Andrey Kryukov

Agenda 2020 -- keeping it real


LAUSANNE, Switzerland — The International Olympic Committee is trying, really trying, to prove that Agenda 2020, the would-be reform plan that president Thomas Bach and the members passed last December in Monaco, amounts to significant change. But when confronted with real-world realities, like the two candidates for the 2022 Winter Games, Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan, which made presentations here Tuesday to the members, the question must be asked: how much change, really, is in the air?

This is the predicament the IOC has put itself in, and it has only itself to blame.

To be clear, Agenda 2020 is at best aspirational. The only concrete point among the 40 that the members approved in Monaco is the development of a television channel.

Almaty 2022 vice chairman Andrey Kryukov answers reporters' questions after the bid presentation to IOC members at the Olympic Museum

The rest are in line with prior efforts at reform — in particular, a 2003 package of 117 specific recommendations that included the format of the Games, the bid process, TV coverage, the extravagance of the opening and closing ceremonies, fiscal accountability and more.

In recent days, the IOC has done self-congratulatory cartwheels over changes, purportedly spurred by Agenda 2020, to venues in Tokyo for the 2020 Games; those moves will save $1.7 billion. Saving that much money is of course to the good. But if the IOC were really that interested in saving money in the first instance it would have chosen Madrid for 2020 — where, all-in, the construction budget totaled a mere $1.9 billion.

We live in the real world. Tokyo was going to be elected because that was part of the three-way deal at the IOC session in Buenos Aires in 2013 — Tokyo for 2020, wrestling getting back on the Summer Games sports program and Bach for president against five challengers.

We live in the real world.

While it is true that Agenda 2020 has considerably strengthened Bach’s standing as IOC president — and the IOC traditionally works best when the president is firmly in charge — Agenda 2020 now has to be measured against the real world.

For the IOC, the first significant test is this 2022 process. To be real, for the IOC this 2022 process probably can’t end soon enough. After the hangover of Sochi 2014, and the $51 billion figure associated with those Games, a handful of western European cities pulled out of the 2022 contest, leaving only Beijing and Almaty.

Almaty presents a compact bid with real snow. That’s far more in line with the spirit of Agenda 2020.

But Beijing, with China’s political and economic strength, has assuredly emerged as the overwhelming favorite.

Even with Agenda 2020, the IOC stuck with the post-Salt Lake City rule that prevents the members from visiting any of the bid cities.

Of course, a significant number of the members spent 17 days, or more, in Beijing at the 2008 Summer Games and, as well, visited China last summer for the Nanjing Youth Games. Big advantage to Beijing.

Because there are no visits, the IOC prepares a report after visits to the candidate cities by what’s called an evaluation commission. The commission visited the cities earlier this year. Many of the members candidly admit they don’t read the report. It’s full of facts, figures and coded double-speak.

Our real world is full of uncertainties. In the 2022 report, 137 pages long, this is the one paragraph that jumps out, from the Beijing analysis:

“Overall, the [organizing committee] budget appears to be well thought-out and presents a viable financial plan. Upside potential on marketing revenues, strong government support and experience gained from hosting the 2008 Games suggest that the degree of financial risk should be relatively low.”

To hammer home the point that the members can sleep at night if the Games go to Beijing, there’s this as well:

The 2008 Games generated $1.2 billion in sponsorship. The 2022 estimate is only $740 million. The commission said the 2022 bid team “appears to have significantly underestimated sponsorship targets” — that is, they significantly low-balled the number.

From the report on Almaty:

“Kazakhstan has limited experience with complex high-value marketing programs relating to sporting events.”

And: “The guarantee regarding the financing of venue costs involving multiple parties, creating ambiguity on the division of responsibility including ultimate financial responsibility.”

And: “Economic factors, including low oil prices and exchange rate issues, could negatively impact Games preparations and the government’s capacity to provide financial and other support.”

How does all this jibe with Agenda 2020?

Let’s see, because the IOC put out a statement Tuesday after both bids made their presentations to the members in which Bach said, “You could see a clear focus in both bids on sustainability and affordability.”

Turning to the Beijing bid, and focusing first on sustainability:

There is no little to snow in the mountains there. The evaluation report is clear that the Chinese would have to use artificial snow, requiring diversion of water from existing reservoirs, which may impact other land uses. The proposed alpine ski and sliding venues as well as the Olympic village in the mountains are next to a nature reserve, which would “impose a number of environmental requirements.” Travel times will be long. Air pollution is a “prime concern.”

Again, from the report: “Northern China suffers from severe water stress and the Beijing-Zhangjiakou area is becoming increasingly arid.”

And: “The commission considers Beijing 2022 has underestimated the amount of water that would be needed for snowmaking for the Games but believes adequate water for Games needs could be supplied.”

It’s almost laughable, really, because the Beijing slogan is “Joyful Rendezvous upon Pure Ice and Snow.”


