PARIS — Taking in the sight of the new French president, Emmanuel Macron, on Tuesday hosting the International Olympic Committee's evaluation commission along with the Paris 2024 bid team, you could almost hear the soundtrack playing from the 1975 cult classic, The Rocky Horror Picture Show:
Let’s do the time warp again, people.
It’s like the Paris 2024 people think it’s 2005 and they are having a group therapy session over the loss to London for 2012 and re-playing the things their predecessors did wrong and trying, 12 years later, to make it right.
For the occasion, Macron even donned a Paris 2024 tie. Wow! It’s like the cosmic energy from that tie was meant to expunge the ghost of the-then French president Jacques Chirac and the rude comments he purportedly made at the 2005 IOC session in Singapore about Finnish food — remarks said to have helped turn a narrow vote against Paris and toward London.
Macron announced Tuesday that he would also be heading to Lausanne, Switzerland, in July for the first of two all-member IOC assemblies at which the only two cities left in the 2024 race, Paris and Los Angeles, get to present their visions of the project.
A good chunk of the press lapped this up like a kitten and milk, inevitably meowing about whether the U.S. president, Donald Trump, would come, too.
As for Trump and Lausanne and, for that matter, the IOC session in September in Lima at which the members will pick for 2024: in both instances, almost surely, no.
Not after the IOC members in 2009 stiffed Barack Obama, who flew to Copenhagen to stump for his hometown, Chicago. Besides, the security presence for an American president, as Obama illustrated, is likely to prove far too disruptive.
At any rate, the issue has nothing to do with Trump, who is — as Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti suggested last week, when the IOC evaluation commission was in California — way more likely to meet with IOC president Thomas Bach this spring or summer at the White House.
It has to do, instead, with the changed nature of these IOC bid campaigns.
In 2005, it made a difference — a big difference — that British prime minister Tony Blair came to Singapore to lobby the members.
This, though, is 2017. The presence of the head of state is so 2005. (Unless you're Vladimir Putin. Then you matter, a lot.)
Beyond which, the Macron-to-Lausanne thing puts the IOC in a delicate protocol position. Is M. Macron coming to Lausanne (and, potentially, Lima) at the invitation of the IOC and, moreover, as president of France, or as a simple member of the bid team — or did he just invite himself because, you know, he thought he could?
Also, for Lima — if he shows and Paris doesn’t win, then what? How does that serve M. Macron’s political interest? See Obama, Copenhagen, 2009.
There’s more. The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, is well known in French political circles to be positioning herself to be an alternative to M. Macron. Indeed, last week Hidalgo, along with other big-city mayors. launched a left-leaning movement called Dès demain — “From tomorrow” — open to “all humanists who still believe in action.” Fun!
This would be the same Mme. Mayor who in New York on May 31, 2014, declared she had serious reservations about a Paris 2024 Olympic bid. Standing next to New York mayor Bill de Blasio, she said, “Parisians expect me to provide housing, public services, justice, economic ease.”
Gee. What changed?
Here was that very same Mme. Mayor on Monday, having now been in the Olympic spotlight for these many months: “We are at the top and we are going to stay there.” She denied any inference Paris was atop Los Angeles in the 2024 race.
There probably are x number of IOC members who can’t stand France. Some equal number, y, can’t stand the United States. At issue is the z cohort, and heading toward July in Lausanne and Lima in September, whether the evaluation commission, chaired by the Swiss IOC member, Patrick Baumann, can effectively relate the vision thing.
To get there takes considerable context.
Thomas Bach has staked his IOC presidency on Agenda 2020, a 40-point reform plan that he saw through the body in December, 2014. Baumann is at the forefront of a new wave of IOC members who get it, who get the notion that the IOC needs new vision and who are also young enough and smart enough to implement it.
Right now, Agenda 2020 amounts to words. It needs hard evidence to make it real. This 2024 race offers just that.
Nine cities have fallen out for the 2022, 2024 and 2026 races amid taxpayer revolt sparked by government-funded infrastructure projects tied to the Olympics.
Say $51 billion out loud three times. That’s the figure associated with the Sochi 2014 Games.
Then there is Rio 2016: the financial drain on a country that couldn’t handle it made all-too-plain in the photos of decaying sports venues. Plus the corruption cases involving key government officials who secured the 2016 Games.
Moving on to Tokyo 2020. There, the bid book promised all-in costs of $7.8 billion. Estimates are now at least twice that.
None of this even gets to the investigation by French (and maybe U.S.) authorities into potential misconduct by some significant number of IOC members. The whispers inside IOC circles are ferocious, indeed.
The IOC needs this carousel to stop.
It needs the world to see that Agenda 2020 can, in fact, deliver a defining if not transforming vision for the Games. In 2024.
Baumann on Tuesday, referring to LA and Paris:
“Now, these two cities, these two cities, because of their different history, their different culture, have a different vision, and this is perhaps one of the most important key elements that will have to be determined, which lead the IOC members to decide and choose between one vision or the other.”
The world’s media is instead hung up on visible symbols like Macron and Trump. Why? Because that’s eye candy. And it’s easy. When what’s going on is hard.
If you have two candidates in any kind of race, that creates a natural tension. It's easy to want to sustain the tension for as long as possible — in this case through September 13 in Lima — by making it seem the two are more or less equal.
