Let’s have fun with French. You don’t even need to speak French — much — to play along.
I will play the part of a voyeur, someone who has spent nearly 20 years reporting, writing and observing about the Olympic movement, in particular the bid process for the Games. You can be the public. In French, that translates into the word “audience.” Even when it seems all by itself like an English word.
Those wacky French — they have a different word for everything.
Well, kinda. In that spirit:
In English, we say hypocrisy.
In French, hypocrisie.
In the Olympic world, there are many varieties of hypocrisie worth examination.
Here, as in the brilliant John Oliver takedown of the forthcoming French presidential elections, let us light a Gauloise (hey, no smoking in California!), pour a lovely red and consider:
Is the International Olympic Committee spitballing — or more — a double-double that would send the 2024 Games to Paris and 2028 to Los Angeles?
Is that already a fait accompli? Is that (oops, a little Latin here but credit, please, for sticking with the European thing) IOC president Thomas Bach’s modus operandi?
If it’s a done deal, why go through with the charade (oh, hey, same word!) of a bid race? If it’s signed, sealed and delivered and it’s only April, what precisely would be an LA24 raison d’etre?
Why go through an expensive campaign just to get to September and have the IOC announce, oh, toutes nos félicitations — or, you know, congrats, we’ve got this covered!
Maybe nothing is really done until the IOC, like everyone, sees in May the results of the French presidential race, in particular whether Marine le Pen prevails.
For 2024, this space has made the point repeatedly that the IOC cannot afford — literally, figuratively, PR-wise and social media-wise — to rely on yet another government-backed bid that brings the unwarranted risk of huge infrastructure projects. Particularly in Europe. European taxpayers have made plain they don’t want that right now. Besides, the future of the European Union is perhaps, to be gentle, wobbly. Why place a multibillion-dollar bet in 2017 on the stability — financial, political, security-wise — of France in 2024?
If there is to be a two-fer: LA for 24, then if Paris wants it for 28, sure, that’s a discussion for another day.
Since the essence of any Olympic competition is supposed to be fair play:
The U.S. Olympic Committee has gotten itself bashed, justifiably and relentlessly, both by the press and, more importantly, inside the Olympic movement, and at the highest levels, for the role it played — a poor partner, it was said, not nearly as supportive as it could be, it was alleged — in the New York 2005 for 2012 and Chicago 2009 for 2016 campaigns.
Since the Chicago debacle in Copenhagen in October 2009, USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun and chairman Larry Probst have re-dedicated themselves to the cause. They have traveled the world in humble and gracious support of and service to the movement. Four years ago, the USOC did not even put up a candidate for 2020, on the grounds that fence-mending and relationship-building was more of a priority.
Because, one, it was the right thing to do and, two, it was what the right people in the right places at IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, were telling Blackmun and Probst was the right thing to do.
Maintenant, let’s have a look at the situation in France.
In particular, let’s compare the USOC with the French national Olympic committee, which goes by the acronym CNOSF, and especially the way the two committees have responded since both came up short in 2005, the USOC with New York, CNOSF with Paris, for the Summer Games in 2012.
A newsletter published in Germany, called Sport Intern, remains mandatory reading within the Olympic scene. Wednesday’s editions contains a column written by a veteran French writer, Yannick Cochennec.
That piece, for those not up to speed on the potential impact of the French presidential elections on a Paris bid, asks this question: will a sports ministry at full capacity survive?
Understand that in France the state is part of sport in a way that Americans would find almost incomprehensible. It’s not just a Games that would be a state project. The national federations are, for the most part, a state project as well.
As Cochennec notes, both of le Pen’s presumed major rivals, Emmanuel Macron and François Fillon, keep saying that if they win on May 7, they will form a smaller government. When you have security to enforce and trains to run, where is money for sport?
The current CNOSF president, Denis Masseglia, says not to worry, telling the daily Le Parisien two weeks ago, “If we get the Games, it will be easier to sell, to the political class, the idea that sport needs to be a social issue.”
Masseglia is one of three candidates in a contentious CNOSF presidential derby. That contest is to be decided four days after the French presidential elections, three days before the IOC “evaluation” visit to Paris.
The others: Isabelle Lamour, from the French fencing federation, and two-time Olympic judo champion and former French sports minister David Douillet.
Last week brought this tweet featuring Paris bid leader Tony Estanguet:
— Paris 2024 (@Paris2024) April 11, 2017
Back to 2005, and that Paris bid for 2012. Also in the race: New York, Madrid and Moscow. In the final round, Paris lost by just four votes to London.
Per Cochennec, referring to CNOSF:
“Its lack of independence from the French political power — whatever the color of the government — is still problematic in the homeland of [modern Olympics founder] Pierre de Coubertin and the institution has not evolved significantly since 2005 and the failure of the 2012 Paris bid in Singapore. For example, almost no diversity at the top of the 36 [French] Olympic federations: only one woman — Isabelle Lamour — as president in the company of 35 men.” Lamour is not the only female president but, as well, the only female candidate from among all 36 federations in their 2016-17 elections, Cochennec notes.
France stands for égalité, or equality. Purportedly. So does the IOC. Twelve is a lot of years to make substantial progress in leadership positions. The United States is admittedly far from perfect. At the same time, two American women, Anita DeFrantz and Angela Ruggiero, sit on the IOC’s 15-member policy-making executive board.
Yet — Paris for 2024?
Cochennec notes France has had no one — not one member — on the EB since Jean de Beaumont in 1980. That’s 37 years. If that was the case for the United States, the protests would be incroyable — imagine how everyone would be screaming that the Americans, across the two big oceans, were insular and uncaring.
Yet — Paris for 2024?
Imagine, just imagine, if the USOC were the invisible presence in the 2024 bid race that CNOSF has proven to date as a “partner” with Paris. Again, per Cochennec, quoting from the insightful French analyst Armand de Rendinger ’s 2014 book, “La tentation olympic française” (“The French Olympic temptation”):
“Without a powerful CNOSF, embodied by a president valued by his peers and the French community, it is hard to succeed in the competition played by different countries to get the Games.”
None of those conditions are evident.
Even so: a distant national Olympic committee, not close to the bid, is a decided negative for Chicago but not for Paris?
Yet, somehow, still, Paris for 2024?
In English, we have a saying: what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
In French: ce qui est bon pour l’un est bon pour l’autre.
Let’s play fair, IOC. What’s right is right. This sort of thing went on during the New York bid years. It went on during Chicago’s time, too.
If you want to bang on the Americans, that’s cool. Just — let’s hold everyone to the same standards.
Because otherwise what we have here is a word that everyone understands. It’s called a façade.