Top 10 Olympic Bid Stories Of 2018: Part 2 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 2 we count down #5 to #1 – click on the links for details.

(CLICK HERE TO READ PART 1 – COUNTING DOWN #10 TO #6)

#5 – IOC President Thomas Bach touts the stability of the Olympics, says there is no plan B for 2026 bid process

In a year when an initially robust 2026 Olympic bid race has already been decimated leaving only two of seven cities clinging on to life support, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach used his final major speaking engagement of the year (November at the Association of National Olympic Committees General Assembly in Tokyo) to claim the Olympics enjoys the “stability” that others would “envy.”

IOC President Thomas Bach at Executive Board Meeting in Tokyo, Japan November 30, 2018 (IOC Photo)

IOC President Thomas Bach at Executive Board Meeting in Tokyo, Japan November 30, 2018 (IOC Photo)

Three of five cities dropped out of the 2024 race but Bach seized that opportunity for a double-allocation and his Executive Board awarded those Games to Paris as well as siting the 2028 Games in Los Angeles “locking in” capable Summer Games host cities for the next decade.  It was that, and the security of broadcasting contracts in place until 2032, that fueled Bach’s confident posturing.

For 2026, only Stockholm in Sweden and a joint bid from Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy remain – and both are struggling to secure government support.

With both cities expected to miss the January 11 deadline to provide signed government guarantees for deliverables such as security and other essential services, the IOC has made the unprecedented decision to soften its rules and wait until the documents are available.

Still, both cities may not make it to the finish line in June and IOC President Bach revealed in October that there is no “plan B” for 2026.

Unless there is one.

The United Stated Olympic Committee (USOC) in December nominated Salt Lake City to bid for a future Winter Olympics.  Publicly the USOC has said 2026 is not an option for the U.S. bid because it would interfere with preparations for the LA 2028 Games.  But certainly the city could be made available for a 2026 backup plan if called upon, or it would be a great candidate for a double-allocation that would see it hosting a 2030 Games.

#4 – Referendums continue to take a toll on Olympic bid candidates

In 2018, the referendum losing streak for Olympic bids continued and now stands at eight since 2013.  Sion in Switzerland (54 percent against) and Calgary in Canada (56.4 percent against) this year were forced to abandon bidding plans after constituents rejected the possibility of funding the projects with tax dollars.

Calgary 2026 Olympic bid supporters rally in front of City Hall, urging Councilors to vote bid through to a plebiscite (@YesCalgary2026 Photo)

Calgary 2026 Olympic bid supporters rally in front of City Hall, urging Councilors to vote bid through to a plebiscite (@YesCalgary2026 Photo)

Earlier in the year Graz in Austria lost political support and dropped from the race after a petition forced the scheduling of a referendum that politicians didn’t want to face.  Graz was the Austrian replacement for Innsbruck that was forced out of the race in 2017 when a referendum failed.

There doesn’t seem to be any message the IOC can deliver that will reverse this trend, and that could continue until it demonstrates that new hosting reforms result in economically viable Olympic Games.

In August, IOC President Bach blamed the problem on misplaced perceptions amplified by the media, explaining that people aren’t getting the correct message on the economics of the Games.  He says referendums fail due to fears over costs, and not because of lack of trust in the IOC.

The bid process has been plagued by bribery scandals over the past several years, and many people have been angered by the IOC’s handling of the Russian state-sponsored doping scandal.  A survey released as part of a public engagement survey in Calgary revealed that of those asked who opposed the bid, only 5 percent were swayed because of IOC corruption.

#3 – Several 2032 Olympic bids emerge more than seven years before a city is expected to be elected

With Los Angeles awarded the 2028 Olympics eleven years in advance as part of a special dual-allocation, the next available Summer Games is in 2032 – 14 years from now.  But that hasn’t stopped cities from declaring interest and lining up early to host those Games.

IOC President Thomas Bach meet children benefiting from the various grassroots sporting programmes in Mumbai April 20, 2018 (IOC Photo)

India has already filed a letter of interest with the IOC, and eight other countries and cities have talked about launching bids.

In October North and South Korea announced the development of a joint bid for the 2032 Games, marking the thaw of tensions between the two at-war nations.

Indonesian officials announced in September that they’ll begin to prepare Jakarta for a 2032 bid after staging a successful Asian Games this year.

Shanghai officials announced that the Chinese city could consider a 2032 bid while it sets a course to become a “globally famous” sport city.

In October Bach said he had received firm interest from Brisbane in Australia as it develops a feasibility study.

Buenos Aires in Argentina is also considering mounting a Summer Olympic bid after successfully hosting the Youth Olympics this month.  Other interest in bidding for the 2032 Games has come from Germany, Russia and Egypt.

