Swiss Olympic Considers Agenda 2020, Sets Realistic Roadmap For Olympic Bidders

Swiss OlympicAttention interested bidders for future Olympic Games:  Swiss Olympic, the National Olympic Committee for Switzerland, has done you a huge favour – and you’d be amiss not to take advantage of it.

That includes current bids for the 2024 Olympic Games.

By publishing detailed plans and strategies for selecting a nominee to bid for the 2026 Olympic Winter Games, Swiss Olympic has unknowingly produced the de facto playbook for preparing a bid for such an event.  The 18-page internal document released last month accompanied a call for interested cities across Switzerland to express their interest in hosting the Games.

But rival cities beware; from my observations, these honest preparations will give the currently unselected Swiss city a very early lead in the race that has yet to be launched.

Interested cities across Switzerland have been invited to an “open briefing” to be held in the Olympic Capital of Lausanne on Wednesday – at the Olympic Museum – and I encourage them all to listen very carefully.  It’s not surprising that a national Olympic committee that shares the same home as the Olympic movement has such a clear understanding of how the system really works and how the game needs to be played.

Diplomatically, in the document’s forward lorg Schild – President of Swiss Olympic – credits the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the recent Agenda 2020 reform package for Switzerland’s interest in bidding.

IOC President Thomas Bach at 127th IOC Session speaking on Agenda 2020 (IOC Photo)
IOC President Thomas Bach at 127th IOC Session speaking on Agenda 2020 (IOC Photo)

“Based on a series of ground-breaking reforms recently implemented by the International Olympic Committee under the name ‘Olympic Agenda 2020’, the hosting of Olympic Games has been made not only possible but very attractive for smaller countries like Switzerland,” Schild remarked.

The remainder of the more technical brief then distances itself from the significance of Agenda 2020.  The Swiss Olympic document puts it all out there bluntly and unapologetically, cutting through the rhetoric of official Olympic guides and telling untold truths.

The centrepiece of the original document is a myth vs. reality commentary that tells it as it is, very refreshing in Olympic bidding circles.

…at the end of the day, a compact bid will always be attractive, for the athletes, for the International Federations, for the National Olympic Committees, and therefore for many voters. – Swiss Olympic

The document suggests “bidding for the Olympic Games is not an exact science. There are many factors that influence decisions, and a city never really knows why it won or why it lost.”

This is often very painfully true, and while it’s often retrospectively possible to determine the reasons for wins and losses, they’re not usually what are expected.

Then this:  “While technical plans are important, it is not what will make a bid win. Few voters will actually read all bid books in their entirety,” italics added for emphasis.

And I’ll elaborate further.  The enormous amounts of time, effort and money poured into these massive and often impressive planning documents end up being a mere token for the bid – simply proof that homework was done.  Voters largely base their decisions on other factors.

The Swiss Olympic report adds “this means that a good bid committee needs to be developed more as a Public Relations firm and less as a technical, organising committee.”

So how is the key strategy to win an Olympic bid on the International stage explained?

It says “the bids that are the most active, that spend the most money and time on communicating are the bids that normally win.”

“This means that an important portion if not the majority of a bid’s resources should focus on ‘selling’ its message to voters, influencers and media.”

Not only is this message so accurately on point – but it also flies in the face of any Agenda 2020 message that the IOC is trying to convey with respect to the future of bidding.  And by publishing this “roadmap”, Swiss Olympic is showing that it won’t be fooled by what seems to be rhetoric.

Several months ago IOC President Thomas Bach frowned upon the use of international consulting firms to plan and communicate campaigns, instead insisting the bids do the work in-house with greater creativity.  But without experience, this most important bid selling element is left up to chance.  Bids for the 2024 Olympic Games are embracing the use of these consultants more than ever before according to the IOC’s own consultants registry that discloses any such relationships.

“…the bids that are the most active, that spend the most money and time on communicating are the bids that normally win.” – Swiss Olympic

Through its reforms the IOC claims the bid process is now more streamlined and its expectations are now adjusted, and not only will hosting the Games be less expensive and more efficient – but bidding costs will drop as well.

But, it is still a competition – and if a city is in the race, they’re in it to win.  It takes money and it takes planning to provide better experiences for athletes, sport federations and the Olympic family – the kinds of people who make up the final voter list.

A study done by in conjunction with BidIndex four years ago showed that the bids that spent the most money during the campaigns were typically more successful than those that economized.  To think that that basic principal of sales and marketing will not apply to the Olympic bid process post Agenda 2020 is not rational.

Swiss Olympic gets it.

And it’s explained bluntly, “while ‘Agenda 2020’ is a big step forward in trying to simplify and clarify the bid process for the Games (amongst others), it is not based on this criteria only that the final decision will be made. Other criteria exist: decisions are also based on sporting, economic or political considerations. This means that Agenda 2020 cannot be the sole base for a solid bid argumentation.”

It also further dismisses any perceived benefits of the IOC’s relaxed rules on the need for a compact Games footprint.

“…at the end of the day, a compact bid will always be attractive, for the athletes, for the International Federations, for the National Olympic Committees, and therefore for many voters. A compact bid means a stronger Olympic experience for everybody involved.”

In contrast, the Quebec City, Canada mayor has recently proposed a bid plan that shares hosting duties with Vancouver or Calgary – both cities can support downhill ski, sliding and ski jump events without costly construction.  He sees this as a perfect fit with Agenda 2020 though both those cities are thousands of kilometers away resulting in a very poor Olympic experience.

The IOC often talks the talk, but doesn’t walk the walk.

To the Canadian Olympic Committee and other National Federations who may be considering a 2026 bid:  download the Swiss Olympic document now.

On Wednesday when representatives of interested Swiss cities descend upon the Olympic Capital of Lausanne where monuments stand to the movement, they’ll be told that the ego of the IOC is still paramount in the Olympic bid process.

“Winning bids talk about the voters, not about themselves,” the published document reveals.

“The opinion of a country’s capability to host the Games is formed very quickly in the voters’ minds, even before technical plans are being developed. The voters will very quickly think what each bid can bring to them (their sport/their country), to the Games, to the Olympic Movement. Why that country is bidding, where things will take place — unless the plan is bad — is not as important.”

Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland (GB Photo)
Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland where Swiss Olympic will brief interested 2026 Olympic Winter Games bid applicants (GB Photo)

In the end, no written reforms can quickly change over 100 years of Olympic culture.

Swiss Olympic has set a clear timetable for its domestic campaign.  After Wednesday’s briefing bids have until May 31 to send a letter of intent and pay an application fee.  Registered bids will attend workshops on June 15, July 13, September 14 and in October before they’ll need to fie a candidature file December 15.

Bids in the race will need to hold public referendums by the end of June 2017 and for those cities that earn a successful result, a site evaluation visit will take place and an evaluation report will be filed and made public.  By the end of September 2017 Swiss Olympic will choose a candidate and Swiss Sport Parliament will be asked to ratify the bid before it passes to the international stage.

The International process is expected to open with an “invitation stage” early in 2017 with applications due late in the year.  Bidders, have the Swiss Olympic document at hand.

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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