Christophe Dubi

The 2026 election: change or be changed meets put up or shut up

The 2026 election: change or be changed meets put up or shut up

Is Agenda 2020 for real? Or is it really just so much noise?

The 2026 election for the Winter Games, coming right up in just days between Stockholm-Åre and Milano-Cortina, might as well be subtitled: change or be changed meets put up or shut up.

Thomas Bach was elected International Olympic Committee president in September 2013. The next year, in December 2014, the IOC enacted his 40-point reform plan, Agenda 2020, and it has since become – purportedly – the basis of IOC strategic thinking. Layered on top of that came the New Norm in February 2018, 118 more points purportedly designed to effect further change.

Now comes the 2026 election, the first to test the Agenda 2020 blueprint.

The IOC’s difficulty in attracting candidate cities is well known – referendums, anyone? It is enough to note that the IOC almost surely considers it a huge win that for 2026 it has two western European candidates in for a vote. 

That, though, is not enough.

The story the IOC should be selling

The story the IOC should be selling

From the time we crawled out of the muck and mire, we human beings have told each other stories. It’s the way we make sense of our world. It’s also the way we give voice to our hopes and dreams.

The International Olympic Committee, for reasons that mystify, does not know how to tell a story.

This is why, yet again, it is getting its ass kicked in the candidature process, now for the 2026 Winter Games. Two cities are already out. Five remain in but none definitively. 

Pardon the bluntness but, really. This does not need to be this way. 

Where is the joy?

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland — To use a favorite saying of Thomas Bach's, the International Olympic Committee president, the IOC’s policy-making executive board and Bach himself did a great job -- over three days of meetings that wrapped up Thursday -- of talking the talk.

Amid corruption and doping scandals in, respectively, soccer and track and field, the IOC board and president talked up the import of maintaining — if not restoring — the credibility of international sport.

IOC president Thomas Bach at this week's executive board meetings // photo IOC

There was celebration of the one-year anniversary of the ratification of Bach’s would-be reform plan, the 40-point Agenda 2020. The executive board heard at length from one of the world's prominent business professors, Didier Cossin, based at the Swiss institution IMD; he talked for nearly two hours about best practices and good governance. Bach himself wrote a newspaper-style op-ed that, without once mentioning the soccer and track governing bodies FIFA and the IAAF, described campaigns against the three primary challenges confronting world sport: betting and match fixing, doping and, finally, bribery and other corruption.

The board in session // photo IOC

The executive board at this week's get-together // photo IOC

All this is, to be sure, excellent talk.

But it totally, completely and fundamentally misses the point about why the IOC is being lumped in — right or wrong, fair or not — with FIFA and the IAAF in the minds of many around our globe, and why world sport, and in particular the Olympic movement, is facing a perhaps unexpected but potentially unprecedented challenge.

For 57 years, British writer David Miller has been covering the Olympic movement. Just before Thursday's wrap-up news conference, the IOC handed out a release that in print ran to three pages; it broke little new ground, if any, amid a lengthy recitation of governance and doping matters. Miller: "It's like a notice from the water board about drainage."

To be blunt: where is the joy?

Increasingly, voters and taxpayers in western democracies have turned against the IOC. Alone in the world of sport, it boasts as its raison d'être a message of tolerance, pluralism and more. But the IOC is failing, time and again, at conveying the inspiration and joy inherent in and provoked by seeing humankind, together, gathered in a real-time reminder of what can connect — not divide — us.

The latest: Hamburg’s bid for the 2024 Summer Games shot down on the last Sunday in November in a referendum.

This comes after the turbulent 2022 Winter Games campaign, which saw Beijing elected over Almaty, Kazakhstan, the only two survivors, after six European entries pulled out: Oslo; Stockholm; Davos/St. Moritz; Krakow; Munich; Lviv.

Beijing! Where the authorities this week had to issue a red-alert smog warning, photos showing the famed Bird’s Nest barely visible in the grey air. This after assurances that the 2008 Summer Games were going to make major headway in solving China’s pollution problem.

The grim view through the smog this week of the iconic Bird's Nest at Beijing's Olympic Park // Getty Images

Four cities remain in the 2024 hunt: Los Angeles, Rome, Budapest and Paris, in the order in which they will present going forward, according to lots drawn Wednesday at the lakefront Chateau de Vidy, the IOC headquarters.

That is, assuming all four make it to the IOC vote in the summer of 2017. There are no guarantees.

The problem, to be clear, is fear of Games costs and wariness — if not more — with the IOC, and the perception, again right or wrong, fair or not, of the IOC members as elitists and the IOC itself at the head of a system that seems rife with misconduct.

The prompt may be the $51-billion figure associated with the 2014 Sochi Games. It might be the revelations of a culture of deep-seated corruption within FIFA. It is perhaps the spotlight on state-sponsored doping in Russia, with the seeming promise of yet more inquiry into the term of the immediate IAAF past president, Lamine Diack of Senegal, due to be made public in just weeks.

It’s time now for the IOC, again referring to Bach’s dictum, to walk the walk.

It needs not only to recognize but to act upon this fundamental truth:

The conversation needs to move away from money.

It’s that simple and, at the same time, that complex.

The IOC is in business, sure. But it is not, repeat not, fundamentally a business. It is not pushing baby food, chocolate and more like Nestlé; headquartered just down Lake Geneva in Vevey, Switzerland. It is not a bank like UBS, based in Zurich and Basel.

Instead, the IOC is in the business of promoting a set of values — friendship, respect, excellence, all of which add up to hope and dreams — and a universal ideal, the notion of a better world through sport.

What is missing right now, and has been, as evidenced by the 2022 pull-outs and the 2024 Hamburg defeat amid the promotion and implementation of the Agenda 2020 plan, is any real and sustained focus from the IOC in its communication on the basics:

Friendship. Excellence. Respect. Hope and dreams.

For any who might doubt, Bach is super-smart and -sophisticated. He is good at both broad scope and detail. He is an accomplished public speaker, and in English, a second language.

In his op-ed, he closed this way:

“As Nelson Mandela said: ‘Sport has the power to change the world.’ Yes, these are difficult times for sport. But yes, it is also an opportunity to renew the trust in this power of sport to change the world for the better.”

