Every first-rate politician has a stump speech — practiced material that’s safe and sure, stuff he or she can turn to when playing to a new or different audience.
The president of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, is a first-rate politician. You don’t get to be elected president of the IOC, and then re-elected, without being an expert in the swirl of politics.
Earlier this week, the president set off a flurry of speculation about a potential U.S. bid for the 2020 Summer Games with one of his practiced riffs. It made for good theater and excellent politics.
It’s absolutely in the IOC’s interest to invite an American bid.
From an American perspective, though, the balance of interests would seem to tilt differently. It suggests that it might make a considerably great deal more sense for the United States to graciously take a pass and sit this one out. That is, say no — politely — to 2020.
This past Tuesday, at the news conference at which it was announced that NBC had bought the rights to televise the Olympics in the United States from 2014 through 2020 for $4.38 billion, the question came up whether this financial turn might prompt an American bid for the 2020 Summer Games.
Out came a riff of the sort the IOC president has delivered many times. He said, “Of course we are very indebted to the United States of America for what they have done in the past and what they are doing now for the Olympic movement.
“You are the country that has organized the most Olympic Games. You are the country with the best athletes in the world; you are leading on the medal tally. You are contributing a lot. So if there is a bid coming for 2020 from the United States of America, we would be very happy.”
That was artfully done. The president’s words immediately set off speculation: Was the United States bidding? Was the IOC inviting an American bid?
It’s a no-brainer for the IOC to solicit an American bid. For one, it’s in the IOC’s interest to invite as many bids as possible from as many countries as possible. For another, the IOC would figure to benefit — as it did during the New York 2012 and Chicago 2016 bids — from the publicity a 2020 campaign would bring in the United States.
Therein, however, lies the crux of the matter. New York got crushed. So did Chicago, and after the president of the United States made a personal appeal on his hometown’s behalf.
Why would a 2020 bid do any better?
Because, right now, the 2020 field is looking thin?
So far, Rome has announced it’s in. Madrid would seem likely.
Tokyo might want in. But if Pyeongchang, South Korea, wins the 2018 Winter Games, will the IOC go back to Asia for the Summer Games just two years later? Munich and Annecy, France, are also in the 2018 Winter race. The IOC will pick the 2018 city on July 6.
Other potential 2020 candidacies are just rumors at this point, among them Doha; Dubai; Istanbul. Doha holds the potential to be the most intriguing.
The deadline for submitting a 2020 bid is Sept. 1. There’s not a lot of time left to decide.
What city would the U.S. Olympic Committee put forth?
There are perhaps only three cities in the United States that can credibly bid for the Summer Games, and regrettably right now none of them screams “winner”:
Chicago — where President Obama’s former chief of staff is now the mayor? Think he remembers Chicago getting 18 votes?
New York? A great bid. Got 19 votes.
Los Angeles. All the facilities. Can do the Games on short notice. But already staged Games twice, in 1932 and 1984, and the Coliseum is, like, old.
As for Tulsa, Oklahoma, where some local leaders have Olympic fever — get real. Not going to happen.
As for Dallas, and Cowboys Stadium? The stadium, granted, is great. Now — what’s the narrative that’s going to compel the IOC to visit Dallas in the heat of the summer? Two dozen years after the heat and good times of Atlanta?
San Francisco? Everyone’s favorite American city, right? But there’s no stadium; there’s no public money in California for that kind of project; the Bay Area sprawls across a bunch of different jurisdictions; the freeways are a mess; and on and on.
Picking a suitable city would be only the start of the to-do list.
It’s hard to imagine rallying the White House for all-in support again. Yet if the last two IOC elections have proven anything, it’s that you can’t win unless you have the full backing of your national government (Sochi 2014, Rio 2016).
Beyond that — the American system of federalism makes cobbling together the financial guarantees the IOC demands a challenging undertaking. If in other countries the federal government can simply sign off on such guarantees, that’s just not possible in a system where the 50 states and the national government have distinct lines of authority.
The guarantee-issue may well have effectively doomed New York’s bid just hours before the 2012 voting; it led to a creative end-around financing plan for Chicago, which had to be approved by the city council there (it was), which involved a lot of local politicking, and for what — those 18 IOC votes and that first-round exit? Is the Chicago city council likely to be eager to do that all over again?
There’s yet another financial matter at issue. The USOC and IOC have been at odds for years now over the USOC’s share of broadcasting and marketing revenues. It gets 12.75 percent of the NBC TV deal and 20 percent of certain top-tier marketing contracts. The day after the $4.38 billion NBC deal was announced, the two sides resumed talks over the USOC’s shares.
The USOC’s chief executive, Scott Blackmun, has consistently said that it won’t bid for 2020 unless there’s a deal with the IOC over those shares.
Understand, though, that Blackmun is not saying that if a deal does get done the USOC will then bid. He is not saying that at all.
And no one is saying that a deal is going to get done by the Sept. 1 deadline to submit a bid. Maybe it does; maybe it doesn’t.
Remember, though, that Sept. 1 is not even two years since Chicago got whacked. The 2016 vote took place Oct. 2, 2009. The USOC has made it plain that it needs to build relationships and go slow. Again, it needs to go s-l-o-w.
The USOC chairman, Larry Probst, presumably is in line to become an IOC member at some point. But he’s not one yet. Why launch a bid when the USOC doesn’t know when he’ll be able to work the room?
There’s more. But that’s enough, save these couple of thoughts:
Rogge’s term ends in 2013. The dynamic afterward, under a new president, whoever that may be, will doubtlessly prove different. In the meantime, Sochi 2014 and Rio 2016 took the IOC to new places; Pyeongchang offers a similar possibility for 2018. If the Koreans were to win, what evidence would suggest the IOC would be looking to return to the United States, “the country that has organized the most Olympic Games,” for the final election of Rogge’s term? The 2020 site will be chosen in 2013.
Finally, the United States won the medals count at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. What if in the coming years the best shot for a winning bid from the United States proves to be a Winter Games entry?
It’s a long way away, 2022. The IOC election for 2022 will be in 2015. But they’re already talking about it in Reno, Nevada. They held the Games there (pretty much) — in Squaw Valley, California, in 1960. Great mountains. Here’s the challenge with Reno: Aside from security, which is always priority No. 1 with the IOC, the leading issue within IOC circles right now is betting, in particular the influence that illicit betting can have on sports. Of course, gaming is highly regulated in Nevada. Even so — how is that distinction going to be easily explained to the IOC?
For entertainment purposes only, how about this for a 2022 thought: Denver. The IOC decamped there in 2009 for an executive board meeting. The Colorado mountains were out the window of the hotel. The USOC could pretty much run the bid from its headquarters 90 minutes away, in Colorado Springs. And you want a story? The only city ever to give the Games back (early 1970s) has realized its mistake and wants to make amends with a great and gracious American welcome?