DURBAN, South Africa — Guy Drut, one of France’s two International Olympic Committee members, called it a “very, very cold shower,” and that was the headline all over Thursday’s editions of the French newspaper Le Monde.
L’Équipe, the French sports daily, offered up the “autopsy of a failure.”
In the Tribune de Genève, which can be read not just in Geneva but in Annecy, the French town just down the road that got spanked in Wednesday’s IOC vote, receiving just seven votes, it was, “Disappointed.”
“We console ourselves as we can,” L’Équipe said, and with all due respect, that’s not it. Now is not the time for consolation.
Now is the time for a wholesale re-think of what is going on over there in France.
That’s what’s going on in the United States as the U.S. Olympic Committee tries to rebuild its financial and political relationships with the IOC.
And that’s what is manifestly called for now in France.
If that’s not obvious, every single person in position of leadership in French sport ought to be replaced.
There have now been four French bids for the Olympic Games in the past 14 years — Lille for 2004, Paris for both 2008 and 2012 and, now, Annecy for 2018. By common reckoning, the French have spent a combined 130 million euros on the four bids, about $185 million at current exchange rates.
What do they have to show for it?
It’s pretty plain that Annecy’s performance here in Durban ranks at the bottom of any bid city’s effort over the last 20 years. To recap it all is to wonder how a country that has so much going for it can get it all so very wrong:
From the start, the bid proved a complicated tangle between a national Olympic committee and the central government in Paris and the locals in the far-off mountains. Jean-Claude Killy, the French ski legend and acknowledged authority in IOC circles on Winter Games, kept his distance from the campaign; he would ultimately make only three live appearances on behalf of the bid, one here in Durban.
Moreover, and crucially, the bid was under-funded from the get-go.
Because of those funding concerns, bid chief Edgar Grospiron resigned last December. No one wanted the job. Entrepreneur Charles Beigbeder was finally convinced to take it. At that point, the technical plan was a mess. There was no narrative — that is, no story about why anyone should want to vote for Annecy.
It proved remarkable how many times one heard bid officials mention the name “Annecy” once in a briefing and then go on to mention “the French Alps” thereafter.
A little brand-management, please. Frankly, the bid should always have been called “Chamonix.” There’s a name that’s globally recognized and might have excited people.
For his part, Beigbeder was put in a hugely untenable position. On the one hand, he had to try to keep everyone around him motivated. On the other, he had to confront the reality he had inherited.
If the IOC vote had been held when Beigbeder took over, it’s quite possible — as even bid insiders now acknowledge — Annecy might have gotten no votes.
From there, things did pick up. Well, some. The technical plan was improved. A creative team — Lucien Boyer, Andrew Craig, Nick Varley, Dan Connolly — developed a story and hammered it until journalists could recite it by heart. That’s a good thing. It meant the team had done their job. The tagline: “an authentic Games in the heart of the mountains.”
Even so, it remained clear Annecy still had no chance to win. The only issue was how many votes it could get. Like, double digits?
The French were counting on African votes — in particular, Francophone votes — to get there. As if.
If you know how the game works, it’s quite possible the French got no African votes. There were those here who knew Francophone voters were still incredibly angry for promises made in 2005 in the course of the Paris 2012 campaign that they felt had never been fulfilled. No way were they going to be voting for Annecy now.
Here’s the bottom line:
In general, as a country, France does have so much going for it. The French Olympic committee is not — as is the USOC — locked in a revenue dispute with the IOC. So, at a macro level, what’s the problem?
That’s what the re-think has to be about.
France has not been able, for instance, to take the momentum of the multiculturalism that was 1998 and the winning World Cup in Paris and translate that into a winning Olympic bid. Why is that?
The Annecy campaign? Not one person of color in any leadership position.
Moreover, France’s Olympic bids keep getting stuck in some weird sense of entitlement rooted in the fact that Pierre de Coubertin was French, and de Coubertin is the man who in many ways got the modern Olympic movement going. Our French friends need to get over that. Like, now. Take soccer. Modern-day soccer has its roots in Britain. Did England win the 2018 World Cup because of that? Hardly.
Sorry to say this, too, but while the French did a much better job speaking English in the Annecy presentation Wednesday to the IOC — about 40 percent of it was in English — they need to ramp it up even more. They can like that, or not. But they have to accept it, or at least think long and hard about the consequences of not accepting it. The language of international business has become English and the language of the Olympic movement is, practically speaking, English.
Here is indisputable proof:
At every Games, the IOC makes available a database in both English and French to the thousands of writers and broadcasters from around the world. The usage stats from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics: 96.4 percent of the hits were in English, 3.6 percent in French.
In the first of their losing bids eight years ago, Pyeongchang’s team spoke almost exclusively in Korean.
What the Koreans have learned and what the French now have to study is how to play to your audience. On Wednesday, Pyeongchang’s 45-minute presentation went down almost entirely in English.
You’d like to think that in Beigbeder and in the French sports minister, Chantal Jouanno, the French now might have a team that has endured a brutal learning curve and could put what they’ve learned to use long-term. Because this has to be a long-term play.
Then again, given the French way, it’s not clear how long Jouanno can stay in her position.
Just one more thing for them to think about.
L’Équipe’s two standout Olympic correspondents, Alain Lunzenfichter and Marc Chevrier, published a lengthy feature Thursday entitled, “Objective Paris 2024!”
It seems almost inevitable. They’ll be lusting after those 2024 Games in Paris because they staged the 1924 Games there.
The IOC will pick the 2024 site in 2017. That gives the French six years to get their act together, as the story points out.
Just to be blunt: that 100-year thing is no guarantee of anything. Ask Athens. They lusted for 1996 after staging 1896. The 1996 Games went to Atlanta.
Carlos Nuzman, the 2016 Rio bid leader, now its chief organizer, held a casual briefing Thursday afternoon with some reporters. Asked what he might suggest to his French friends, he said, “You need to evaluate a lot of things. You need to put on paper or [sit] around a round table. Maybe you will think and some momentum will come.
“It’s very important to understand bids nowadays are different from the past. This is one special lesson.”