GamesBids.com presents the fourteenth annual Top Ten list of Olympic Bid Stories for 2021. These stories impacted the course of Olympic host bids, or the Olympic bid process, and formed interesting plot lines and story arcs for the year.
It was a second year with you-know-what, and everything has been different. But it was also the second year impacted by the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) brand new Olympic bid process that ensures news is kept behind closed doors, in the dark, and, well… secret. That’s makes the creation of a top ten list challenging!
But do not fear. I have put together a year-end list that will make you cheer, nod, shake your head or roll your eyes – sometimes all at the same time. Remember the rules: only stories that played out in 2021 and are directly related to Olympic host bids qualify for the list. Tap the links to follow along. Here goes!
#10 – Quebec’s incredible vanishing 2030 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games bid
In April, it seemed Quebec City was about to usurp Vancouver’s interest to become Canada’s bid for the 2030 Winter Games. Organizers loudly launched a project fully backed by a website, a complete set of social media channels, a logo, branding, steering committee and a 24-page project plan.
This type of effort was a bit unusual in this new bidding era where the International Olympic Committee (IOC) prefers quiet and low-key discussions with interested parties to start the process.
Following the launch I was able to set up an interview with founder Mark Charest, the well-connected promoter of the project. But when I emailed some questions to a media representative ahead of the interview – some asking about work done with the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) and partner governments – she abruptly cancelled the interview offering no explanation, no rescheduling and no alternative contacts. The bid was never heard from again.
Some light was shed on the situation in August when the Daily Hive discovered that the COC was not in support of Quebec’s project.
A letter from the COC to Quebec 2030 suggested that the bid “cease their efforts.”
“Before spending more time and resources to your campaign, we feel it is our duty to inform you, once again, that Quebec will not be considered by the COC as a candidate for a possible Olympic candidacy in view of 2030,” the letter reportedly stated.
It seemed that Quebec was acting unilaterally and without the permission of the COC, which is not permitted. As COC vice president of international relations and public affairs Andrew Baker clarified “The Olympic Charter grants the Canadian Olympic Committee exclusive authority to determine whether or not the submission of a city’s bid to host the Olympic Games in Canada.”
Over to Vancouver.
#9 – Brisbane elected host city for the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games
I know what you’re thinking. How can the only Olympic bid election of the year claim a measly 9th place on a top ten list for Olympic bids (possibly the most niche top ten list anywhere, anytime)? I’ll admit, it’s here just to make a point.
The actual election (i.e. rubberstamping) of Brisbane 2032 on July 21 in Tokyo this year was a mere formality to conclude what already went on earlier in the year (yes, some of that will be higher on the list). Brisbane was certified as third Australian city to host the Summer Olympics after IOC members cast 80 ballots with 72 supporting the bid, five against and 3 abstaining.
Following this event was actually a bit of a bore, especially when compared to battle royale style Olympic bid voting showdowns in the past. But even though the IOC’s Executive Board decided in 2019 to take complete control of the site selection process, the final membership approval is still technically required. And so was the obligatory raising of the card displaying ‘Brisbane 2032’ amid subdued Covid-era cheers from a tiny Australian delegation.
Anyhow, more later.
#8 – IOC President Thomas Bach regrets not seeing an African Olympic Games during his tenure, but hopes to see an Africa-based bid for the 2040 Games
While answering a question from a youth reporter at an International Sports Press Association (AIPS) event last month, IOC president Thomas Bach said “at the beginning of my term I had a dream to have the Olympic Games in Africa or at least allocate it to Africa during my term but unfortunately neither of those two dreams were realized.”
Bach was a driving force behind the awarding of the Dakar 2022 (now postponed to 2026 due to Covid) Youth Olympic Games, the first-ever Olympics to be held in Africa. The IOC Executive Board decided to restrict bidding for this edition to nations on that continent to force the issue. So there’s that.
But suggesting that hosting an Olympic Games, or the awarding of such an event in Africa during Bach’s tenure beginning in 2013 and expiring in 2025 was an attainable dream – is far-fetched.
Bach added “I hope very much that for 2040 an African country will enter into dialogue with the International Olympic Committee to organize the Olympic Games.