From the IOC evaluation report: “The word ‘pure’ conveys China’s desire to create a cleaner environment.”

To piggyback off the Almaty slogan, “Keeping it Real”: how has that worked out since 2008? Earlier this year, there were pictures of runners wearing masks at the Beijing marathon. That was, for sure, real.

Continuing from the IOC report on Beijing: the ski jump there would require the relocation of 400 people, one of the Olympic villages another 1,100. All 1,500 have been offered “new housing or compensation.”

As for affordability?

Almaty 2022 said its infrastructure budget totals out at $1.853 billion.

For comparison, Beijing said its capital works would cost $1.511 billion. Less than Almaty! For real?

Who believes — after a reputed $40 billion was spent for 2008 — that a 2022 Beijing Winter Games, considering for starters the environmental work that needs to be done up in the mountains, would cost only $1.511 billion? Again -- for real?

There’s a new train line needed between Beijing and the mountain venues. Intriguingly, that’s not included in the $1.511 billion figure.

Dozens of reporters and camera crews, most of them Chinese, eagerly awaiting the Beijing 2022 bid team after its presentation to the IOC members at the Olympic Museum

So now we have a new way of Olympic accounting, to compensate for the Sochi hangover.

Before Agenda 2020, there used to be there were two columns of numbers: 1. Games costs and 2. infrastructure that went with the Olympics.

Now there are three: 1. Games costs, 2. infrastructure that goes with the Games and 3. infrastructure that goes with the Games (like that train line) but is not being identified as going with the Games so that it can never, ever be counted because that way there can never, ever be a $51-billion figure ever again.

Is that even remotely honest? Either from our Chinese friends or the IOC? How is that in keeping with Agenda 2020’s demand for financial accounting and transparency?

This is what the IOC will have to answer for if the members elect Beijing, not to mention seven years of human-rights protests, just as in the run-up to 2008.

This is the opening the Kazakhs tried to take advantage of on Tuesday — hammering, time and again, on the proposition that they were “keeping it real,” reminding the members that they have snow, and lots of it.

To be real, the odds are still against Almaty. But maybe it's a race.

Kazakh prime minister Karim Massimov headed the Almaty delegation and was widely credited with giving an excellent performance, longtime IOC member Dick Pound of Canada, for instance, saying he was “very, very agreeably surprised” by the presentation.

That 2003 IOC report, with the 117 recommendations? It was headed by Pound.

Massimov told the members the bid was a “national priority,” and that Agenda 2020 aligned “perfectly” with the desire to leave “lasting economic, health and sporting legacies for future generations.”

“To put it simply,” he said, “Kazakhstan not only wants the Winter Games, we need the Winter Games.”

The vote in Kuala Lumpur is July 31.


Whole lotta love for Oslo in IOC report


LAUSANNE, Switzerland — International Olympic Committee evaluation and working group documents are, it is said, strenuously neutral. The IOC purportedly doesn’t rate or rank cities in campaigns for the Summer or Winter Games. Yet the 2022 working group report that was issued Monday as the IOC passed the three remaining cities — Oslo, Beijing, Almaty — on to the finalist phase is so transparently obvious. It unequivocally favors Oslo, perhaps merely in a bid to keep it in the race, or maybe more. It is relatively positive about Beijing though it makes plain that distances are profound and a sense of why the Games ought to go there ought to be refined. And it is curiously skeptical about Almaty.

Perhaps this more direct tone is in keeping with other facets of this first year of the Thomas Bach presidency. In a striking change from the Jacques Rogge years, for instance, there were no Olympic bid consultants on hand at IOC headquarters here at the Chateau de Vidy, by the shores of Lake Geneva; Bach has made it plain that he finds such consultants unnecessary if not distasteful.

Gilbert Felli, the outgoing Games executive director, delivered a remarkable soliloquy Monday evening at a news conference that referred obliquely to such consultants, and also to the fact that three other cities -- Stockholm, Munich and Lviv, Ukraine -- dropped out along the way to Monday's decision by the executive board to pass Oslo, Beijing and Almaty through. If it is rare to hear the IOC refer to blame, much less to itself, consider:

"In every situation you should never blame the others. And probably the IOC is the first one to be blamed.

"It may not be able to explain what you are telling now about different models. Not be able to explain the different budgets. Not be able to explain to some people that if you want to have for your own city, your own region a new train, a new road, new investments — it’s going to cost you more money …

"So what we tried to do here — first of all, the IOC needs to communicate beforehand. Second, the IOC should be open. As you know, until now, the IOC never discussed with bidding cities before we got the report of the first phase," meaning what it calls the "applicant" phase, which for 2022 ended Monday, the race turning now to the "candidate" phase.

