Top 10 Olympic Bid Stories Of 2018: Part 1 of 2

GamesBids.com presents the eleventh annual Top Ten list of Olympic Bid Stories for 2018. 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.  In part 1 we count down #10 to #6 – click on the links for details.

This year marks our eleventh annual top 10 Olympic bid story list, and it coincides with an unusual year in for Olympic bid process as everything seems to be changing.  Some of these stories are unprecedented, others bring us back to the way things once were with the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

#10 – Erzurum, Turkey dismissed from already diminished 2026 Olympic bid race

Seven cities entered the 2026 Olympic Winter Games bid process in April, but by the time the bids were to be vetted by the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Executive Board in October only four remained – with three fighting for support to stay in the race.  The other city, Erzurum in Turkey, had strong political support right up to the President.

Erzurum points to experience as a key strength of Turkey's first Winter Games bid (Turkish Olympic Committee Image)

Erzurum pointed to experience as a key strength of Turkey’s first Winter Games bid (Turkish Olympic Committee Image)

The Executive Board was tasked with using preliminary evaluations to determine which cities it wanted to move forward with, potentially to the final ballot.  Either choice was a gamble – keep Erzurum in the race and be assured that at least one city would remain to elect when the final ballot is taken, or dismiss the Turkish bid that was contrary to the IOC’s intention to stay on message and instead showcase a new kind of sustainable low-cost Games?

The IOC decided to dismiss Erzurum, indicating that the timing wasn’t right for the bid that needed several new venues and infrastructure and would likely see costs skyrocket.  It also found that Erzurum had proposed the use of some venues in Sochi from the 2014 Games – a move that would have been extremely controversial in the wake of the state-sponsored Russia doping scandal.

It was a brave but necessary decision for the IOC who had kept two unlikely bids – from Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan – in the 2022 race that saw four preferable European bids drop out.  Beijing was later elected.

But it showed that the IOC was becoming serious, from the early stages, about eliminating Games’ overspend.

#9 – IOC gives floor to Olympic bid opposition, but pulls the rug out from under them

In October the IOC held an Olympism in Action forum in Buenos Aires, Argentina ahead of the Youth Olympic Games.  The de facto Oympic bid opposition leader Chris Dempsey, who helped create No Boston Olympics and advised other such groups around the world, was invited to participate in a discussion about the future of hosting an Olympics.

No Boston Olympics co-founder Chris Dempsey speaks at Olympism In Action conference in Buenos Aires on October 5, 2018 (IOC YouTube Screen Capture)

No Boston Olympics co-founder Chris Dempsey speaks at Olympism In Action conference in Buenos Aires on October 5, 2018 (IOC YouTube Screen Capture)

Dempsey was among other prominent speakers who have led Olympic bids or Olympic organizing committees in the recent past, but he was the sole opponent to the process.

The invitation by the IOC to a bid opponent to speak to their “Olympic family” was unprecedented, and quite refreshing for the organization that typically keeps a tight fist around its messages.

But even as the IOC gave him the floor and used the event to encourage open and honest discussion about the future of the Games – they were working quickly too to mute and dismiss his thoughts and concerns over the increasing scale, costs and risks of hosting the event.

Later at a press conference IOC President Thomas Bach downplayed Dempsey’s remarks, explaining that they run contrary to other more prominent and experienced speakers on the panel who have actually delivered the event.  Then in social media, an IOC spokesperson shot back at Dempsey’s posts with unprofessional sarcasm.

Was it an ambush?  It seemed so – but it revealed an interesting backstory as the IOC struggles to reform its model and message with respect to siting the Olympic Games.

#8 – IOC unveils the “New Norm,” its latest offering from the Olympic Agenda 2020 reform package

At the outset of the PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games in February, the IOC officially launched its latest Agenda 2020 offering it named the “New Norm.”  It was a revised set of bidding requirements – 118 new measures designed to minimize the obligations of the host city that could cut up to USD $1 billion from Summer Games operating costs and $500 million from the Winter Games.

IOC President Thomas Bach addresses media after PyeongChang Executive Board meeting (IOC Photo)

Great idea. But would these new reforms resonate with decision-makers, and put future Olympic bids in a new, more positive light?

Interestingly, it was IOC President Bach who was the first to doubt the potential effectiveness of his own reforms when he said that bids get rejected through public referendums due to broader issues.