“It’s really important to see the Games in Africa and the ball at moment is in the court of the African countries.”
This is a very easy suggestion for the outgoing president to make, but an impossible one for his successor to fulfill. The ball can only be in Africa’s court if the IOC’s hefty requirements – including the hosting of over 25 sports with an excess of 10,000 athletes and minimum spectator capacities – can be overlooked. That, and the internal IOC politics that makes the appetite for such a bid non-existent.
But my head still hurts from the eye-roll at the moment, so this short story makes the list!
#7 – We’re talking about bids organizing to host the 2036 Olympic Games
There are almost 15 years to go before the opening ceremony of the 2036 Olympic and Paralympic Games, but it seems we already have an intense race brewing, and everyone is talking about it.
After the fledgling 2032 race was preempted on the naming of Brisbane as the preferred candidate and eventually host city (in July), other interested cities took notice. Bidders from India, Indonesia, Qatar, Germany, North and South Korea, Hungary and other places were caught by surprise when the IOC decided to lock down the race four years ahead of the typical schedule. The new IOC rule that allows the Future Host Commission and Executive Board to end the race as soon as the right partner is found was demonstrated, and now it’s never too early to advance a bid for a future Games.
Immediately, several nations claimed their spots in the race for 2036 that could end whenever the IOC decides.
Most of those that were left behind in the 2032 battle are back for 2036 – including Germany where officials claim that hosting on the unfortunate 100th anniversary of the Berlin 1936 Nazi propaganda Games will be okay.
Add Russia, the nation that was not permitted to bid for 2032 due to sanctions for state-sponsored doping violations connected to the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. Several cities have been under consideration by the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) but this week ROC president Stanislav Pozdnyakov claimed capital Moscow must be the applicant city.
Interest from Britain, China, Spain and Turkey has also emerged.
All this, and the 2030 Winter Games bid race is barely out of the gate.
#6 – Sapporo and Ukraine quietly organizing 2030 Winter Olympic bids
Yes, there are more than just Sapporo and Ukraine involved in the 2030 Olympic Winter Games bid, but I’ll be breaking them down for this list.
Sapporo withdrew from the 2026 race after an earthquake in Hokkaido prefecture in 2018, but quickly organized for the 2030 Winter Games. The biggest hurdle for Sapporo is the recently held Tokyo 2020 Summer Games that were postponed until this past July due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Are Japanese ready to invest in, and prepare for another Games after the expense and heartbreak of the 2020 edition where there were no spectators? Do they want a second chance to shine?
Sapporo’s Mayor released a new budget estimate in November of 280 billion yen to 300 billion yen (USD$2.4 billion to USD$2.6 billion) that is trimmed significantly from original estimates. But ultimately, taxpayers will decide. They will be surveyed next year to determine whether they want the Games to return to Japan.
Ukraine’s bid aspirations are more recent, but officials, including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy have been hinting about a 2030 bid all year long and discussed the possibility with IOC President Thomas Bach in September. There has also been talk about a possible Youth Olympic Games bid. Why not both?
Just this week it was confirmed that Ukraine has entered into official discussions with the IOC to host the Youth Winter Games in 2028 and the Winter Olympics in 2030.
#5 – Pyrenees-Barcelona-Zaragoza 2030 Winter Games bid name is too long, and opposition group hopes to stop it
Barcelona in Spain also developed a bid this year, but must dispense with political infighting between regions and answer serious question from an opposition group who plan the push for an already approved referendum over the project.
To appease the jurisdictions involved, first the bid needed to highlight Pyrenees in the bid’s name that became known as the Pyrenees Barcelona 2030 Winter Games bid. But another region proposed to host snow events wanted recognition so the name grew, uncomfortably, to Pyrenees-Barcelona-Zaragoza 2030.
The Catalan government approved the notion of a referendum over the bid two years ago, and now opposition group ‘Stop JJOO’ wants to have that public decision scheduled in 2022 – and hopefully vote the bid out of existence. Stop JJOO say that hosting the 2030 Games will harm the region economically, steering the region further into winter tourism while climate change is making that same industry less viable.