How? Not once in his opinion piece did the words “values” come up. Nor, in that context, supposedly at the heart of everything the IOC does, did “respect,” “friendship,” “excellence,” “hope” or “dreams.”

Thursday's three-page news release? Same. Not a mention in the relevant context.

You wonder why there’s a disconnect?

As the longtime Olympic bid strategist Terrence Burns outlined in a post Wednesday to his blog:

“Not enough people in Hamburg were sufficiently inspired by the Olympic brand.”

He continued:

“To me, the Olympic brand is and has always been about hope. The stated vision of the Olympic movement is ‘building a better world through sport.’ I’ll buy that. But what is the emotional payoff? What is the IOC’s singularly unique promise that no other brand can deliver?

“Again, I think it is hope. Hope inspires human beings to dream with no limitations.

“Hope is the emotional output of the Olympic brand. The Games, and more importantly the athletes, give us hope that something better resides deep inside of us and, if only for 17 days every four years, we are capable of undeniable grace. Nothing other than perhaps theology offers humankind a similar promise through the demonstration of human achievement.

“I am under no illusion that the IOC will suddenly revisit its core values in favor of the word ‘hope.’ What I am suggesting is that by ignoring the concept of hope, we are missing something powerful that is needed right now.”

To be clear, the IOC also cannot and should not adopt the position that it is above the discussion of the funds needed to stage a 21st-century Olympics.

It can and should do a better job of explaining the basic difference between an operating budget on the one hand and, on the other, whatever costs are associated with construction or infrastructure. The latter traditionally is the source of significant cost overrun.

That explanation is simply not that difficult.

According to figures made public Wednesday, the Tokyo 2020 plan is now credited with $2.9 billion in venue-related cost savings, purportedly due to Agenda 2020. It's worth asking: why were the members were so gung-ho for Tokyo in the first instance when, by contrast, rival Madrid’s entire capital budget for 2020 totaled $1.9 billion?

The Rio 2016 budget is now under intense pressure, organizers looking to cut some $530 million from the operating budget of roughly $1.9 billion, about 30 percent. Brazil is confronting a slew of challenges: financial (the country is in its worst recession in 80 years), political (president Dilma Rousseff is facing impeachment proceedings) and more (a kickback scandal centered on the energy giant Petrobas).

Bach said Thursday, referring to Rio 2016, "We are sure history will talk ... like history talks about Barcelona '92 in this respect," one of the greatest of Summer Games. At the same time, he said about Rio, "We know the situation there is not easy."

To paraphrase David Byrne and the Talking Heads: how did we get here?

This question is hardly unreasonable.

Nor -- let's be clear -- is any financially related inquiry in and around the Games.

The problem, big picture, is that the money discussion has all but hijacked any other discussion — in particular, the good the movement can and does do and the benefits that can come with staging an edition of the Olympics.

When Boston went out earlier this year, it was all because, purportedly, the mayor didn’t want to sign the host city contract, citing the worry of cost overruns. This after a vocal “no” campaign from locals worried about, again, the risk and reward of the “value proposition” that might or might not have been a Boston 2024 Games.

Los Angeles has since replaced Boston as the U.S. Olympic Committee’s candidate; in Southern California, the locals remember the glow of the 1984 Games, and polling indicates huge support for 2024.

For emphasis: this is by no means a USOC, or an American, problem.

It’s way bigger than that. 

After Boston went out, the American television show NewsHour on PBS, the public television channel, hosted a debate between vocal Games critic Andrew Zimbalist and George Hirthler. Zimbalist is a Smith College professor. Hirthler is a longtime Olympic bid strategist, an unapologetic idealist for the movement and the author of a forthcoming novel on the life and times of the French Baron Pierre de Coubertin, widely acknowledged as the founder of the modern movement.

Zimbalist, left, and Hirthler, right, on PBS NewsHour // screenshot

Hirthler:

“There’s a better story, and it’s the story of the Olympic movement and its value to our world. You never hear about it in the economic financial risk stories of the opponents of the Games.

“Right now the Olympic movement is at work in 200 countries around the world, 365 days a year instilling the values of excellence, friendship and respect — respect for opponents, other cultures, differences — in young children, millions of young children around the world. In our world, we need a positive force like that at work around the world.

“They invest — the Olympic movement invests $1-billion every year in the development of sport around the world. That money flows directly from the sponsorships and broadcast rights that are sold for the cities that are hosting the games. So the IOC draws money from these host cities in order to develop sport globally. I’d like to know what the value of the development of sport, giving kids a chance to choose sport everywhere — what’s the value of that economic development?”

Zimbalist, in response:

“Look, the Olympic movement is a good thing. Olympic values is a good thing. Nobody is contesting that.

“The issue that we were talking about is whether it makes economic sense for cities to host the Olympic Games, whether it pays off for them to do that.”

How hard would it be for the IOC to gin up a road show featuring the president, Games executive director Christophe Dubi, some IOC members (to show doubters that, indeed, they can be supremely normal) and, most important, key athletes?

Who wouldn’t want to be listened to and feel inspired by the likes of — just riffing here — Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, whoever in whatever country?

Is there anyone who doesn’t like a Bud Greenspan movie? Bring the popcorn and the tissues.

In an email exchange this week, Hirthler said, “You can't win the economic argument because the opposition isn't rational -- you have to make the argument about why our world needs the Olympic movement -- why the Games hold more hope and promise for humanity than any other international institution.

“And that has everything to do with the grass-roots work of the IOC and global sport, which is the foundation of Coubertin's vision of uniting all humanity in friendship and peace through sport.”

In Lausanne: pics, so it really happened

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Not even 48 hours in, and the Los Angeles 2024 bid already has it all over Boston after meetings Thursday in Switzerland with the International Olympic Committee. Compare and contrast: Earlier this year, the world alpine ski championships were staged in Vail, Colorado, the biggest Olympic sports event in the United States in years. The IOC president himself, Thomas Bach, showed up. Did the then-Boston 2024 bid chief, John Fish? No. When Steve Paglicua replaced Fish, he thereafter flew fairly quickly to Switzerland. Did he get a meeting with Bach? No. A photo op with the IOC president? Nope.

On Thursday,  LA mayor Eric Garcetti and U.S. Olympic Committee board chairman Larry Probst met for about a half hour with the IOC president. Where? In Bach’s private office at IOC headquarters along Lake Geneva, a campus known as the Cheateu de Vidy.