"And even between the two phases, we don’t discuss much. The idea was developed in the 2020 Working Group -- to say the IOC probably should have an office or a place where people can come or propose a concept or try and see. Because who is advising the cities? Outside advisers. People who are saying to the cities, you know if you don’t do that, the IOC member will not support you. If you don’t do that, then you’ve got the perception of the IOC given by outsiders and not by the IOC itself.

"So in the communication — and that’s the lesson from this [2022] campaign here — we lost good cities because of the bad perception of the IOC, the bad perception of how the concept could be done. We have to learn our lesson. The one to be blamed is the IOC. But we have to work in a different way of the bidding process."

The report issued Monday, as Felli noted, might highlight that Almaty holds "excellent raw materials" though "you could see that maybe they are a bit behind on understanding the concept."

Then again, big-picture, perhaps there is the legitimate belief Almaty might win, and it may well be that there are those in certain IOC circles who are honestly not sure about that. Almaty staged the 2011 Asian Winter Games. It’s going to stage the 2017 Winter University Games. It has resource and ambition and a ski jump in the middle of town. If Sochi was too warm, not to worry. Almaty will be plenty cold.

Beijing, of course, put on the 2008 Summer Games and is seeking to become the first city to stage both the Summer and Winter Games. There is, though, the matter of geography. The Winter Games will be in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018, the Summer Olympics in Tokyo in 2020. Will the IOC pull a three-peat and go back to eastern Asia, to China, in 2022?

From its first words, it’s clear how much the report loves Oslo: “With winter sport as part of the country’s national identity, Oslo’s vision is to share its passion, expertise and experience by delivering an outstanding celebration of sport and solidarity in a fast growing, young and ethnically diverse city whilst promoting Oslo as a winter sports capital.”


That’s like advertising copy.

The report runs through 14 separate categories, ranging from weather to Games concept to finance. Oslo ranks first in eight of the 14 and ties with Beijing in three more. Almaty is not first even once; it does, however, sit last in 11 of 14.

The report even treats Oslo gently in the category in which Oslo is unequivocally not good, public support. An IOC poll in Oslo and the surrounding area shows only 36 percent support for the Games with 50 percent against. On a one-to-10 scale, the report ranks that as a minimum 5/maximum 7.

It does make one wonder what one has to do to get a 2 or 3 when a 36 gets you a 5.

To compare:

At this stage, the Tokyo 2020 bid got a minimum 6/maximum 9 from the IOC when its poll ratings were 47 percent — with 30 percent offering no opinion and 23 percent opposed to the Games.

Glossed over in one brief sentence in section eight of the Oslo profile is that it’s two hours and 20 minutes by bus or two hours and 10 minutes by train from Oslo to Lillehammer. And then you’ve got to get to the venues.

Beijing’s plan involves one city and two mountain clusters. From Beijing itself to one of the mountain clusters, the report says, travel time would be two hours and 44 minutes. Anyone who was in China for the 2008 Games — the report notes that 2:44 would be “long.”

Almaty, by contrast, offers a compact venue plan. The longest travel time, the report says, would be an hour, to the alpine ski venue.

Where Almaty does rank first, by the way, is in the size of its construction budget: $3.78 billion.

Beijing proposes $2.24 billion, Oslo $2.75 billion.

Bach, speaking earlier Monday, said, “The IOC is very happy to see three very different approaches with regard to the organization of the Games. This gives the IOC a choice among three diverse bids with different legacy plans with different approaches, with different budgets.”

Referring to his far-reaching review and potential reform plan, which the members will consider at an assembly in Monaco in December, Bach continued, “This is exactly in line with the discussions we are having with ‘Olympic Agenda [2020],’ where we want to encourage just this diversity, where we want to encourage sustainability and the feasibility of the organization of the Olympic Games.”

The report, meanwhile, lays out Almaty’s commercial estimates revenues of $1.055 billion. It immediately notes, “Sponsorship may be optimistic given the scale of the economy,” which it helpfully points out is the 46th largest in the world.

In case anyone could possibly have missed the point, the report also says, on the same page, “Given the size of the economy and its reliance on oil, there may be challenges in supporting the significant investments in competition and non-competition venues necessary for the Games, unless there is extraordinary government support and the economy is strong.”

In Kazakhstan, there is still “some way to go” to bring the security apparatus “up to international standard.”

There appears to be “limited accommodation options for spectators, mainly in alternative and university accommodation.”

Anything else? Oh, just this: “Almaty lies on a fault line and is prone to earthquakes.”

The report does say, “While there are many environmental challenges facing the city and country, the opportunity of the Games could be a catalyst for significant improvements.”

For Almaty supporters: it’s not clear if many, even any, IOC members read these reports. Also, Rio got dinged in the working group report for 2016; it would eventually win going away.

As Almaty 2022 executive board member Andrey Kryukov said here Monday, referring to the three cities, “I think now three are favorites.”