KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- Olympic history has been made. Not in a stadium, in front of TV millions. Instead, in a conference hall, in front of a hundred or so great and good (plus essential acolytes and just-about-tolerated journalists). Two Games have been assigned at one fell swoop: 2024 to Paris and 2028 to Los Angeles.
Awarding two or more championships simultaneously is nothing unusual. Many sports do it. FIFA awarded three at one fell swoop back in the mid-1960s. World football also made it a pig’s ear of awarding two together in 2010 but that was an exception rather than a rule.
The non-decision into which the International Olympic Committee has invested a budget comparable to that of a small developing-world nation has been taken at its Session – congress to everyone else – in Lima.
Or ‘Lima, Peru,’ in patronising Olympic parlance. This is in case any ignoramus should have thought mistakenly of booking flights to Lima, Ohio (population 45,000).
Selling two-for-one will be presented by IOC president Thomas Bach as a triumph for diplomacy and parsimony (yes, really). Plain truth is that it represents a victory for commonsense of which, to be fair, the sports business industry is not always inordinately blessed.
Plenty of cities sign up for the Olympic host dream until being presented with the nightmare of likely costs (without counting any millions allocated for under-the-counter payments). Then they run like fury in the opposite direction.
Even the soft-power-hungry nouveau-riche states born of the post-communist collapse are beginning to baulk at the cost (not only financial but all those unremitting western media headlines about corruption and human rights abuses).
Why let yourself in, as did Qatar with the 2022 World Cup, for 12 years or relentless hammering about the way you run the domestic show? Especially with the risk it might prompt some of your own into asking awkward questions about despotic rulers and autocratic self-proclaimed royal families?
Then again, a city might bid successfully for an event (like PyeongChang 2018) only to find prospects for its its prestigious prize compromised by the behaviour of an intemperate, unpredictable neighbour and an intemperate, unpredictable ally.
However, this is sport, and there is always the dream that the next game, the next championship, the next tournament will deliver the victor’s crown of laurels.
Hence Paris and Los Angeles sent “high-powered” delegations to Lima (Peru not Ohio) expecting nothing more nor less than that respective Mayors Anne Hidalgo and Eric Garcetti would have their triumphant fists raised in glorious triumph by Bach in his diplomatic boxing ring.
Cynicism aside, this was the best possible outcome. It says everything about the complexities and self-interest of the bidding industry these days that it took so long to come up with the right answer. Not so much through luck or judgment than sheer endurance.
Also, funnily enough, the winners are one city whose mayor was originally a sceptic (Paris) and another which was not its own country’s favoured first choice (Los Angeles). Just don’t Google too far back into the internet Olympic history of Hidalgo and Boston.
How did it has come to this? Simple.
Once upon a time, on January 15, 2015, the IOC “invited bids to host the 2024 Olympic Games.” At that point, and for a variety of contrasting reasons, likely contenders included Baku, Berlin or Hamburg, Boston, Budapest, Doha, Durban, Paris, Istanbul and Rome.
Bach expected to be overwhelmed by a rush of interest since his Agenda 2020 baby had relaxed some of the most notoriously inflexible demands. Within three months he had Boston, Budapest, Hamburg and Rome on board before Hidalgo also declared herself a convert to the lure of being the Mayor who delivered a ‘centenary Games’.
[Top marks to persuasive French NOC president Denis Masseglia and Bernard Lapasset for 'selling' the 2024 Games rather than Expo 2025 as less risky and less expensive. Maybe. Maybe not. Irrelevant now].
That was the high point of the bidding process as far as the IOC was concerned. Within the next seven months local opposition scuppered the bids of Boston and Hamburg though the USOC did rescue its own day by bringing Los Angeles off the substitutes’ bench.
By the following November, 2016, when the bidders were ‘freed’ to state their case for the Association of National Olympic Committees so Rome had also fallen to the invading vandal horde of populism. Confidence in the organisational competence of Los Angeles had also been shaken by the impending presidential accession of Donald Trump.
February 2017 saw the departure of Budapest. Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Mayor Istvan Tarlos dressed it up as the need to avoid “a loss of international prestige” (but also to head off the embarrassment of a growing NOlimpia protest movement).
Bach’s relief at being left with two outstanding candidates in Paris and Los Angeles had his opinion confirmed by top-marks reports for both cities from Patrick Baumann’s bid evaluation commission (Baumann having taken over at short notice from Frankie Fredericks over events which threw up a reminder of the murky world of Olympic bidding).
Bach duly commissioned a four-man working group of IOC vice-presidents to assure him that the Olympic Charter allowed him to throw the rulebook out of the Games window and permit a double award for 2024 and 2028. John Coates, Yu Zaiqing, Juan Antonio Samaranch and Ugur Erdener dutifully heeded their master’s voice.
All that remained was to sort it with Paris and LA.
Strengths and weaknesses
The solution was always self-evident. On one hand, the political window for Paris (and Hidalgo) was shorter; on the other, LA had been betrayed by its own boast that it stood ready to stage the Games tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, anytime. So, no problem with 2028 then.
To maintain the illusion that the IOC members mattered, Bach permitted them to vote in July to approve a double award. Now, in Lima (Lima, Peru, that is, not Lima, Ohio) they have voted 2024 to Paris and 2028 to Los Angeles.
Every one a winner.
An outcome in which the IOC can take due pride.
After all, that never happens out on the track.