2022: sport, politics, irony


Here is the definition of irony. The International Olympic Committee has spent a great deal of this past year building bridges between the worlds of sport and politics. Then the government of Norway decides not to bid for the 2022 Winter Games. So what does the IOC do?

It issues a statement in which it opts not for its usual measured tones in assessing the Norwegian government and political establishment. The release calls the Norwegian decision a “missed opportunity.” It says the Norwegians didn’t come to a meeting — that the Norwegians themselves asked for, the IOC notes — and thus the move to bow out of 2022 was taken on the “basis of half-truths and factual inaccuracies.”

Not even two weeks ago, at the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, IOC president Thomas Bach let the world in on the secret that everyone knows but that, until now, no IOC president had dared utter out loud: sports and politics do mix.

For sure they do.

A scene before the men's team ski jump event at the Asian Winter Games in 2011 in Almaty, Kazakhstan // photo Getty Images

As Bach said that day in Korea, “In the past, some have said that sport has nothing to do with politics, or they have said that sport has nothing to do with money or business. And this is just an attitude which is wrong and which we cannot afford anymore.

“We are living in the middle of society and that means that we have to partner up with the politicians who run this world.”

On Thursday, in an interview with Associated Press, Bach said the Norwegian bow-out was “a political decision.”

Back to that IOC statement Wednesday, which is attributed to the Games' executive director, Christophe Dubi. It ends with the observation that the IOC will "work closely with the Olympic Movement in Norway to make the Lillehammer Youth Olympic Games in 2016 a success for the young athletes." Curiously, there is no mention of the politicians with whom the Olympic movement is going to have to work to make those Games successful.

Meanwhile, Bach also said Thursday that, going forward, the IOC has “to communicate, to communicate, to communicate,” and in particular about the distinction between the two different budgets involved in any Games — the operating budget and then, separately, the capital or infrastructure projects associated with an Olympics that typically swell “costs” way beyond the line-item budgets of the Games themselves.

For instance, the Sochi Games’ operating budget was $2.2 billion.

But the number that is in many minds is $51 billion.

Why is that?

Whose job is it to explain the simple difference between what it costs to run a Games and the add-on projects? In Sochi, they essentially built two cities from scratch. That takes, well, a lot of scratch — way more than $2.2 billion. That’s the IOC’s job to explain.

If the IOC says, well, that's for Sochi 2014 organizers -- not unreasonable -- the fact is that already Sochi has come and gone and now the entity that is left, the only source for anyone to ask questions of, is the IOC. This is just the way it is.

Ask anyone how much the Sochi Games cost.

See if you get $51 billion.

It is not, and let's be clear about this, the fault of the media if the media gets $51 billion. If there is a different story to be told -- we are all here to be told otherwise. That is freshman-year journalism.

It has been pointed out in this space before that the IOC is not very good at communicating.

This is something of a mystery.

It is not — repeat, not — the opinion here that the IOC members are a bunch of bribe-taking fat cats who only want to swill champagne and eat shrimp in black limousines. That is just a stupid caricature.

The members are, for the most part, hugely passionate women and men trying to make the world even just a little better through sport.

There is — and long has been — a huge disconnect in communicating this story.

Whatever it is, the IOC for the most part often does not know how to do it. Why this is — dunno.

It must be acknowledged, however, that -- right or wrong -- the widely held perception of the IOC, and the members,  is a major, major factor in the rejection of the 2022 Games across Europe these past several months.

That, and the $51 billion.

The most salient fact to have come out in all the months of the 2022 campaign is that the IOC has $880 million to give to the winner. $880 million! That’s nearly, or maybe even more than, half the money it’s going to take for the operating budget.

Two days ago, the IOC buried this fact under a list of 14 names in another release when it should have been shouting it from the mountaintops.

Since then, the IOC has actually recognized that $880 million is a lot of money and has been putting it up high in its releases as Bach and other officials have been talking about it, and a lot.

As for the Norwegians not showing up at the meeting — hello? So perhaps they dissed you. It happens. Call them anyway. Say, we just want to make it clear you know we have $880 million. We are trying to build bridges between sport and politics. We are for sure talking to our friends in Beijing and Almaty about this, too.

Bach now says the IOC is sticking to its process, that it has two cities and that’s that.

That could assuredly be a reasonable position to articulate.

In the meantime, however, it might be interesting to hear why the IOC was so willing a few weeks ago to adapt its Host City contract, ostensibly in a bid to benefit all cities. Clearly, China and Kazakhstan aren’t really worried about the cost of the Games. Never have been.