It’s like a horse race. Off they go. Around the turn they come. And coming down the stretch, it’s …
For public purposes, the IOC plays along, saying that both are excellent candidates and could deliver.
Sure, LA and Paris could deliver an Olympics.
But these are two totally different bids. They offer two different ways. That needs to be clear.
For 2024, Paris has tied itself to a strategy used by the winning London, Rio and Tokyo bids. All leveraged the Games as catalyst for urban regeneration — a play that goes back to Barcelona in 1992. Paris leadership or consultants worked on the London, Rio and Tokyo campaigns.
The Paris 2024 plan calls for three major works: an athletes’ village, an aquatics palace (across a footbridge from the Stade de France) and media housing. All in, the projected cost is $2 billion.
In France, the government runs the show. So the very thing the IOC is struggling with — the reason taxpayers are upset up and down western Europe — is nonetheless the very thing the French are putting forward: government-sponsored Games-tied infrastructure projects.
History has shown time and again that such estimates are laughably low. See Sochi 2014. See Tokyo 2020. A Japanese newspaper editorialized in recent days that the Games there are in “crisis.”
Paris 2024 bid leader Tony Estanguet asserted at a Tuesday news conference, “We chose this strategy because we also believe it is important to leave a strong legacy.”
No one could possibly take issue with Estanguet’s assertion that kids need to learn to swim, for instance, and thus the inspiration for an aquatics center. The issue is whether in 2017 for 2024, given everything, it needs to be a 17,000-seat stadium that after an Olympics would be turned into a 2,500-seat facility and become, as described, “the new jewel in the French Swimming Federation’s crown” while also welcoming “the leisure activities of the local population.”
Estanguet, again Tuesday: “You know that for kids 10 or 11, half of them, they don’t know how to swim in this territory because we don’t have a swimming pool in this area. So it’s a strong legacy for this territory and it’s, again, a perfect illustration of our vision. The best for the athletes, because the aquatic center, the Olympic village will be at the heart of the Games and thanks to this localization, 22 sports will be in a radius of 10 kilometers but also to leave a strong legacy for this territory and they need, again, in this territory, they need houses and they need the swimming pool, so that’s why the public authority and this movement has chosen to really invest in this, and we discussed it with the IOC over the last few days, and I think our answer is very clear, and they support completely this strategy.”
As in 1984, the LA bid is privately run. If LA wins, the organizing committee would be privately operated. No government money. Number of permanent venues to build: zero. For emphasis: zero. The 1984 Games turned a $232.5 million profit.
To compare apples to apples: LA24 would put a pool inside a temporary stadium on a baseball field at USC.
Not every country can, or should, run a privately operated Olympic organizing committee. That’s OK. What’s killing the IOC is this, and it’s so basic, but the IOC does a terrible job of explaining it:
At any Olympics, there are two different budgets. There is the infrastructure (if you prefer, the capital) budget. That’s the one that inevitably skyrockets into the red. Then there is the operating budget. The IOC typically contributes hundreds of millions of dollars or, at a Summer Games, well over $1 billion to that ledger. Almost always, a Games operating budget ends up close to or in the black.
There. Is that so hard?
For emphasis, Baumann was super-careful in both Paris and Los Angeles not to be critical of either project.
In Los Angeles, at a closing news conference, Baumann said:
"We now go to Paris and then will come back and assess our feelings on what we have seen. There are differences. These are two different cities with different visions.
"But from what we have seen here is that they would be a transformative vision for the Games moving forward."
He also said, “We have seen bits and pieces that can really be true.”
In Paris, Baumann appeared at a news conference three times. At those three appearances — and many thanks here to the transcription artists at ASAP Sports — the root “transform” appears just once in his comments, at Tuesday’s closing session, in relation to “the transformation the IOC is going through, including the new setup of the evaluation commission.”
This is what the IOC, through the framework of Bach’s Agenda 2020, is now looking to effect — something transformative, indeed a transformation, a 21st-century Olympic model.
The IOC needs to break away from gargantuan infrastructure legacy projects that leave taxpayers angry and mistrustful. The vision thing can and should be re-defined to focus on the human and sport elements, in particular — the dream piece an Olympics can rightfully leave behind.
Moreover, the IOC needs to re-cast the bid process so that it and cities better share the risk and benefit of hosting an edition of the Games.
It needs — actually, is seeking vigorously — to find ways to collaborate far more significantly with its international sports federation partners in the seven-year run-up to opening ceremony. From the IOC perspective, that means fewer construction projects. In return, the federations are going to expect greater say-so over what events get on the program (think 3x3 basketball) and, as ever, finances.
The IOC needs to incorporate — in an organic, not-forced way — the smartphone and other technologies that young people seemingly can’t breathe without.
It needs to, and can, re-define what it means to be an IOC member. If, for example, there is to be a 2024/2028 deal, that would likely take away the right to vote for the Games city. So what would it mean to be member? The right answer could prove a breathtakingly simple way to enhance the IOC’s image. Right now, that image is considerably fueling taxpayer outrage.
That’s what 2024 is about.
This is also why it’s so much easier to write about M. Macron. And his tie.
Please, M. le President, be sure to bring that cravat to Lausanne in July. It will make for a great souvenir.