'Focus' on 2024, 2026 and Tom and Tammy Taxpayer

Once more, it is time to re-visit Tom and Tammy Taxpayer, this time in Italy, Austria or Sweden and maybe even Canada. (Their kindred souls in Japan are already paying out the nose. Friends in Turkey have an entirely different set of issues.)

At any rate, Tom and Tammy are back to mulling the notion that the International Olympic Committee wants to come to town. The Winter Games! 2026!

Here are three news items, one from Thursday, the others from the past few weeks. 

What impact are these items likely to have on Tom and Tammy, and what common-sense steps can — no, should — the IOC take to help convince Tom and Tammy that a yes vote on the inevitable referendum can make them, their neighbors and their friends feel good about sipping a mountainside espresso the morning after opening ceremony in February 2026?

1. Thursday, Graz, Austria.

According to a feasibility study produced by an Austrian university, a Graz 2026 bid is “possible without much risk.”

 Austrian officials with copies of the Graz 2026 feasibility study // Austrian Olympic Committee

Austrian officials with copies of the Graz 2026 feasibility study // Austrian Olympic Committee

As also reported by this study, public investment would be needed to provide security services and — this is key — any additional capital infrastructure.

If you are Tom and Tammy, what part of the study is most likely to resonate? The first — little risk? Or the second — the odds you believe an Olympic project can or will be undertaken without additional public investment?

For reference, the Graz project was launched after voters in Salzburg turned down 2026 in a referendum. Voters in Vienna turned down a potential 2028 Summer Games bid.

What message is the IOC not getting across? How to turn the no into a yes? 

As any bid advisor would know intuitively: what is the “why”? That is, why should Graz want the Games? More broadly, why should voters in that part of Austria buy in? 

Meanwhile, has the IOC commissioned studies in Salzburg or Vienna to find out why those two propositions failed? If not, why not?

2. June 19, Paris.

The first coordination commission meeting from the Paris 2024 Games resulted in one of the most entertainingly decodable IOC news releases in years

Twice in the first two paragraphs, the IOC used the word “focus” in referring to the Paris project. 

“Focus,” by the way, is all the more entertaining if pronounced with a French accent. Try it! Bluntly -- this is exactly what Tom and Tammy Taxpayer do not want to feel like they are getting with the Olympics. Yet recent referendum results in Europe clearly indicate that is their, let's say, position. 

Beyond the usual gibberish about Olympic Agenda 2020 and the IOC’s New Norm, which mean nothing to taxpayers, the IOC got right to it when it said the Paris plan is being “approached with a controlled focus on budgets and deadlines.”

Next paragraph: “There is a precise focus on making sure that the basics of budget and delivery are under control …”

Pause here for the we-saw-this-coming and we-told-you-so laugh line. 

The French are predictably apparently so inept at budget controls — their own watchdogs had warned in March of a half-a-billion euro overrun, or $616 million, on a total planned budget of 6.8 billion euros, and this in just the first year — that the IOC had to ride in and say, whoa, whoa, whoa.

The IOC literally and figuratively cannot afford to have another huge overrun in Paris for 2024.

Not amid Tokyo 2020 (almost 100 percent over budget, at $13 billion) and, of course, Sochi 2014 ($51 billion). 

Not with bids going on in Italy, Sweden and Austria for 2026. And over in Canada, too, maybe. 

At the same time, the Paris people seemingly can’t get on message, and this is also somewhere between bewildering and disturbing. 

One:

The key rule in the delivery of an Olympics, Winter or Summer, comes from Peter Ueberroth in 1984 in LA: underpromise and overdeliver. 

 Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus, Paris 2024 President Tony Estanguet and Eric Pliez, president of Les Canaux, at the May 23 signing ceremony for the 'triple-zero' project // Yunus Center

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus, Paris 2024 President Tony Estanguet and Eric Pliez, president of Les Canaux, at the May 23 signing ceremony for the 'triple-zero' project // Yunus Center

Yet in May, the Paris 2024 people, in accord with city authorities as well as groups including a Paris-based center founded by 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, pledged to try to achieve a “triple zero” goal of zero poverty, zero unemployment and zero carbon.

This is admirable — for sure the goal of the Olympics is to effect change — but absolutely and profoundly absurd. 

What else?

Cure for cancer?

Beachfront villas on Mars?

Flying zero-emission cars?

These things are not going to happen, just like zero poverty, unemployment and carbon are not going to happen, and if you are a taxpayer elsewhere in Europe, aren't you asking:

If governments can’t wipe out poverty and unemployment and bring climate change under control, how in the world is an edition of the Summer Games supposed to do that, and especially in roughly six years, and why should I throw my money at that when there are other — way more, um, focused — ways to try to address those very real problems? 

It should be noted, by the way, because this is France, and this is from the very same Yunus Center press release announcing the triple-zero goals in conjunction with Paris 2024, referring to the Nobel laureate himself: “He was also interviewed by Patrick Honauer, renowned entrepreneur of Food Network, to discuss on [sic] social gastronomy movement that reconnects people and food.”

Back to Tom and Tammy: the IOC is far too often seen as privileged and removed from the lives of ordinary people. Does anyone think about the impact of these news releases before they go out? 

Two, and in that spirit:

From that same IOC release: “Reinforcing the spirit of collaboration and co-construction, members of the Los Angeles Organizing Committee also joined the meetings to learn alongside Paris 2024 about how the Olympic Games are being re-imagined.”

The IOC last year gave Paris 2024 and LA 2028 in a joint award. Since, the IOC and the LA28 people have consistently hit the “spirit of collaboration” button.

Paris 2024 — hello? 

Nobody “beat” anybody, despite what the second line of this tweet from the Paris 2024 spokesman declares and, really, this thing is not only getting tiresome but obviously speaks to a massive insecurity that does the Paris project and the IOC little to no good. 

As the IOC said, and twice: focus.

3. June 13, Moscow.

FIFA voted to give the 2026 soccer men’s World Cup to the United bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico. 

The United bid defeated Morocco, 134-65.

Three items of note:

One: the United campaign promised a record $11 billion in profit for FIFA. This would be relevant for Tom and Tammy for IOC purposes if editions of the Games were  making the same kind of bank, and being distributed to taxpayers, except — no. Not anything even remotely close. So, moving along …

Two: moments before the balloting, FIFA’s general secretary, Fatma Samoura, pointedly reminded everyone that the U.S.-led bid was technically way better, with 23 stadiums already built or under construction. 

For IOC purposes, this is hugely relevant, and this — to be forthright — has to be the mantra going forward for any Olympic bid: be like LA 2028. 

That is, your stuff has to be built already. 

That’s essentially the only way to shift the taxpayer conversation because then there’s little to no risk (back to that Graz study) of further public infrastructure investment. 

Three: 

This FIFA ballot was open. Afterward, everyone knew who had voted for who. Like Antonio Carlos Nunes, Brazil’s soccer chief, who publicly backed the North American bid, but then voted for Morocco — then claimed he thought the ballots were secret though FIFA had repeatedly told delegates the votes would be made public.

The IOC is a club. As a club, it can make its own rules. Because it’s a club, though, it can come off too often as clubby. That’s not a good look, especially at referendum time.

It’s so obvious that the one thing the IOC can, and should, do to enhance its reputation among taxpayers is to do what FIFA did — go to open voting, especially in the host-city selection process. 

Agenda 2020 and the New Norm mean nothing unless and until the IOC proves to Tom and Tammy that it, too, is committed to accountability and transparency.

Focus, people: it’s a no-brainer.