So where are we now?

On the one hand, it’s entirely possible — indeed, probable — Almaty might win. Because of certain backstage influences that are well-known within IOC circles, Almaty has a huge upside.

On the other hand, what if Almaty can’t quite get it together to even make it to the vote next July?

It’s not the bid team.

It’s the government.

For one thing, over there, they are still mulling over the IOC's technical report from earlier this year that reviewed the-then three candidate cities.

Oslo ranked first in eight of the 14 categories and tied with Beijing in three more. Almaty was not first even once; it did, however, sit last in 11 of 14.

In Kazakhstan, they are still working it all out.

This latter scenario -- Almaty out altogether -- is not entirely unthinkable.

Then you’d have Beijing, and Beijing only.

If you are the IOC and you have even an inkling that you might be down to a one-horse race, wouldn’t you err on the side of caution and look for a way to mitigate that risk?

If, indeed, you are building bridges between sport and politics, aren’t you on the phone right now to the authorities in Almaty to find out what’s what?

One more time:

It’s October 2014. The all-members vote for Agenda 2020, Bach’s review and potentially far-reaching reform process, is in Monaco in December. The very best thing to do would be to call for a six-month delay of this 2022 process, incorporating whatever changes come out of Monaco, if any.

If no other city wants in post-Monaco, so be it.

But at least let the world have at that $880 million.

And, IOC, give yourself a chance “to communicate, to communicate, to communicate.”

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.

2020 -- fairness in IOC rules?

LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- The International Olympic Committee here this week announced a series of seemingly benign rules designed to guide the process by which it will, in 2013, select the city that will stage the 2020 Summer Games. If 2013 seems a long time away, 2020 seems almost silly. A first-grader would be just about to start his or her junior year in high school by the time the opening ceremony of those 2020 Games rolls around.

That's how far ahead the IOC works. It has to. The Games, particularly the Summer Games, are a multi-faceted event that involves government, business, volunteers, fans and, of course, athletes. It is further noting the obvious to observe that a Games also requires billions of dollars, among considerable other resources.

The IOC is thus only being practical, indeed judicious, to promulgate rules. The issue at hand is whether these rules,  announced on the occasion of the IOC's first policy-making executive board meeting of 2011, will indeed prove benign.

Without question, the 2020 rules illustrate just how incredibly differently the IOC can move in the bid and campaign spheres than does FIFA, international soccer's governing body.

At first glance, the IOC rules would seem innocuous enough.

By the end of this month, the IOC is due to send a letter with the 2020 timelines to the more than 200 national Olympic committees.

A letter is supposed to then go out on May 16 asking for the names of interested cities. Already, the Italian National Olympic Committee has said it will nominate Rome. Other cities that may yet be in the mix: Durban, South Africa; Tokyo; Madrid; Istanbul; Doha, Qatar; Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

A bid from the United States seems unlikely. Not impossible but, at this moment, improbable.

For the first time, a prospective bid city must comply with World Anti-Doping Agency rules and accept the jurisdiction of the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Then comes the kicker.

Let's say a prospective bidder wants to stage the 2020 Games outside what the IOC now calls the "normal Olympic Games period," meaning between July 15 through August 31.

That would-be bid has until July 29, 2011, to tell the IOC it wants to go outside the normal dates.

In turn, the IOC will come back a month later -- by Aug. 29 -- "regarding WADA compliance, CAS and the proposed dates."

This is where things might very well get very interesting, a long, long way before the Sept. 7, 2013, vote itself -- in Buenos Aires -- for the 2020 winner.

In the 2016 bid contest, the IOC allowed Doha to stay in the race for months and gave it solid technical scores but then declined to pass it through to the final round -- the so-called "candidature" phase, where cities ultimately go before the voters. The alleged reason: it's too hot in Qatar.

That didn't seem to bother FIFA, particularly once the Qataris proved they could cool the stadiums down to temperatures in the high 70s with new technology. And of course Qatar won the 2022 World Cup.

For 2020, these new rules give the IOC the flexibility -- that is, if it were so inclined -- to cut Doha (or any place, for that matter) much earlier in the process than was the case in the 2016 campaign.

Asked by a Brazilian journalist Thursday about how FIFA and the IOC assess temperatures in Doha, Rogge said at a news conference,

"On the issue of temperature, I think you have to compare apples with apples and pears with pears.