After that, the mayor, Probst, USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun and LA24 bid chairman Casey Wasserman met for another half-hour with senior IOC officials: Olympic Games executive director Christophe Dubi; director general Christophe de Kepper; and the head of bid city relations, Jacqueline Barrett.

“Any campaign is about relationships,” Garcetti said in a teleconference with reporters following the Lausanne get-togethers, and perhaps in no sphere is that emphatically more true than in the Olympic bid game.

Photo op? Here you go.

LA mayor Eric Garcetti, IOC president Thomas Bach, USOC board chair Larry Probst // photo LA24

Bid chair Casey Wasserman, Probst, Bach, Garcetti on the Chateau de Vidy grounds // photo LA24

IOC director general Christophe de Kepper, Olympic Games executive director Christophe Dubi, Wasserman, Bach, Probst, USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun, IOC head of bid city relations Jacqueline Barrett // photo LA24

There are hardly any guarantees in an Olympic bid race, this one starting formally on September 15, ending in the summer of 2017 with an IOC vote in Lima, Peru. That said, it’s clear, too, that the Olympic side not only wants but welcomes the LA effort.

After Boston withdrew in late July, Bach made it explicitly clear that the IOC expected a United States bid.

Blackmun said on that teleconference, referring to Boston, “Admittedly this was not a direct route we took to getting here,” meaning to LA24. At the same time, he stressed, “We could not be more pleased.”

“Boston made a decision that was probably right for Boston,” Garcetti said. “Los Angeles made a right decision for Los Angeles.”

Before its formal late July withdrawal, it had been clear for months within the Olympic world that Boston was a dead horse. It also had been plain that once Boston went away there would be one week of bad publicity, as the focus turned elsewhere, meaning LA. That is exactly what happened.

Asked if there were any concerns Thursday that LA might be considered a second choice, Garcetti said, “Quite the opposite,” adding, “They universally expressed excitement and enthusiasm about Los Angeles. It was not a backward-looking conversation at all.”

Which should be exactly the IOC’s response — because it offers the chance to prove that Agenda 2020, Bach’s would-be reform plan, is more than just words.

One of the changes Agenda 2020 has brought about is what’s called an “invitation phase” in the bid process; in practice, it affords a national Olympic committee the chance to explore one option and then, if it doesn’t play out, switch to a better one.

Also expected to be in the 2024 race, the first to fully test the Agenda 2020 reforms: Paris, Rome, Budapest and Hamburg, Germany. On Wednesday, the French Olympic Committee kick-started its messaging with a campaign called #JeReveDesJeux. That means, “I dream of the Games.” The plan in France is to sell wristbands with that slogan to help finance the Paris campaign.

In a fascinating turn, a look at the IOC’s consultants list, another new facet in the spirit of transparency owing to Agenda 2020, shows that Hamburg has already hired the services of seven — seven! — consultants. Paris: six, including UK-based Mike Lee, whose winning track record includes Rio 2016. Rome: four. The USOC has retained four, all well-known and -respected in the Olympic bid world: Americans Doug Arnot, George Hirthler and Terrence Burns, and UK-based Jon Tibbs.

Budapest: none.

As for what was actually said in Thursday’s meetings? Not much tremendously substantive, really.

Not that anyone should have expected anything fabulous, Probst saying on that teleconference that discussions were intentionally broad, “kept at a really high level.”

Does that matter?

No.

Once more, this was mostly — if not primarily — an exercise in relationship-building and in validation of process, in particular for the USOC and IOC.

In a statement, Probst said, “I would also like to thank the Olympic movement for its patience, as this has been a very important decision for the future of the movement in the United States. The LA 2024 bid enjoys the full support of the USOC -- our athletes, national, state and regional leaders -- and the Los Angeles city council and residents," with a poll showing 81 percent local support for the Games. "Our bid to bring the Games back to the U.S. for the first time in more than a quarter century begins right here, right now."

“This is a new LA,” Blackmun said on the teleconference, reflecting the enormous change in the city and in Southern California since 1984, and that surely and appropriately will be a key messaging point going forward.

The mayor said the idea was to start making the point that — again, completely consistent with one of the drivers of Agenda 2020 — that “we show that exciting Games and sustainability are not mutually exclusive.”

For his part, Bach said in a statement provided to Associated Press by the IOC, "Los Angeles is a very welcome addition to a strong field of competitors.  We have been informed that LA 2024 has already embraced the Olympic Agenda 2020 reforms by making use of many existing facilities and the legacy of the Olympic Games 1984.  Their vision is for the Olympic Games to serve as a catalyst in the development plan for the city."

As was pointed out Tuesday in the news conference on Santa Monica Beach where the mayor, Wasserman and others, including the 1980s and ‘90s swim star Janet Evans, helped launch LA24, 85 percent of the venues for the 2024 Games are already on the ground or are in planning regardless of an Olympics, 80 percent of them new since the 1984 Summer Games.

The operating budget stands at $4.1 billion; because of the way Olympic revenue streams work, including the IOC contribution, sponsorship and ticketing, an LA24 Games would very likely make a considerable surplus.

Also in the budgets, separately: $1.7 billion in non-operating costs — meaning construction, renovation and infrastructure such as planned Olympic Village. A huge chunk of that is expected to be paid for with private funds, including $925 million from a to-be-named developer on the village project.

“First and foremost,” Garcetti said, “my responsibility is to my city through its infrastructure and fiscal health. I would never do anything to endanger that.”

Garcetti, in that teleconference, also said that a central touchpoint Thursday was highlighting the notion that LA 24 is “a bid Los Angeles wants to do, the United States wants to do,” adding “clearly you can do that best in a face-to-face meeting.”

The point about this being not just an LA bid but an American one is — and will become even more so going forward — key.

On Wednesday, President Obama’s press secretary, Josh Earnest, told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Dillingham, Alaska, that “obviously the president and the First Lady are very enthusiastic and strongly supportive of the bid put forward by the city of Los Angeles.”

In an Olympic bid context, it is always entirely and thoroughly appropriate for the head of government or state to offer such support.

But the comments also underscore a key U.S. challenge in the Olympic bid arena.

