As the International Olympic Committee (IOC) searches for the host of the 2030 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games under new site selection protocols introduced in 2019, it remains unclear whether interested bidders have the expanded flexibility the IOC claims, or if Olympic officials have tightened control over the process and simply cloaked it in secrecy.
Canadian media outlets were whipped up into a frenzy late last month when GamesBids.com exclusively reported that an IOC “technical team” was due to arrive in Vancouver in mere hours to tour proposed venues and review nascent bid plans. The anonymous experts were to travel direct from their visit to rival bidder Salt lake City where activities were conducted in similar secrecy. Another trip has been planned for Sapporo in Japan in late May but an itinerary for Barcelona and the Pyrenees this month had to be canceled due to disorganization within Spain’s bid.
Since the IOC keeps bid discussions in the “continuous dialogue” process confidential, and interested parties are not required to reveal themselves, it is possible there are one or more additional jurisdictions interested in hosting the 2030 Games. There is no set timetable for awarding the Games, so new interest could emerge at any time.
Brisbane was awarded the 2032 Summer Games last year as the first bid to succeed under the new cloaked process. But the IOC publicized a visit to its headquarters by a high-level delegation from Australia during that continuous dialogue process, so it seems the curtain has since been drawn tighter.
The planned consecutive visits by a technical team to known potential hosts has the look and feel of the old Evaluation Commission tours but without the high-profile ceremony and heavy media coverage which had become customary. But those visits often left other necessary technical working trips to those same cities unnoticed and unreported. The secrecy here has now left us guessing what kind of work is actually being done.
The IOC insisted that the technical team was not part of its Future Host Commission, the body organized to recommend qualified bids for Executive Board and membership approval. In a statement, a spokesperson said that the site visit was a service offered to interested bidders to help them develop their projects and to provide the Future Host Commission “with a status update on the venue masterplan.”
“It wasn’t something that they demanded,” Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) Vice President and Vancouver 2030 feasibility team member Andrew Baker told GamesBids.com.
“It was a service that we were happy to take advantage of.”
“Ultimately [the IOC experts] worked with our technical team to try to build a program together, that makes sense to see the venues. So based on what we were planning we built a site visit tour but the concept of this visit comes from the IOC continuous dialogue strategy – very collaborative ultimately.”
Vancouver is not yet a committed bidder, unlike Salt Lake City and Sapporo where officials have indicated that they are all-in to compete for a future Games. With a feasibility study still underway and completion targeted for June, Baker said that potential bid partners including the COC, four First Nations and the municipalities of Vancouver and Whistler would then have to be in agreement before submitting a bid.
He said that until a bid is in place, there is not much to talk about publicly.
“Right now we’ve been able to communicate on the process and ultimately that’s what exists at this point in time as it relates to information we’re focused on,” Baker said of the perceived secrecy behind Vancouver’s project where few details about potential venues and costs have been revealed.
“When we have the right level of information and have the ability to ask educated and informed questions we would see public engagement as a really important component of finalizing and building a concept.
“We’ve got a little bit of work to do, I think, to put some of that together so we can then communicate publicly but we think that will start in and around June and through the summer and into the fall where we would be able to engage more fully with the community.”
Baker said he welcomes the new IOC process where his team can explore the potential of a bid without making any commitments among stakeholders, constituents or the IOC, and with the IOC keeping discussions confidential.
“It’s important that you follow process and protocol,” he said adding “when we first started to explore, our first step was to ask the host First Nations for permission to even start exploration on their lands.”
“What the respect for process allows us to do is to build something to talk about versus have a lot of misinformation and essentially not be able to provide a lot of information at the right time.
“We’re not having to adhere to fixed timelines which I think is helpful because it allows the process to move forward domestically at the pace it needs to which is really helpful.”
But without timelines, Vancouver could find itself left out of the race if the IOC decides to move forward at its own pace. Sapporo has already published plans that are being scrutinized through aggressive public engagement. Salt Lake City has participated in online planning meetings with Olympic officials and a delegation has planned to travel to IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland in June.
“We don’t have plans to be in Lausanne in the near future, Baker said of Vancouver’s feasibility team. “We’re ultimately focused kind of on the domestic concept here working with partners in the near term so we have no plans [to travel].”
If this were a traditional race, Vancouver would have a lot of catching up to do.
Meanwhile in Spain, If regional partners around Barcelona can come to an agreement over venue distribution, bid plans will need to endure a referendum test scheduled for July 24.
Last month Vancouver city councilors denied a motion to hold an Olympic bid plebiscite in October with the Mayor insisting that such a decision at the time would violate the Memorandum of Understanding signed with First Nations groups.
United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) chair Susanne Lyons hinted earlier this year that she believed the IOC could invite one or more bids to a targeted dialogue before the end of the year setting up an election at the IOC’s all-members Session scheduled for May 30, 2023 in Mumbai, India. The IOC has not corroborated this information, instead confirming last month that “no election timetable has been set for any forthcoming Games edition.”
Under the old IOC process, the Mumbai Session would have been the prescheduled venue for the final 2030 Olympic bid vote.