"When Doha, when Qatar was bidding [for 2016], they made the proposal to organize the games at the end of October, beginning of November. The temperature then was much too high. The proposal of FIFA is one of December [and] January, when the temperature is lower, so there is no discrepancy between the two. I don't think that FIFA would consider to organize the games in October, November …"

Well, not really. The Qatar proposal was, like all the other 2022 proposals, for mid-summer. Which the IOC president was gently reminded of a few moments later.

To his credit, he immediately acknowledged he had misspoken:

"It is true … that the original foreseen dates of the FIFA World Cup for 2022 was mid-June, end of July, something like that, which is the traditional date of the FIFA World Cup. That is what is in the documents. FIFA followed it on the basis of this period with air-conditioned venues.

Then I think it was started with Franz Beckenbauer, who spoke first about the winter, and the whole discussion came about the winter. More I can not say. This is definitely not an issue for the IOC. I will not intervene into that. The issue for the IOC was different.

"The [2016] dates were end of October, November, which were still considered as being too hot for the athletes but also being also some type of hindrance for the international sporting calendar, and then ultimately we said no.

"The situation might be reviewed by an exception granted by the executive committee but ultimately the IOC will always want to have the Games to be organized in ideal climactic conditions. There's no way we are going to jeopardize the health of the athletes."

It's far from clear that the IOC is truly after "ideal" climactic conditions. I don't remember that being the case in hot and steamy Athens or Beijing. For that matter, I don't remember the weather in Vancouver being "ideal."

The issue is whether Doha, Dubai and other non-traditional bid candidates that are technically capable of staging the Games are going to get the chance to make their case -- to get the opportunity to go before the voters. That's what's at stake.

Time will tell.


As the Associated Press reported, the U.S. Olympic Committee and IOC opened talks here Tuesday in Lausanne in a bid to resolve a long-running dispute over the USOC's share of certain revenue shares.

The USOC delegation went home almost immediately afterward. At Thursday's news conference, Rogge called Tuesday's meetings "very constructive," and said, emphasizing that he was not giving a deadline, "I expect this to be solved much faster than was originally anticipated."

All that is to the good. The sooner the better, frankly.

On Thursday, as far as the AP's Steve Wilson and I could tell, he and I were the only Americans in or around the Chateau de Vidy, the IOC headquarters. Steve, who has been a good friend for a dozen years, is based overseas. So, apparently, the only American who actually lives in the United States and who was here at Vidy on Thursday was me.

Which is surely some sort of sad comment on the scope and nature of the relationship the United States of America has at this moment in time with the International Olympic Committee.

Three-city field, two-city race?

ACAPULCO --  The vote for the 2018 Winter Games is still some nine months away.  But is the race already tilting toward a two-city race in a three-city field? In presentations Thursday to officials from all 205 national Olympic committees, Pyeongchang and Munich, the South Korean and German candidates, articulated distinct visions. Those two would seem to offer the International Olympic Committee a clear choice when it votes next July.

Munich wants to throw a "festival of friendship," a traditional alpine celebration with the bang of a big street party.

Pyeongchang, bidding for the third straight time, unveiled a theme it called "new horizons," a call to the IOC to fulfill the mandate of taking the Games to every corner of the world.

Pyeongchang's vision is perhaps more profound. It falls neatly in line with the IOC's recent moves to Beijing (2008), Sochi (2014) and Rio de Janeiro (2016).

Then again, Munich has Katarina Witt, the two-time Olympic figure skating champion. It's impossible to know whether it ultimately makes a difference but let it be said, and directly: Katarina Witt exudes sex appeal.

She knows it. Everyone around her knows it. To ignore that is to ignore a salient feature of the Munich bid.

Everyone in the room listening to her Thursday at the lectern, when she was talking about celebrating winter sport "very passionately," when she said Munich's goal is to "lift the Winter Games to a new level of global excitement" -- everyone gets that the project has allure because she so obviously does.

Katarina Witt wore a two-tone grey-on-grey sheath dress Thursday from the American designer Nicole Miller, and four-inch pumps from the premium Swiss shoe label Navyboot, and you can bet that after the presentations the TV camera crews had eyes only for Katarina.

As ever, she played it cool. All business. She said afterward that it was thrilling to finally be able to go public with the presentations, that it finally affords those interested "the pictures in your head about what they could expect."

At some point -- not here, not now, it's way too early in the game -- the Koreans will counter with Yu-Na Kim, the Vancouver 2010 figure skating gold medalist.

At that point, the race will sharpen further. Next year.

Oh, and then there's Annecy, France -- the third entrant in the 2018 race.

There are some features to the revamped Annecy plan that are truly intriguing -- a "square of nations," for instance, a celebratory Games-times plaza. And bid leader Edgar Grospiron is one of the most decent, genuine guys anywhere.