Again, relationships: since he took office in 2013, Bach has met with roughly 100 national leaders. Obama? No. And there is no indication a meeting is on either party’s agenda. Within the IOC, the president and First Lady are mostly remembered for the way they handled their trip to Copenhagen in support of Chicago’s 2016 campaign; Chicago got bounced in the first round.

Of course, a new U.S. president will have been in office for about eight months by the time the IOC votes in Lima in 2017.

In the more near-term: it matters for LA24, and significantly, that the U.S. government might actually step up big-time in connection with the Assn. of National Olympic Committee meetings to be held in Washington in October, and ensure that the delegates from more than 200 national Olympic committees — dozens will be IOC members — get through customs and border with not just ease but grace.

If you want to win the Olympic bid game, you have to understand the rules.

Like going to see the IOC president.

And the symbolism of the pictures — especially when you do, or don’t, get them.

Don’t be fooled, the pics can be tremendously telling. As the young people in their teens and 20s that the IOC is so keen to reach is always saying: "Pics, or it didn’t happen.”

As the mayor, Wasserman, Probst and Blackmun, head home, pics in hand, they know full well that two years is a long time.

But this, too: it has been a great two days for LA24. The launch probably could not have gone any better.

In a statement, Garcetti said, "It was an honor to meet with President Bach to discuss our initial bid. The Olympics are part of LA’s DNA – and we appreciate the opportunity to share our Olympic passion with the IOC and strengthen a movement that seeks to unite the world in friendship and peace through sport. After visiting the IOC headquarters, we are fully aware of, and ready for, the hard work ahead of us."

Just so, and to be clear, this caution: at the end of the day, this 2024 campaign will end up being about whether the IOC members want the Games back in the United States, or not.

In this dynamic, LA is not just LA. It’s way more. It’s LA representing the United States of America.

“I think it is time for America to bring the Olympics back home,” Garcetti said, adding, “The United States loves the Olympics, and the Olympics loves the United States.”

Now we will get to see — with a world-class bid that is, in theory, everything the IOC could want to fulfill Agenda 2020 — if that is, indeed, true.

The kabuki theater of the 2022 evaluation commission

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The kabuki theater that marked the two-stop International Olympic Committee’s evaluation commission for the 2022 Winter Games wrapped up Saturday in Beijing. In this and a prior trip to Almaty, Kazakhstan, it can be said to have accomplished practically nothing of consequence. Here is why. The technical merits of these two bids are practically irrelevant, even if one might like to argue back and forth about whether the ski jump in Almaty is so close you can touch it or the ski run is so far away from Beijing it might as well be in Mongolia.

This 2022 race is the worst the IOC has conducted in its modern history.

Worse, by far, even than the 1984 Games “race,” when Los Angeles was the only entry.

The IOC evaluation commission at the Beijing closing ceremony // photo courtesy Beijing 2022

Then at least you knew what was going to happen.

IOC elections can be unpredictable. Even so, this one would seem to be showing a lot of clarity already.

First and foremost, the 2008 Summer Games were in Beijing.

That means that some significant number of the IOC members have actually been to Beijing.

Moreover, the Nanjing Youth Games were just last summer. That means some number of members have been to China who knows how many times over the past several years and seen for themselves just how incredibly good the Chinese are at organizing Olympic events.

It’s true. The Chinese do grand Olympic scale stuff exceptionally well. Of course they do. This is not difficult: money plus resource plus the ability to tell people what to do equals prime-time showtime.

That gives Beijing a huge — and unfair  — advantage over Almaty.

The dumb IOC rule that says the members are not allowed to visit candidate cities means that in this context they can’t visit either Beijing or Almaty. But most have already been to Beijing. So when the time comes this July 31 to make a 2022 choice at the IOC assembly in Kuala Lumpur, and the members know from just seven years ago, or even just last summer, that the Chinese are hugely capable, what button are they most likely instinctively to push?

This dumb rule, meanwhile, cuts both ways. It’s currently three hours from Beijing to what would be the ski venues in 2022. If the members were able to sit on a bus for three long hours and think about that — even though the Chinese say they’re going to build a high-speed rail to cut the travel time to under an hour — would they still want Beijing?

How does such an expensive high-speed rail fit into Agenda 2020, the IOC’s purported reform agenda? Let’s be real. The Chinese say the rail line to the ski resort is unrelated to the Games. Who believes that? Without the Olympics, is there all of a sudden this drive to get 300 million Chinese — about the population of the entire United States — to embrace winter sports, which has abruptly, indeed over just the past few weeks, become one of the drivers of the Beijing 2022 campaign?

The Chinese are masters of propaganda. Nothing in and of itself wrong with that. All countries engage in the stuff. But the opportunity has been dropped into their laps for Beijing to become the first city in the history of the modern Olympics to stage both the Summer and Winter Games -- and this from a country that didn't even come back to the Summer Games until 1984. Incredible.

More straight talk, meanwhile: when the Chinese government promises its full resource, that’s a huge guarantee. Especially for the IOC, and its Winter Games.

The IOC’s winter franchise is wobbly. Think about this 2022 race. Stockholm, Lviv, Krakow and Oslo all pulled out. Munich, the 2018 runner-up, was going to get in but didn’t after a 2013 no-vote referendum and just a few days ago, the head of the German Olympic confederation, Alfons Hörmann, said what everybody in Olympic circles knows all too well:

“It is bitter that Almaty and Beijing are the only ones left. It is now clear that Munich would have been served the Games on a silver platter.”

With Thomas Bach, from Germany, as the IOC president — Munich would have won not just a silver platter, but one piled high with turkey and cranberries and all the fixings. Or German sausage. Or whatever.

The resource of the Chinese government is important, indeed, because the federal Kazakh authorities have been, for some reason, slow in coming to the table with their full faith and credit.

In so doing, the Kazakh government may have squandered some very valuable backstage relationships — key one-to-one ties that within senior IOC circles are well-known, indeed.

Take, for instance, this seemingly unremarkable picture, captured by Xinhua in mid-January:0023ae9885da1620a97c08

It shows Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah of Kuwait, one of the most influential personalities within the Olympic movement, with Chinese president Xi Jinping.

The sheikh is, among other things, head of the Assn. of National Olympic Committees. He is also head of the Olympic Council of Asia. He seemingly has a proven capacity to move dozens of votes.

