control from the members to the Executive Board.

And, just to add a nugget of controversy (because what good Olympic story doesn’t have that?) Bach told breathless reporters that discussions with South Koreans opened the possibility that North Korea could stage some of the events as well.

If this holds up, 2020 could start with a bang!

#9 One year after lost plebiscite, Calgary’s Olympic legacy continues to fade

Calgary last hosted the Olympic Winter Games in 1988
Calgary last hosted the Olympic Winter Games in 1988

It has been more than a year since over 56 percent of Calgary voters rejected a possible 2026 Olympic Winter Games bid, but the story lived on throughout 2019 as the city’s Olympic legacy from the 1988 faced likely demise.

Without the federal government funding promised only if Calgary was awarded the Games, the Canadian city’s sliding track was forced to shutter when the operator couldn’t pay for necessary repairs or for the annual costs.  Last year, some of the ski jumps were closed, even before a successful bid could save them.

Calgarians who voted against the bid feared the costs and risks associated with hosting the event, even as the IOC said changes made by the organizations meant that most costly requirements were limited.  Milan-Cortina in Italy will host the Games using mostly existing facilities.

A much needed arena and event centre that will host the Calgary Flames NHL franchise will still be delivered, however, after a deal was struck with the city December 4.  But it’s possible city taxpayers may have to reach deeper in their pockets to fund the arena project than if they were to host the Games.

Referendums are a form of direct democracy that is far from perfect.  In time we will know if the results were favorable for Calgary, or not.  But one thing is clear, Calgary’s Olympic legacies a quickly fading away.

#8 WADA’s proposed Russia ban could change bidding landscape

Sanki Sliding Center in Sochi, Russia hosted the Bobsleigh, Skeleton and Luge events at the 2014 Olympics. It has also been named as a possible 2026 venue if Erzurum, Turkey hosts the Winter Olympics (IBSF Photo)
Sanki Sliding Center in Sochi, Russia hosted the Bobsleigh, Skeleton and Luge events at the 2014 Olympics. It was also named as a possible 2026 venue if Erzurum, Turkey was elected to host the Winter Olympics (IBSF Photo)

On December 9 the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) announced a four-year ban on Russia’s participation in major sports events including the Olympic Games.  While athletes who prove they are clean can still participate as neutral athletes, the Russia flag, anthem and other branding cannot be used.

The ban also covers bidding for and hosting major international events in Russia.

St. Petersburg has long been rumoured as a possible 2032 contender amid a field that includes Queensland in Australia, a joint North and South Korea bid, Jakarta in Indonesia, a regional German bid, Shanghai, and a yet-unnamed city in India.  But now, 2032 is off the table for Russia if the ban survives any possible opportunities to appeal.

The ban will also likely exclude Russia from a possible 2030 Winter Games bid and could extend to 2034 and 2036 bids as well, depending on the timings of these elections by the IOC – processes that became more fluid this year.

With Queensland surging forward for 2032, St. Petersburg had become more of an outsider, but it was no secret that Russia was looking to host more events in the near future.

#7 Jakarta in Indonesia pushed forward a 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games bid, then stopped

IOC President Thomas Bach (left) meets Indonesia's President Joko Widodo in Jakarta September 1, 2018 (IOC Photo)
IOC President Thomas Bach (left) meets Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo in Jakarta September 1, 2018 (IOC Photo)

Throughout the year there has been much talk about a possible 2032 Olympic bid from Jakarta following a successful Asian Games hosted jointly by Jakarta and Palembang in August 2018.

A push for the major Games was made official in February this year when Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo sent a letter to IOC President Bach with his intentions to submit a project for consideration.

But so much has changed since then, including the entire bid process.  Under the old system Jakarta had until about 2023 to put together plans ahead of a 2025 election, but under new bid reforms introduced mid-year Indonesia’s Capital will need to engage with the IOC right now in order to stay competitive with Queensland in Australia – a bid that emerged quickly.  The IOC could make its decision as early as 2021.

Additionally, this year Indonesia announced that it will move its capital to Borneo, citing major environmental concerns for abandoning Jakarta as the base of its government.  The current capital is rapidly sinking and there are fears that significant flooding lies ahead.  Certainly, the IOC would also take note of these major risks before awarding the Games.

I don’t expect to hear much about this bid in 2020.

