2022: a renewed call for a time-out


Sometimes you’re right. Sometimes you’re damn right.

Or, you know, timing is everything.

On Tuesday, in this space, it was observed that Oslo 2022 Winter Games bid found itself in a hugely precarious place, and that the International Olympic Committee ought to take a six-month pause in the 2022 bid process. On Wednesday, the Norwegian government rejected the bid amid financing concerns, meaning the candidature almost certainly is dead.

An Oslo withdrawal would leave just two cities in the 2022 race: Beijing and Almaty.

The root cause of Norwegian concerns is the $51 billion associated with the Sochi 2014 Games. Whether that sum is real or not, it’s what everyone believes those Games cost, and so it is, practically speaking, real.

Australia's Steven Bradbury, the last man standing, wins the 1000-meter short track event at the 2002 Winter Games // photo Getty Images

In a statement that was unusually strong for the IOC, which usually deals in diplomatic nuance and politesse, the Games' new executive director, Christophe Dubi, late Wednesday described Norway's decision to withdraw as a "missed opportunity." He said senior politicians there were not properly briefed on the bid process and so made their call based on "half-truths and factual inaccuracies."

Fascinatingly, the question has to be asked: was that Dubi statement his own, or was that his name on a statement issued by someone in the IOC executive bureau even higher up?

That $51 billion is the figure that, in practice, also scared off 2022 bids from Munich, Stockholm, Krakow and Lviv.

Now what?

There are two ways to look at the situation.

One, the sky is falling.

Or — this is a big opportunity for the Olympic movement. Perhaps, in a weird way, an Oslo exit will have done the IOC a huge favor — by forcing Olympic leadership to focus, immediately and with clarity, on the issues at hand.

To be clear, this was never about the Winter Games.

This was always, always, always about the IOC.

This is, and let’s be plain about this, too, unprecedented.

To go from seven cities to two? Unheard-of.

And — it’s no fun to say but it’s true as well — neither of the two left standing appears to be ready for prime time, or anyone’s favorite.

This 2022 race has now devolved into the candidate city version of the men’s 1000-meter short-track speedskating event at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. That’s the one where almost everyone crashed in a last-corner pile-up and the last guy standing, Steven Bradbury of Australia, who was a good 30 meters behind, minding his own business, coasted through the carnage to an unexpected and surprising gold medal.

Because Beijing and Almaty have made it this far  -- they're the choices?

Beyond which: how are these two candidates likely to measure up to the renewed emphasis on the anti-discrimination provision in the Olympic Charter?

No one anywhere in the world can argue that this is a logical way of going about awarding what is supposed to be one of the world’s grand prizes.

Indeed, the IOC prides itself on best practices.

Moreover, IOC president Thomas Bach prides himself on doing the right thing, and doing the right thing the right way, and for the right reasons.

The IOC has come so far since 1978. And yet, here it is, evoking memories of the scenario when Los Angeles and Teheran were the only contenders for the 1984 Summer Games.

Not good.

So, as this space made clear Tuesday, let’s call a halt to the insanity.

This is — to be abundantly obvious — an extraordinary situation. Extraordinary situations call for extraordinary measures.

“This calls for something other than the standard response,” Terrence Burns, longtime bid strategist and bid branding expert. “When the world changes, you take a hard look at your standard operating procedure and adjust accordingly.”

Bach is moving the IOC toward an all-members vote in Monaco in early December on a potentially far-reaching reform plan he has dubbed “Agenda 2020.”

Does the president have the authority to declare now, in October, that the 2022 race needs to be put on pause while things get sorted out?

For sure, and here’s why.

To begin, the entire 2022 process should have been postponed from the start while Agenda 2020 was worked out. That’s why, for instance, the U.S. Olympic Commitee has taken a wait-and-see approach toward any 2024 bid — to see what’s going to be what as things go forward after Monaco.

Next, longtime Olympic observers will recall the late 1990s scandal connected to Salt Lake City’s winning bid for 2002. That prompted the IOC, among other things, to hold “extraordinary” sessions. It’s easy enough for the president now to hold “extraordinary” executive board meetings and do what needs to be done.

Why does it need to be done?

As the IOC said in Monday’s news release — and this is the thing it’s going to take time to communicate around the world — it has $880 million in money to give away, in partnership, with some city somewhere to make the 2022 Games a success.

That money will go toward the 2022 Games city’s operating budget.

Not for capital costs such as a new metro line, or a new airport, or all the things that get associated with an Olympics and that run up the “cost” of a Games.

No — just the operating budget of the Games.

Meanwhile, that $880 million is what you might delicately call OPM — “other people’s money.” It’s broadcast, marketing and other funds described in the Host City contract.

For emphasis — not one taxpayer dime.

But lots of sponsor dollars.

So they have a huge vested interest in making sure this gets done right.

Which means the IOC president should, too.

But not just to please sponsors.

That’s not this president’s way, nor should it be.

Frankly speaking, $880 million should cover somewhere near half, maybe more, of a prudent 2022 Games city’s running costs. Not only that, organizers pretty much ought to come away with a surplus.

With $880 million on offer, cities around the world ought to be lining up for 2022. Really.

As a for instance — and only a for instance — there is no way the state of Colorado is going to build a bobsled run. Too much money and too many environmental concerns — also, the United States simply does not need a third run (there’s one in Lake Placid, New York, and another in Park City, Utah).

But what if, given the Agenda 2020 emphasis on sustainability and legacy, the U.S. Olympic Committee was interested in putting forth a 2022 bid from Denver with the understanding that the sliding sports would be in Utah?

What if the USOC were to go quietly to the IOC and say, you know, we will make you a double deal: '22 in Denver/Salt Lake with the understanding that you would not penalize us for a '24 bid in, say, Los Angeles because we are saving your bacon right now from a very serious situation. But it's cool. This double-down is going to produce billions -- literally, billions -- of dollars in sponsorships for you and for us and for everyone in the movement to share. Which, like we said a moment ago, would be pretty cool. After we are done with this '22/'24 bonanza, we can go about promoting the values all over the world together -- see you in, say, Cape Town in '28!

Or what about ice sports in Montreal with ski and sliding sports in Lake Placid? Right now the rules say you can’t go across two nations. Again, extraordinary times call for re-thinking. What if?

Meanwhile — would the USOC in any way be interested in 2022 when all signs are it’s poised for a 2024 Summer bid it might well win?

Would other countries be interested, once the IOC makes clear that there’s $880 million up for grabs?

Too many questions. The answers take time.

That’s what the IOC — frankly, what everyone — needs right now.

It’s a long time right now until 2022. Time to take time. Time to get this right.