Even so, it is an enduring mystery why the French -- just as they did in the 2005 race for the 2012 Summer Games, won by London -- seem to keep having difficulty sounding the right tone in these Olympic bid contests.

For instance, every bid-city presentation includes videos. The Annecy presentation on Thursday began with a video that included shots of Grospiron getting dressed, putting on a white shirt, tugging up his pants.

This reminder from the creative department: there is a fine line between being artistic and having a great many people in the room go, what?!

Following that video, the French line-up of speakers Thursday included Pernilla Wiberg, the great alpine ski champion (three Olympic medals, two gold) and former IOC member.

She's not French. She's from Sweden.


Then came another video, this one from Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, the First Lady of France. Why not her husband, the president of the republic?


The Munich presentation featured a video of German chancellor Angela Merkel. The recently elected governor of Gangwon province in Korea, Gwangjae Lee, appeared here Thursday in person, even speaking in English.

Was Carla Bruni-Sarkozy -- who spoke in French -- featured on Thursday's video because she is herself a former model? Or was it she and not her husband because he was the one who in early 2008 was the first European leader to raise the possibility of not attending the opening ceremonies that August in Beijing?

Within the IOC, they tend to remember those kinds of things. And the rough going the torch relay had in Paris in the spring of 2008 too.

Grospiron, asked after the presentation about Sarkozy, said, "You can be sure he is behind us," meaning fully supportive.

If Annecy has challenges, it's only fair to note that the other two surely do, too.

There's talk within Olympic circles of a push to take the Summer Games back to Europe in 2020 (say, Rome). The 2022 Winter Games, too (say, 2022, St. Moritz, Switzerland).

There are currently four Italian and five Swiss IOC members. The IOC votes through secret ballot, and so it's fruitless to try to divine whether any or all of those nine, for instance, might see the benefit in going to Asia in 2018 and then coming back to Europe thereafter.

Then again, it's not difficult to figure out that nine votes would give you an excellent head start on the 55 or so you might need to win.

The Munich effort must also contend with the presumed 2013 IOC presidential candidacy of Thomas Bach, the leader of the German Olympic Committee and an IOC vice president. Would the IOC give the Games to Munich in 2011 and then two years later turn right around and elect Bach, too?

"I hear different theories," the mayor of Munich, Christian Ude, said Thursday in an interview.

"It's a wonderful situation for Munich to have a representative of the bid who is so well-known and popular in the IOC. Of course, there is another opinion which says he wants to become president and he has a difficult situation …

"I only see that he is supporting the bid with all his power and influence, and we enjoy it."

As for Pyeongchang: Two times already it has come up short, losing 2010 to Vancouver and then 2014 to Vladimir Putin and Sochi. Can it finally get over the hump?

This 2018 bid would seem markedly different from before -- no references to politics or reunification on the Korean peninsula, for instance. This bid also features unquestionable governmental and heavyweight business support.

Will that be enough? If it's not, is it fair to ask what combination of elements and timing would ever be enough to make a Winter Games bid from Korea "enough"?

The only certainty in an Olympic bid contest, as ever, is uncertainty.

Well, and this -- in the next few moths, the so-called "Olympic family" will surely be seeing a lot of Katarina Witt.

Sydney: still the best-ever

The night that Cathy Freeman won the 400 at the Sydney Olympics, some 118,000 people jammed into Olympic Stadium. Down on the field, she would later say, the sound and light and noise was almost overwhelming. So, too, the expectation. She said it was like trying to get your bearings and finding yourself in electric jello. Just off the track, in a VIP box near the finish line, the chief organizer of those 2000 Sydney Games, Michael Knight, was sharing the evening with a number of influential aboriginal activists, among them Lyall Munro, a campaigner for aboriginal rights since the 1960s.

Cathy Freeman, in Lane Six, was not first as the field swung around the final turn, the stadium keening with sound. But then she turned on the jets. She won convincingly. And as she crossed the line, as all those in Knight's box gave in to cheers and hugs, they noticed that Lyall Munro had tears in his eyes. They were tears of joy.

"In 50 seconds," Lyall Munro told Michael Knight that night, a rough estimate of how long it took Cathy Freeman to complete one revolution around the track, "that young woman has done for my people than I've done in a lifetime."

The tenth anniversary of the Sydney Olympics arrived Wednesday. Already so long ago -- there have been five editions of the Games since, Summer or Winter -- and yet those 2000 Games remain for many the best Olympics ever.

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