#6 A joint bid for the 2032 Games by North and South Korea remains as uncertain as diplomacy on the Peninsula

The Unified Korean team enters PyeongChang Olympic Stadium (PyeongChang 2018 Photo)

Twenty-nineteen rolled in with a lot of hype behind a possible and highly symbolic joint bid by North and South Korea to host the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games.  The strategy is to host events in both capitals Pyongyang and Seoul.

New rules implemented by the IOC this year eased restrictions against joint bids, making the Korean proposal even more of a possibility.

But as political tensions between the technically at-war nations remained turbulent, a joint organizing committee that had formed last year apparently disbanded – or at least went into a hiatus.

Now with Australia entering into serious dialog with the IOC that could push forward an election date for the 2032 Games, preparations by the Koreas have fallen behind.

It seems the IOC and South Korea have already arranged a consolation prize for a possible lost 2032 bid, the 2024 Winter Youth Olympic Games will likely be staged in PyeongChang in the South, with opportunities to host events in the North.  The IOC is expected to approve these plans in January 2020.

#5 Australia’s regional Olympic and Paralympic Games bid from South-east Queensland seems certain to host in 2032

IOC President Thomas Bach meets with the Australian Delegation from Queensland on September 10, 2019. (Annastacia Palaszczuk – Premier Queensland, Ted O’Brien – Representing Prime Minister, Mike Jamieson – Council of Mayors) (IOC Photo)

It’s probably much more than a coincidence that IOC Vice President John Coates, who helped engineer the new Olympic bid process – also leads the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) that will be submitting a bid to host the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The bid from South-east Queensland, centered in Capital Brisbane, quickly emerged as a heavy favourite after organizing under the promise of an early election date.  Other interested projects from India, Indonesia, Jakarta, Germany, China and North and South Korea are moving at a snail’s pace, if at all, as Australia meets with the IOC and has scheduled campaigning through 2020.

Until Coates rewrote the rule book, an election wasn’t expected until 2025 giving rival bids plenty of time to prepare.  Instead it looks like it will be clear sailing for Australia to host its third Games, and the first since 2000 in Sydney.

The bid has municipal and state support and only requires a federal government rubber-stamp after already receiving an unwritten nod.  With good public support, a referendum will not be necessary.

New bid rules also allow the new Future Summer Games Host committee to recommend a single bid to the Executive Board that may recommend that region to the IOC Session for election.  A simple show of hands could cement the whole deal.

Did I mention that 2019 also marked the end of Olympic bid races?  Oh, that’s a bit later.

#4 IOC Launched Future Host Commissions to run the site selection process

Romanian IOC member Octavian Morariu named to Chair 2026 Olympic Winter Games Bid Evaluation Commission (IRB World Rugby Photo)
Romanian IOC member Octavian Morariu named to Chair the Future Winter Host Commission (IRB World Rugby Photo)

Changes to the Olympic bid process announced in June called for the organization of Future Host Commissions, one each for editions of the Summer Games and another for the Winter Games.

Octavian Morariu of Romania and Kristin Kloster Aasen of Norway were appointed to Chair the Winter streams and the Summer steams, respectively.

These Commissions will have the power to open a dialog with regions already interested in bidding for the Games, or to proactively pursue talks with National Olympic Committees that they see hosting the Games in the future.

After vetting potential bids, the Commissions can make strong recommendations to the Executive Board.  In effect, the members of each Commission will have a very strong influence on which countries will be chosen to host the Games.

The Commissions were quickly organized and the Future Winter Host Commission has already made significant progress by recommending South Korea host the 2024 Youth Olympic Games in Gangwon Province.  The bid, centered in PyeongChang where the 2018 Winter Games were staged, could be elected to host next month.

#3 Olympic bid Evaluation Commission site visits for the 2026 Winter Games were like never before, and likely never again

IOC Evaluation Commission team and Milano-Cortina 2026 bid team pose after viewing proposed site for temporary Cortina Olympic Village (GamesBids Photo)
IOC Evaluation Commission team and Milano-Cortina 2026 bid team pose after viewing proposed site for temporary Cortina Olympic Village (GamesBids Photo)

The 2026 Olympic bid process got caught up in a period of turbulent change within the IOC.  After two disastrous Olympic bid cycles that saw more cities drop out than remain in their races – the 2026 race was no different.

Only Milan-Cortina and Stockholm-Åre were on the final ballot after Graz in Austria, Sion in Switzerland, Sapporo in Japan and Calgary in Canada dropped from the race and Erzurum in Turkey was dismissed by the IOC.