Just to be obvious, both Kazakhstan and China are in Asia.

How should this simple picture be interpreted?

Until a picture shows up just like this that features the sheikh with Nursultan Nazarbayev, the president of Kazakhstan, it’s pretty easy to understand exactly what this photo says.

Especially when you add in these remarks from the Xinhua story accompanying the sheikh’s visit to Beijing, which on their face would seem completely benign but are actually anything but, you can begin to parse certain key elements of the 2022 dynamic.

“Calling China an important cooperation partner of the ANOC, Sheikh Ahmad said the country had demonstrated its capability to hold large-scale international sport events.

“The Beijing Olympics and the Nanjing Youth Olympics were the pride of China and Asia, he said.”

This is not to say that Almaty is totally foregone. The bid has a great spirit that perhaps is just what the IOC needs. It also speaks far more to Agenda 2020, if indeed that package is real instead of aspirational, than does the Beijing proposition.

There’s little to no snow up in the mountains three hours from Beijing. No worries, IOC executive director Christophe Dubi told reporters this week: the Chinese would store water in reservoirs to make artificial snow. As opposed to Almaty, where every winter there is, like, real snow, and lots of it.

“Basically,” the chairman of the evaluation commission, Russia’s Alexander Zhukov said in Beijing at the wrap-up news conference there, referring to the China plan, “it is cold enough and everywhere there is sufficient water.”

As an environmental proposition, which wins? Moreover, which fits better with Agenda 2020?

Speaking of the environment:

How the IOC can even begin to entertain more jibber-jabber about the unfathomably bad air quality in Beijing when the same noise came forth in 2001 about 2008? This week, while the IOC team was on the ground there, readings for a benchmark pollutant in the air were more than six times what the World Health Organization considers safe.

Politically, as well: imagine seven more years of local and global protests against Tibet and human rights?

Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter, which requires host cities to secure the “rights and freedoms” set out in the charter “without discrimination of any kind,” was revised in December, at the IOC session in Monaco, in line with recommendation 14 of the 40-point Agenda 2020.

Yet, as Human Rights Watch asserted last week, “discrimination — on the basis of sex, gender, ethnicity, disability and sexuality, among others — remains rampant throughout China.”

Sophie Richardson, the advocacy group’s China director, said, “Host selections can no longer be made on promises of flashy infrastructure or glitzy opening ceremonies but now must require respect for fundamental human rights. Will the IOC enforce its own standards?”

In that same spirit, International Tibet Network member groups last week issued a position paper that called on the IOC “to reject [the Beijing bid] and in the context of events in China after the 2001 decision to consider with extreme caution the bid of Kazakhstan.”

This, then, is the dilemma the IOC finds itself in — one entirely of its own making — in the aftermath of the 2022 evaluation visits, full of show and short on meaning.

It could have reopened the 2022 race when there was a window to do so. But no.

Now, having a few months ago enacted the Agenda 2020 package, it remains to be seen whether — aside from the implementation of the Olympic TV channel, which assuredly is real — the rest of it is so much talk or, like many other well-meaning IOC vehicles over the years, just so many words.

A picture, they say, is worth a thousand.

 

Bach wins the presidency

BUENOS AIRES -- Thomas Bach of Germany was elected president of the International Olympic Committee Tuesday, replacing Jacques Rogge of Belgium. Bach is a gold medal-winning fencer at the 1976 Montreal Games who went on to become a lawyer. He was made an IOC member in 1991 and has served in virtually every position but president. Over the years, he has made no secret of his ambition for the top job.

Now he has it, winning decisively in the second round of voting over five other candidates. He received 49 votes, two more than he needed. Combined, the other five got 44.

Bach, 59, becomes the IOC's ninth president. Eight of the nine have been Europeans. The only exception: the American Avery Brundage, who served from 1952 to 1972.

The new president will serve a term of at least eight years. IOC rules permit the possibility of a four-year second term. Bach said he hoped to lead according to his campaign motto, "Unity in diversity," and declared, "You should know that my door, my ears and my heart are always open for you.''

125th IOC Session - IOC Presidential Election

The intrigue in Tuesday's balloting underscored Bach's support -- completely overt -- from the Olympic world's new No. 1 power-broker, Kuwait's Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah.

Also manifestly at work Tuesday, indeed throughout this landmark 125th IOC session, at which Tokyo was selected host for the 2020 Games and wrestling was put back onto the program for the 2020 and 2024 Summer Olympics:  the influence of Russian president Vladimir Putin. As Bach was making his way down a line of reporters shortly after being elected, Dmitry Chernyshenko's phone rang. He heads the Sochi 2014 organizing committee. It was Putin calling, for Bach, with congratulations.

As one triangulates, let there be no doubt: Sheikh Ahmad is now unequivocally positioned as one of the most influential figures in international sport.

This, too: Bach is certainly European. But to have a key political backer who is head of the Olympic Council of Asia and head of the Assn. of National Olympic Committees is perhaps evidence of a subtle shift in the Olympic worldview.

At any rate, about this there can be no misunderstanding: the IOC election Tuesday completed a turn that through 2013 has seen an older generation of leadership moved aside by younger personalities with different ideas and new energy.

This political master drama, a classical study that academics and operatives alike could learn much from as it played out in real life over more than 10 years, intensifying over the last 18 months, culminated Tuesday in Bach's emphatic ascent.

Out: Rogge, Mexico's Mario Vazquez Raña and, in something of a rebuke to the outgoing president, his former associate, the former International Cycling Union president Hein Verbruggen of Holland. Verbruggen served Rogge in a variety of roles, including as chief of the Beijing 2008 Games coordination commission; he was also the former head of SportAccord, the umbrella group of international sport federations.

Vazquez Raña and Verbruggen have hardly disappeared from the scene, and to count them out completely -- each entirely accomplished and hugely intelligent -- might well, it is true, be premature. Now, though, the leverage and access are completely different.

In: Bach, the sheikh, the judo federation and new SportAccord president Marius Vizer, who lives in Hungary, and perhaps a handful of trusted others. This, as Bach's mandate gets underway, is the essential new power base of Olympic sport.