#4 – Vancouver launches what it describes as the first-ever Indigenous-led Olympic bid, hoping to host the Winter Games for a second time in 2030
Vancouver first discussed a possible 2030 Winter Games bid last year on the anniversary of its 2010 Games. But City Council was reluctant and the city’s Mayor said he wouldn’t move forward with a bid without the leadership of the First Nations.
It was a year when reconciliation became a greater priority in Canada after horrifying truths about historical residential schools were uncovered, so the announcement that Vancouver 2030 could be the first-ever Indigenous-led Olympic bid struck an emotional chord across the country. The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) confirmed that it would be meeting with First Nations leaders to discuss the feasibility of the bid that they hope to move forward with in the Spring.
#3 – Salt Lake City Olympic bid becomes Instagram official
I’m not sure the Instagram part applies here, but after years of hemming and hawing the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) finally confirmed that it is nominating Salt Lake City as a potential host for the Winter Olympic Games as early as 2030.
The USOPC actually elected Salt Lake City as its future Games candidate three years ago, positioning it as a future bidder, but never confirmed a target year. Complicating things are the Los Angeles 2028 Summer Games, and the USOPC’s concerns that there may not be enough capacity to hold both major Olympic events over a short period.
In December USOPC CEO Susanne Lyons made that metaphorical Instagram post when she told media on a conference call that the the Board of Directors had approved the bid to move forward – and were gunning for the 2030 Games if possible.
Using the legacies from the 2002 Games, and backed by strong support at all levels, Salt Lake City has become the bid to beat in this emerging race.
#2 – Former Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović named Chair of the IOC’s Future Host Commission
Who? What? ‘Why is this #2,’ you might ask?
I’ll answer with a question.
Why did this controversial world leader with little IOC experience quickly get elevated to one of the most powerful positions in the IOC?
Former Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović was elected as an IOC member just months after failing to get re-elected after her five-year presidential term. Just weeks later she was added to the IOC’s influential Future Host Commission for the Summer Games, selected by IOC President Bach. Then, when the role of chair was vacated by Kristin Kloster Aasen who left to join the Executive Board, Grabar-Kitarović was given the leadership role.
Now Grabar-Kitarović has the power to shape the Olympic Games over the next decade as she presides over the awarding of the 2036 Summer Games, the 2030 Youth Games and possible other editions beyond. And maybe, just maybe, she is positioning to run for President of the IOC itself after current President Thomas Bach’s term expires in 2025.
Bach is close with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Grabar-Kitarović is also known to be connected to Putin. Russia, as we know from #7 above, is seeking to host the 2036 Games and is reeling from anti-doping sanctions imposed for previous violations.
Anyhow, I won’t connect all the dots for you – but I suspect many of the top ten stories in future years will begin, and end with Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović. We’ll have to see.
#1 – Brisbane named preferred candidate to host 2032 Olympic Games
Kudos go to my friends at insidethegames.biz (hey team, how was Christmas?!) for leaking this number one story of the year a full day ahead of the IOC’s understated announcement that meant everything.
This was the moment we discovered that everything about Olympic bids had really changed, and would be very different moving forward. The IOC has not always been good at walking the talk, but when they laid out massive bid reforms in 2019 – they really meant it.
So on February 23 when the IOC surprisingly announced that Brisbane had been named the preferred candidate to host the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games, those following closely knew exactly what this meant. The formalities of a subsequent bid questionnaire, evaluation report, Executive Board endorsement and finally a full membership rubberstamping would not get in the way of IOC President Bach’s and Vice President John Coates final objective – installing the third Olympic Games in Australia in 2032.
President Bach might as well have ripped open the envelope at that moment and declared Brisbane victorious.
I knew this, my colleagues knew this, IOC members knew this and other bidders knew this. We had entered a new era of snap Olympic site selections. Now you know the backstory of #9 on this list.
Perhaps from a broader perspective, this could be the #1 story of the decade. Realization that the days of multi-city battle-royale style voting showdowns are really over has already reshaped how the 2030 Winter Games and 2036 Summer Games bids are moving forward.
That was 2021!
Happy New Year, and all the best in 2022 from GamesBids.com.
A senior producer and award-winning journalist covering Olympic bid business as founder of GamesBids.com 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.