In order to keep the race alive, the IOC was forced to rewrite the rule book on the go – for the first time allowing regional bids with hyphenated names and venues spread hundreds of kilometers apart.  Deadlines were missed and forgiven and many requirements were simply overlooked.

Much-anticipated Evaluation Commission visits to the candidate cities that were usually full of ceremony and structure – and a strict separation of the delegates and media who typically attended en masse – were very different.

Only a few international trade journalists attended this time and they (including me) were given unprecedented access to both bid officials and IOC Commission members.  The media were, for the first time, given limited access to the normally super-secret discussions between the parties.

Ceremony was limited and the visits were low-key and mostly unnoticed by the general population.

Due to the relaxed rules around the size of the Games footprint, venues were scattered across regions and many hours were spent traveling on the road or in the air – like never before.

It quickly became clear that the IOC was willing to drop the entire process as we had known it, and change everything moving forward.

Of course, they did just that in June.  There may never be a formal Olympic bid evaluation visit again – instead inspections will likely take place in private without any public announcements.

#2 Milan-Cortina wins bid to host the 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games

Italian bid team celebrate the awarding of the 2026 Olympic Winter Games to Milan Cortina (IOC Photo)
Italian bid team celebrate the awarding of the 2026 Olympic Winter Games to Milan Cortina (IOC Photo)

Milan-Cortina outlasted six other applicants to win its bid to host the 2026 Olympic Winter Games.  On June 24 at the IOC Session in Lausanne, IOC President Thomas Bach made the announcement that Italy’s regional bid defeated a project from Stockholm-Åre by a 47 to 34 vote.

The Italian Olympic Committee traveled a difficult road to reach this point, first proposing a three-city bid also including 2006 Winter Games host Turin, but later switching to the two cities when there was a disagreement among the Mayors.  Later Federal funding was denied due to the fallout only to be reinstated months later, several weeks after an IOC set deadline.

The Milan-Cortina Games will be unlike any previous Winter Games with venues sprawled across the North of Italy, hundreds of miles apart.  This was permitted by the IOC for the first time under Agenda 2020 and the New Norm reforms.

Milan-Cortina Wins 2026 Olympic And Paralympic Winter Games Bid

The project includes the use of mostly existing venues but plans have been proposed to rebuild the Cortina sliding track that was constructed for the 1956 Winter Olympics but has since fallen into to disrepair.  Opening Ceremonies are planned for the existing San Siro Stadium in Milan, but plans are already in place to build a new football stadium before the Games that could be utilized instead.

With strong public support that rose above 80 percent, and government backing at all levels, the Italian project had more appeal that the rival bid from Sweden.  Stockholm-Åre had 63 percent public support at bid time, and lacked financial backing from the City of Stockholm that instead agreed to lease venues to a potential organizing committee.

Italy will organize its third Olympic Winter Games, the second consecutive edition in Europe.

#1 IOC Rips up decades-old Olympic bid rule book to replace it with a new process that places control in the hands of the few

IOC President Thomas Bach chats with Australian Olympic Committee President John Coates as Australia mulls 2032 Olympic bid (IOC Photo)
IOC President Thomas Bach chats with Australian Olympic Committee President John Coates in Sydney while Australia mulled a 2032 Olympic bid (IOC Photo)

In 2019 the IOC, and its President Thomas Bach, declared that it was tired of the old bid process that produced referendums, bid opposition groups and “too many losers,” and appointed a group to review other options available.

Led by IOC Vice President John Coates a new process was developed that removed restrictions on the timing of the elections, loosened rules around the geographical footprint of the Games and did away with the formalities of an Evaluation Commission.

The IOC announced that referendums – the bid killers of the past – were now encouraged, or perhaps even required in some cases.  Bids will now be encouraged to use venues that already exist, ignoring distances and borders.

New Future Host Commissions and the Executive Board would now wield more power in the site selection process and they could recommend only a single candidate to the IOC Session membership for a simple yea or nay vote.

Everything changed when the new process was approved in June, and the Olympic bid race was effectively ended.  Or, at least, it will never look the same again.

There you have it!  We can’t imagine what will happen in 2020 but can’t wait to see it all play out!

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Happy New Year, and all the best in 2020 from 

A senior producer and award-winning journalist covering Olympic bid business as founder of as well as providing freelance support for print and Web publications around the world. Robert Livingstone is a member of the Olympic Journalists Association and the International Society of Olympic Historians.

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