Bach defeated five other challengers: Richard Carrión of Puerto Rico, Sergei Bubka of Ukraine, Denis Oswald of Switzerland, Ser Miang Ng of Singapore and C.K. Wu of Chinese Taipei. Only Carrión, the IOC's finance chairman, managed even double-digits in the two rounds of voting.

In Bach, amid a world buffeted by economic, environmental and security challenges, the IOC signaled that it was not looking for transformational change.

While the other five candidates in their campaign manifestoes, or action plans, had proposed suggestions that put the IOC at the center of a variety of wide-ranging global sport and technology initiatives, Bach for the most part focused on the IOC's franchise, the Olympic Games.

"Considering the many challenges ahead, the IOC's focus must be safeguarding the uniqueness and relevance of the Olympic Games in an ever-changing world," Bach had said in his.

He also said that "keeping the Olympic Games the most attractive event in the world for all stakeholders is a top priority for the IOC."

This may not be especially bold. This might not be particularly opportunistic. Then again, the IOC tends to be traditional, especially at big moments. And, given the stakes, it makes fundamental sense when looked at in bright light.

Sochi 2014 and Rio 2016, for instance, are now being referred to in influential Olympic circles as "experiment" Olympics. The capital budget for Sochi is already north of $50 billion and the new anti-gay law there has raised concerns in several Western nations. In Rio, construction is running slow and over-budget and, moreover, it was disclosed here that sponsorships are proving hard to sell.

Thus: when the IOC members looked around at this moment in time, what -- most -- did they want?

Continuity.

The Rogge years will likely be viewed, most of all, by one word: stability.

Juan Antonio Samaranch of Spain served before Rogge for 21 years. Samaranch is still largely a beloved figure within the IOC. Elsewhere, the first thing that often comes up is the Salt Lake City corruption scandal, which erupted in the late 1990s.

Rogge was elected in large measure to see the IOC through the Salt Lake reforms and to restore the institution's worldwide prestige.

"You have led us through those bad times," Princess Haya al Hussein of the United Arab Emirates, president of the International Equestrian Federation, told Rogge as the assembly closed late Monday, adding he "clearly understood" the IOC's way forward was rooted in "good governance."

She said he had brought "our family out of its darkest times into a good future," years that in time people will come to understand as truly remarkable fiscally, growing the IOC's financial reserves from $100 million to more than $900 million despite the global economic crisis -- enough to survive an entire four-year Olympic cycle, indeed to secure what the princess called a "clear future."

Rogge's response was classic: "I did no more than my duty,"  he said, adding, "What has been achieved is not one man. It is a team. Thank you very much."

Rogge, an orthopedic surgeon by training, came to office on a summer Monday in Moscow in 2001. He was then 59, an IOC member for 10 years, a man of distinct vigor, his hair still dark.

After 12 years in office, he steps down in winter on a Tuesday in Buenos Aires. He is now 71. His hair is grey.

"If you want to achieve something in the IOC, you have to age," he said wryly during the assembly late Monday to Christophe Dubi, the sports director and incoming Games executive director, whom Rogge has always called "young man."

Intensely European himself, Rogge nonetheless oversaw Games for the first time in China (2008) and the IOC's "new horizons" moves to South America (Rio 2016) and, for the Winter Games, Russia (2014) and South Korea (2018).

Rogge oversaw six editions of the Games, three Summer, three Winter and, as well, ushered in the Youth Games, the first Summer edition in Singapore in 2010, the first Winter product in Innsbruck in 2012.

"The fact that I could describe six Olympic Games and two Youth Games as being successful is for me the biggest reward I could have," he said here.

Beyond Salt Lake, Rogge also had to cope with unexpectedly intensified security concerns. The 9/11 attacks took place three months after Rogge took office, just five months before the 2002 Salt Lake Games, and would add security complications to those Olympics and thereafter.

He had to confront a multitude of financial issues. Some involved a lengthy dispute with the U.S. Olympic Committee over certain broadcasting and marketing revenues. They cut a new deal last year.

There were other issues as well: illicit doping and illegal match-fixing, in particular.

Throughout, Rogge remained typically calm, almost always implacable. His management style tended toward the technocratic. It was big on process.

This could be seen in the 12 years of back, forth and sideways over the Summer Games line-up which ended Sunday with the members' vote to reinstate wrestling.

It had been kicked out in February of what was called the "core" group of sports by the IOC's policy-making executive board, then forced to fight with squash and a combined bid from baseball/softball for a place.

Squash has been on the outside looking in for 10 years. Baseball and softball were both once in and now are out. Meanwhile, over the Rogge presidency, the only additions to the Summer Games sports line-up are that, come 2016, golf and rugby-sevens will be played.

Surfing? Skateboarding? Still waiting.

Virtually everyone associated with the Olympic movement agrees the program needs wholesale review.

So, too, the bid city process. The 2020 line-up produced just three finalists -- Tokyo, Madrid, Istanbul -- after four for 2016 and five of the world's great cities for 2012.

Mostly, what the movement needs is simply a dose of new energy.

There are those who say that in Bach, the sheikh and Vizer the movement is heading in ways no one can portend.

Then again, these three also say that they -- along with the head of the Summer Games' federations' association, which goes by the acronym ASOIF, currently Francesco Ricci Bitti of Italy, the international tennis federation president -- can foresee a new way. They say it might open up new avenues of governance and, to be candid, transparency.

Big picture, the IOC is caught in transition between 19th-century club and 21st-century multibillion-dollar business.

The way the IOC is structured, authority has been far too confined between the president, the director-general and remarkably few staff. The model would hardly pass many business-school studies.

Bach surely now has a mandate.

The sole question heading into Tuesday's vote was not whether Bach would win. It was whether he would win on the first round.

"People are turning," one of the soon-to-be defeated candidates had said late Monday night, acknowledging the obvious. "For months they tell you one thing. They look at you in the eye and now tonight they tell you something else. It's very disappointing."

It is an IOC maxim that in the first round members vote for their friends. In the second they get serious.

In the first-round, Bach carried 43. Carrión got 23, Bubka 8, Oswald 7, Ng and Wu 6 apiece. IOC rules put the tie to a run-off; Ng got 56, Wu 36; Ng moved on to the second round, Wu was eliminated.

In the second round, needing 47 votes to win, Bach got those 49. Carrión took 29, Ng 6, Oswald 5, Bubka 4.

