Forget the German elections, new-boy President Macron or Trump's Tower of Tweet. The big political contest of the summer is who follows Tokyo to host the 2024 Summer Olympic Games, a contest which will be decided in Peru on September 13.
The two contenders are Paris and Los Angeles, both with huge public and political support behind them. Paris has a knack for losing Olympic Games bids: 3 out of its last 3 recent efforts. But so do the American candidates: 2 out of their last 2 attempts.
That's what Thomas Bach, the IOC President claims he wants to fix. The problem is not "too many losers" that Bach wants to avoid, but "too many entrants", many from rogue states and others, who either seek the publicity of the global stage, or to manipulate domestic politics through their candidatures. That's when graft comes into play; just look at how the FIFA corruption scandal unraveled.
Both candidates are great metropolis, totally able to deliver great Games, albeit 11 time zones apart. The bookies and the World Street Journal favor Paris. But why? Is its winning card the Centennial Celebration of the 1924 Paris Olympics? Athens lost the 1996 Games to Atlanta, when it bid to host the Centennial of the inaugural Modern Games it revived in 1896.
Actually, there's more to it. It is the global Olympic Business, steered by Olympic Stakeholders (broadcasters, sponsors, advertisers, etc.) addressing 7.3 billion global citizens in 5 continents.
We call it Olympic Geopolitics, which makes the Vatican College of Cardinals look like a parish management committee. The Summer Games have to satisfy market needs for mostly live broadcasts in the three broad time zones defined as Americas, Euro-African and Asia-Oceanic. The Winter Games skip those concerns as they address a rather limited public.
Just look at Summer Olympic organizers over the past 40 years and place them geographically: LA ('84), Seoul ('88), Barcelona ('92), Atlanta ('96), Sydney ('00), Athens ('04), Beijing ('08), London ('12), Rio ('16), Tokyo ('20); now add Paris ('24) and LA ('28) and you got it all.
The trend which follows the time-zones is clear except for a couple of hiccups. It explains why Athens could not follow Barcelona despite the Heritage issue. London and Rio came in by default, when New York and Chicago tanked with their poor bids and arrogant deliveries to an equally arrogant IOC.
But there is a bit of plain politics under the Olympic veil as well. In 2008, the global community wanted the Games in Beijing to oversee China's entry into world trade, by placing the country and its capital on the global stage for a closer look. Beijing beating Toronto was a political choice. Paris had no business being a 2008 candidate after Athens won in 2004.
Far from there being a world hunger to host the Olympics, most nations won't touch them with a barge-pole. After nearly a dozen cities abandoned Olympic Bids in the last three years due to public opposition, IOC boss, Thomas Bach, is now pushing the idea of a dual award in 2017 in order to secure the IOC's next two marquis events and buys time to figure out how to proceed from there. The IOC Agenda 2020, which supposedly made bidding easier and cheaper, is already out of date. Agenda 2030 needs to be drafted urgently.
Bach was recently quoted in support of the arguments advanced in the "How to Save the Games from Extinction" piece we published two months ago: "That future Summer Games should be awarded to nations (Bach said "regions") who will put forth 3 to 4 cluster cities to host the 18 day event. It will reduce costs and spread benefits; it will also increase visitor numbers and fans in the stands.
We believe that the IOC will also embrace our idea that Winter Games should be limited to hosts combining a large urban area for the indoor events, with a nearby ski resort already developed for world class competitions and winter holiday makers". The Winter Games selection process should have started already, but has been held back because no candidate wants to play by the current bidding rules.
LA to the Rescue?
In 1984, Los Angeles saved the Olympic Games by turning it into the world's biggest marketing exercise via global TV. TodayLA could salvage the Olympic Movement by gracefully coming to terms with the IOC and agree to follow Paris in a two-city bid covering 2024 and 2028.
LA's Bid book's vision is about, "Connecting the Olympic Movement to the Future; to create a New Games for a New Era". But 2024 is too early. LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and the LA Bid Committee seem open to this "future" discussion against compensation that would keep its motors running for another 4 years. LA's ambitious $120bn-40 year plan to create a transit system for his sprawling Metropolis needs a longer horizon to deliver essential elements of it on time for the 2028 Games and, thus, create LA's new Olympic Legacy.
Will Logic Prevail?
The IOC not only needs to accommodate Paris and LA, Trump and Macron, Europe and America, but its own membership as well. Through the dual award it would effectively remove its membership's ultimate power of selecting the host city.
The process to be followed calls for the recommendation of the IOC vice-presidential Working Group to sell its dual award recommendation to the IOC Executive Board on June 9, followed by its approval by the full membership a month later, with both cities present. If in agreement, the IOC Session in Lima on September 13, will simply rubberstamp the negotiated outcome, instead of the membership insisting to vote for the hosting order.
But with this process representing uncharted territory, negotiations at any level may fall apart and the Olympic World may face a very hot summer ahead.
Athens, Greece, 7 June 2017
(George Courmouzis has been involved professionally with the Olympics since the Montreal 1976 Games, culminating with the Athens 2004 Games. He built a pioneering sports management and marketing business at the international level)
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