Certainly the situation could change dramatically before the IOC accepts applications starting in 2024, but this much buzz so early is unique – especially in a climate that last year saw only two cities make the 2024 bid election finish line.

#2 – 2026 Olympic bid race starts with a promising bang, but quickly fizzles out as year draws to a close

The main Olympic bid story for this year was clearly the 2026 Olympic bid race.  In April seven cities submitted applications to the IOC including Calgary in Canada, Erzurum in Turkey, Graz in Austria, Milan, Turin and Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy, Sapporo in Japan, Sion in Switzerland and Stockholm in Sweden.

House of Sion 2026 promotes Switzerland’s Olympic bid at House of Switzerland in Nations Village at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games (GamesBids Photo)

It was a promising start with more cities at the starting line than the six that entered the previous 2022 Winter Games race.

But that all changed very quickly.

In July, the bid from Graz collapsed soon after a petition was to force a state-wide referendum over the project.  Politicians, fearing a damaging referendum defeat, backed away their support and the Austrian Olympic Committee had no choice but to cancel plans.

Sion’s two year campaign that had survived four other rival projects in Switzerland eventually succumbed to opponents of the bid when 54 percent of those who voted rejected the project.  The defeat of the well-organized bid in the IOC’s own backyard was not unexpected, but confirmed suspicions that recent IOC reforms were not resonating well with voters.

Early in the race local reports had suggested that Sapporo’s bid was premature and that Japan was considering waiting until 2030 when new rail infrastructure was to be delivered to the city that would benefit the Olympics.  But when an earthquake hit the region on September 6 and resulted in 41 casualties and damage to infrastructure, Japan’s Olympic Committee officially announced that it would switch plans to 2030 instead while it focused on recovery efforts.

Italy had originally planned a three-city bid including Turin, Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo, but Milan’s Mayor demanded that his city lead the campaign while the Mayor of Turin refused to take a backseat to the project.  With just hours before a September IOC deadline, Italy’s Olympic Committee reorganized the bid with only Milan and Cortina, leaving Turin’s Winter Olympic future out in the cold.

The Italian government was not fully behind the new concept and refused to provide funding for the bid, leaving the project in the current precarious state.  Regions representing the cities have vowed to provide the necessary funding for a Games, but services that must be guaranteed by the national government are still under consideration.

Erzurum was the only city that did not get invited to bid for the Games when the IOC Executive Board chose final candidates from among four remaining cities in October.  The IOC said that the plans required too much new infrastructure and many new venues, and the timing was not right for the costly project.

Calgary’s bid was well-developed, but was forced into a non-binding plebiscite by city councilors and the Province of Alberta.  After a highly contentious election campaign between ‘yes’ and ‘no’ forces, the bid was defeated when 56.4 percent in the city voted against it.

Though the vote was non-binding, necessary provincial funding was contingent on a positive result so City Councillors agreed unanimously to cancel the bid.

#1 – Joint 2032 Olympic bid between North and South Korea shows dramatic contrast from one-year earlier, perfectly summing up the 2018 Olympic bid news cycle

In December of 2017 tensions escalated among North Korea, the United States and South Korea and there were fears that the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics could be disrupted, or canceled altogether.

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

On New Year’s Eve, guessing that 2018’s top story would be about any 2032 Olympic bid would have been ridiculous.

But on New Year’s Day North Korean leader Kim Jong-un announced intentions for his nation to participate in the PyeongChang Games, marking the start of a thaw in the relationship between the two Korea’s on the Peninsula.

Indeed, a unified team marched into the Olympic Stadium at the Opening Ceremony, a joint North and South Korea Women’s Ice Hockey team took the ice and an enthusiastic North Korean Cheer team was a highlight at the Games.

Further participation between the two at future Games was also discussed.

But what nobody expected was a plan that was quickly developed for the two nations to jointly bid for the 2032 Olympic Games.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed to discuss the possibility at a summit this year and then sports ministers met to move plans forward.  A letter of interest was submitted to the IOC, and delegations are expected to travel to Olympic Capital Lausanne, Switzerland in February to conduct high-level discussions.

The unlikely bid will face many challenges.  The current Olympic Charter forbids joint international bids, but that may be something that Olympic Agenda 2020 could address through further reforms in the name of sustainability.

What may not be fixable is North Korea’s dismal human rights record and extremely limited access given to foreign visitors – and media.  Unfathomable changes must happen in the “hermit kingdom” in a very short time in order for this joint bid to be imagined.

The importance of this North Korean story transcended the Olympic bid niche making it newsworthy in the mainstream as well – and it was the clear choice for the GamesBids.com top story of the year.

Happy New Year, and all the best in 2019 from GamesBids.com. 

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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