The candidacies of both Ng and Wu were apparently hurt by Tokyo's win for 2020. Five times to Asia in 12 years ... Tokyo 2020 just three days ago ... the notion of an Asian president ... it was all, as the as the senior Canadian member Dick Pound put it, "too much Asia, too soon."

Twelve years ago, Rogge -- in a field of five -- won in the second round with 59 votes; runner-up Kim Un Young of South Korea got 23.

If it seems obvious, this is a lesson Samaranch taught, and the sheikh obviously took to heart: relationships are everything, and people like to know that they matter.

This is why the line-up to see Sheikh Ahmad in Room 532 of the Hilton Hotel here throughout the week was non-stop. What was he offering inside? Coffee. Tea. Water.

On Monday evening, wearing a paisley jeans and a shirt, he stopped in front of a coffee bar in the Hilton lobby. For a solid 10 minutes, a stream of well-wishers stopped to chat.

The sheikh, 50, first signaled his strength last year when he took over as president of the Assn. of National Olympic Committees, deposing the venerable Vazquez Raña. ANOC represents the world's 204 national Olympic committees. The vote: 174 in his favor, one against, two abstentions.

Last year in London, he helped elect to the IOC executive board both Patrick Hickey of Ireland and one of Tuesday's presidential candidates, Wu.

Earlier this year, he and his team helped engineer Vizer's SportAccord election.

Then, earlier this summer, they saw to it that Buenos Aires won the 2018 Youth Games.

On Saturday, Tokyo 2020.

Tuesday, Bach.

In voting later Tuesday afternoon the sheikh helped elect Anita DeFrantz of Los Angeles to the IOC's executive board. She had last served on the board in 2001.

One of the players in one of these dramas was in the Hilton lobby after the presidential election. He was willing to speak but not for the record:  "A new world is open now."

 

IOC short-lists three sports

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ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- The ballroom here at the Lenexpo Convention Center here was jammed. TV crews and photographers assumed their positions, cameras trained on wrestling supporters in the front row of audience seats, immediately behind the ladies and gentlemen of the press. The tension was thick. Up on the dais, Mark Adams, the International Olympic Committee's spokesman, started to explain that the IOC's policy-making executive board had Wednesday afternoon decided to short-list just three sports for review this September by the all-members assembly in Buenos Aires. Everyone did quick math. Three sports in. That meant five were out. Which three?

Adams started to read off the first of the three: "Wrestling," he said, and in the instant before the place erupted someone in the wresting group summed it all with just one word that echoed across the hall: "Yeah!"

It took several long moments before order was restored, and Adams could then read off the other two: "Baseball and softball," he said, and then, "With apologies to the others, squash."

Jubilant wrestling officials meet the press after Wednesday's IOC executive board vote

With that, the IOC sought to turn the page in one of the most convoluted procedural and substantive fixes it has ever produced. Time, and only time, will tell whether it got this just right -- or profoundly wrong.

Cut were sport climbing, karate, roller sports, wakeboarding and the Chinese martial art of wushu.

In a statement, IOC president Jacques Rogge noted that "it was never going to be an easy decision" but this was a "good decision."

Thomas Bach, an IOC vice president and leading candidate to succeed Rogge in voting for the IOC presidency, said, "This is a good mixture between team sports, individual sports and martial arts."

The executive board voting Wednesday -- which followed 30-minute presentations by each of the eight sports -- proved complex. A sport made it through with a majority vote of the 14-member board; Rogge, a 15th potential ballot, did not vote.

The first round did not portend what was to come: wrestling made it through in just one ballot, with a majority of 8. The second round then took seven ballots before the combined baseball/softball bid defeated karate, 9-5. Squash got through in three rounds in the third with a majority of 8.

The IOC will pick one of the three -- or, perhaps, none -- in voting Sept. 8.

If the full membership selects wrestling for the sole vacant spot on the program, then the review process will have resulted in, essentially, no change -- at a time when the IOC is keen to be seen to be more vibrant in reaching out to a younger audience.

At the same time, the IOC has always sought to balance its traditions.

Therein lies the considerable tension.

A quick review of how the IOC got to Wednesday's action:

After every Games, the IOC reviews the line-up on the Games program.

By rule, the IOC sets these caps: 28 sports on the program and 10,500 athletes.

In 2009, the IOC decided to add rugby sevens and golf for the 2016 and 2020 Games.

For 2020, the review meant there would be 25 "core" sports plus golf and rugby. That meant -- and still means -- there would be one, and only one, open spot on the 2020 program.

In February, to considerable surprise, after its program commission -- chaired by Italy's Franco Carraro -- put every sport through a survey of 39 criteria, the executive board dropped wrestling from the core.

Wrestling's governing body, which goes by the acronym FILA, never saw it coming.

After all, wrestling had been on the ancient Games program. It had been on the program of every program in the modern Olympics.

In response, the federation got rid of its president, the Swiss Raphael Martinetti, and elected a new one, Serbian Nenad Lalovic. It enacted a series of rules changes aimed at making the sport more attractive.

"Wrestling needed to make the rules changes they did, and once they did, it gave the executive board an avenue to put wrestling on the short-list because it was a different wrestling than they saw in February," said Jim Scherr, the former U.S. Olympic Committee chief executive who is now a member of the FILA bureau.

Malaysia's seven-time squash world champion, Nicol David, said, "This is a great day for squash as it takes us one step closer to realizing our long-held ambition to join the Olympic Games. I said to the executive board that the one big regret in my career is that I have never had the chance to compete in the Olympic Games, but I would happily trade all my seven world titles for the chance of Olympic gold."

Baseball and softball formed a single international federation, the World Baseball Softball Confederation. They also laid out a plan to shorten their tournament and and play at one venue. Also, Major League Baseball and its players' association sent the IOC a letter confirming "our continuing support and confidence in finding the best possible … solution" for the "participation of professional players."

IOC sports director Christophe Dubi noted, "…They gave important assurance from the leagues that solutions will be found and this was presented today."

Both baseball and softball were kicked out of the Games in 2005, effective in 2008. Baseball had become part of the Olympics in 1992, softball in 1996. Don Porter, the longtime head of the softball effort, was visibly moved.

He said, "I have been through this a long, long time. I have been disappointed before. I just hoped we had done enough.