He said that the New Norm may not be enough to save Sion’s 2026 Olympic bid (it later fell to a lost referendum) because constituents make their decisions based on the overall political situation, and risks associated with the bigger infrastructure projects.  He said “it may get a little bit noisy,” and long-term benefits get ignored.

Since then, Sion, Graz and Calgary have dropped out of the race because politicians and taxpayers refused to risk their money on the projects,  It seems that dropping out of Olympic bid races has become the new norm instead.

#7 – United States Olympic Committee delivers letter of interest in hosting the 2030 Winter Olympics as other cities apply for the 2026 Games

Just a few short days before a March 31 deadline to apply to host the 2026 Winter Olympics, the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) unexpectedly delivered to the IOC a letter of interest and intent to host the 2030 edition.

The USOC tours the Utah Olympic Oval with members of the Salt Lake City Olympic Winter Games Bid (Twitter/SLC2030)

The USOC tours the Utah Olympic Oval with members of the Salt Lake City Olympic Winter Games Bid (Twitter/SLC2030)

The extremely unusual move seemed to be a defensive measure by the USOC in case the IOC later decided to proceed with a double-allocation and site both the 2026 and 2030 Games at the same time.  It was in fact the USOC that had orchestrated a 2024 and 2028 Summer Games double-allocation that saw both Paris and Los Angeles awarded the Games last year – so officials knew exactly what they had to do this time around.

USOC Chief Larry Probst confirmed suspicions when said the move was designed to get a “seat at the table” during the 2026 process.

But as the list of 2026 hopefuls dwindled toward only two candidates, intentions became even clearer as the USOC quickly launched a shortened domestic bid process in October with a hasty nomination of Salt Lake City as a “future bid” city in December.

The IOC deadline for 2030 applicants is more than three years away, but the 2026 election will be conducted next June – and the two candidates from Sweden and Italy  are still struggling to rally support to stay in the race.

With much forethought, Salt Lake City is now positioned to fill in as a 2026 backup if called upon – or USOC officials could make a further case for a double-allocation in order for the IOC to lock in short-term stability until the New Norms could be demonstrated as effective.

#6 –Dakar in Senegal makes history and will host the first-ever Olympic event in Africa with the 2022 Youth Olympic Games

With the future of the Youth Olympic Games losing clarity and in need of retooling, in February the IOC announced that it would take a more proactive approach in siting and organizing the 2022 edition by placing focus on the African continent.

IOC's Executive Board has chosen Senegal to host the 2022 Summer Youth Olympic Games

IOC’s Executive Board has chosen Senegal to host the 2022 Summer Youth Olympic Games

Just ahead of the opening of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics the IOC announced that it would allow only bids from Africa and work closely with applicants in a simplified and expedited process.

A host would be named less than four years from the Opening Ceremony, less than the five or six years typically allotted, so the IOC said it would provide hands-on assistance and full collaboration during the first several months of the organization of the Games.  This would also provide the opportunity to adjust and retool the overall Games’ concept in real-time.

Bids from Botswana, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia participated in the process but by the end of the Summer the IOC Executive Board announced that Dakar in Senegal would be the only bid to appear on the final election ballot and would need only a rubber-stamping by the IOC Session.

At the Session held in Buenos Aires ahead of the Youth Olympic Games Senegal’s project was accepted marking the historic first for Africa.

The decision wasn’t without controversy, however.  Venues will need to be constructed for the event,  bringing costs, legacy and sustainability concerns into play.  Additionally, Senegalese former IOC member Lamine Diack has been connected to Olympic bid corruption scandals in the recent past, casting a shadow on the selection.

The three unsuccessful candidates are reportedly backing the selection of Dakar to host the Games.

To continue our countdown from #5 to #1 please see Part 2 of our Top 10 Olympic Bid Stories Of 2018 by tapping here.  Follow @gamesbids on Twitter or facebook.com/gamesbids so you don’t miss it!

Robert Livingstone

About Robert Livingstone

Robert Livingstone is a senior editor, award-winning journalist and author, covering Olympic bid business as founder of GamesBids.com as well as providing freelance support for print and Web publications around the world. He is a member of the Olympic Journalists Association and the International Society of Olympic Historians. Follow him @enotsgnivil