Olympic Bid Magic Number is 48; The Numbers Game

Durban, South Africa – There will be about 94 votes cast on the first ballot of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) election of the host city for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games. That means 48 votes will be needed for an instant victory at the end of a rigorous two-year campaign.

110 IOC members are eligible to vote in host city elections, but IOC rules prohibit members who represent National Olympic Committees (NOC) that are bidding from participating in the vote. There are two members from each of Annecy, Munich and PyeongChang, so that brings the number down to 104.

Typically, the IOC President does not cast a vote either so Jacques Rogge is off the list bringing the number of voters to 103. Rogge would be required to cast a tie-breaking vote should the situation occur on the final ballot.

The IOC has confirmed that at least 7 other members will be absent from the vote, and possibly more. These include Alpha Saudi Arabia’s Prince Nawaf Faisal Fahd Abdulaziz, the United States James Easton, Brazil’s Joao Havelange and Egypt’s General Mounir Sabet .

But if we stay with 7 the number drops to 96.

Last year Denis Oswald declared that he would abstain from voting in order to avoid a conflict of interest resulting from a sponsorship deal last year between his International Rowing Federation and PyeongChang supporter Samsung. We have 95.

Reportedly Britain’s Princess Anne might also abstain, that brings the number to 94.

To win the bid, a city is required to get 50% plus one vote. Assuming 94 votes are cast as described above, the number of votes needed to secure a victory on the first ballot is 48.

If no winner is declared on the first ballot, the bid with the least support would be dropped and there would be a final ballot between the final two cities. The number of eligible voters would increase by two as the IOC members connected to the eliminated bid would become eligible. 49 votes would be required for a victory.

Of course, this assumes that there are no further missing members, abstentions or spoiled ballots that would lower the number.

In the election for the 2010 Winter Games, PyeongChang received 51 votes on ballot one – a total of 107 ballots were cast. And even though the city had 53 votes on the final ballot – PyeongChang lost 56-53. On the final ballot for 2014 against Sochi, PyeongChang lost with 47 out of 98 cast votes.

Clearly, PyeongChang has already connected with enough voters in previous campaigns to win this one. Why would a member who has previously voted for the South Korean bid, not support it now?

Well, there are reasons – most involving geopolitics and new competitors.

If PyeongChang is indeed the bid to beat as so many observers believe; their most likely obstacle is Annecy as the outsider. The French candidate will probably pick up a few courtesy votes – first round support from members who want to shelter the bid from an embarrassing total but who really intend to elect a different city the next round. If there are many of these courtesy votes, they could make a first round majority unlikely for the other cities; or be enough to bolster Annecy onto the second ballot.

A second round would mean the eliminated bid’s votes would get redistributed to the other bids – and they could decide the winner.

But any way you look at it, it’s up to the members to decide on Wednesday when they cast their votes.