"This is like the seventh inning. Now we are heading to the ninth. We have runners on base and are going to work hard to bring those runners home."

Lalovic, the new wrestling president, used a different metaphor:

"The match is not finished," he said, adding a moment later, "We have to stay in the Olympics. This is our goal."

 

Fast times for Istanbul's 2020 bid

ISTANBUL -- No one ever said they weren't anything but smart and clever here. They knew coming in, because the working group report last spring from the International Olympic Committee said so, that transport issues are -- and will be -- problematic in a city growing so fast it's hard to keep up.

The rhythm of the four-day IOC evaluation commission package inevitably features afternoon site visits. On Day Two, the members checked out, among other locations, a waterfront cluster, which naturally enough includes the marina for Olympic sailing. The sun started sinking lower; time to get back. Uh-oh -- it was rush hour.

Ah, but these Turks had thought of that. Truth be told, traffic was not so bad for a Monday workday. Even so, the IOC made its way back to its hotel base not on the roads but by fast boat, the sea breeze brisk and refreshing.

Istanbul made an "excellent impression," Sir Craig Reedie, the head of the evaluation commission said at a Wednesday news conference, quickly adding that in his world "excellent impression" was "exactly the same" as "hugely impressed," the phrase he used to describe Tokyo, or "greatly impressed," what he said about Madrid.

IOC evaluation commission chief Sir Craig Reedie and IOC Games executive director Gilbert Felli at the closing news conference in Istanbul // photo courtesy Istanbul 2020

The news conference Wednesday wrapped up the evaluation commission's tour of the three 2020 cities. It saw Madrid last week. It visited Tokyo March 4-7. It will now set to work on producing a report that will be released at some point before the IOC's all-members July 3-4 session on the 2020 candidates in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The IOC will pick the 2020 winner Sept. 7 by secret ballot at a vote in Buenos Aires.

The evaluation report will by design focus on the so-called "technical" process of the campaign -- how many roads, subway lines, sports venues, hotel rooms and so on are already on the ground or would need to be built for each of the cities to get ready by 2020.

Already, however, the outlines of the three bids can be fairly characterized:

The Tokyo bid, it can be said, is spearheaded by city government. Madrid might be portrayed as a sports project. And Istanbul is for sure a national effort.

Istanbul's bid would spend $19.2 billion on infrastructure costs. That's 10 times more than Madrid, at $1.9 billion. Tokyo's capital costs come in at $4.9 billion.

This is Istanbul's fifth bid. It is Madrid's third in a row, Tokyo's second straight.

The commission will be keen to write a report that offers a clear differentiation. That way the members can be offered a distinct choice. As it turns out, this 2020 race, even if it can not be said at this preliminary stage to have a front-runner, will likely present many if not most IOC members with a threshold decision.

It's -- what to do about Istanbul?

Madrid and Tokyo absolutely have their cases to make.

Madrid, with 28 of 35 venues already on the ground, wants to re-define the idea of "legacy," to re-purpose the Olympic movement so that it becomes something well beyond just buildings and metro lines, instead a source of inspiration for "healthy living and healthy habits," as Spanish Olympic Committee and Madrid 2020 president Alejandro Blanco put it, and particularly for young people.

That $4.9 billion for Tokyo? It literally is just sitting there, banked, waiting, in today's uncertain economic climate. You want safety and security? Along with Japanese high-tech? The economic clout of the world's third-largest economy? Tokyo's amazing metro and rail system? Plus, like Madrid at night, Tokyo is -- fun.

Not to say Istanbul isn't. They even put on a fireworks show here Tuesday night for the IOC.

Here is the difference:

Istanbul fits the mold of recent IOC winners. The Turks -- again, they notice these things -- picked up on what worked, and have more or less designed their bid to fit that mold.

The issue is whether this strategy will still prevail, or whether -- and especially in light of developments in Sochi and Rio de Janeiro, sites of the 2014 Winter and 2016 Summer Games -- it has played out.

In the 1982 movie "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," a shirtless Sean Penn, playing the surfer dude Jeff Spicoli, walks into a hamburger joint with two of his buddies and says, ever-so-memorably, "Who's got the beaucoup dollars today?" Actually, Spicoli pronounces "dollars" as "dolares," so much the better.

Does the IOC want to keep spending the beaucoup dolares? Or not?

If it does, your winner Sept. 7 will be Istanbul, where $19.2 billion buys you powerful "legacy" in the form of another huge construction project on the order of Beijing 2008, London 2012, Sochi 2014 and Rio 2016 -- all, obviously, winners.

The corollary question, perhaps, is whether it also buys you headaches like in Sochi (construction costs already north of $50 billion) and Rio (significant delays evocative of Athens 2004, officials announcing Tuesday they are closing the stadium due to host track and field at the 2016 Games because of structural problems with the roof, and this at a facility built for the Pan Am Games in 2007).

Reedie -- and it should be emphasized that he was speaking generally, not referring to any bid specifically -- addressed the topic at the closing news conference last week in Madrid. He said, "The IOC are very well aware that the Games simply can not get more expensive, more expensive and more expensive."

Next:

There's no getting around the fact that traffic in Istanbul is congested. They are making a huge -- repeat, huge -- effort to do something about that, including construction of a $4.5 billion metro tunnel under the Bosphorus (that amount is included in the $19.2 billion).

Normal traffic on a rainy Wednesday in Istanbul -- going nowhere fast in one lane, the other wide open

Deep down inside the construction project that is the cross-Bosphorus metro tunnel

They might experiment with flex-time work schedules, special congestion pricing for inner-city road usage, PR campaigns for mass-transit use -- anything and everything to get people out of their cars and onto the trains, in hopes of reducing car use by 30 percent in 2020. Will it work?

They made a point of saying, repeatedly, that such projects are all part of Istanbul's master plan -- that they're going to get done whether the Olympics are coming or not. Yet they're right there in the bid book budgets. So which is it? Both?

The four-cluster venue plan in Istanbul virtually guarantees, meantime, that transport is likely to be the No. 1 technical issue in the evaluation report. Last spring's report noted travel times would be "substantial" and average estimated speeds seem "too optimistic for current traffic conditions."

Speaking of Turkish optimism, a senior transport minister, Muzaffer Hacimustafaoğlu, at a news conference Tuesday, declared that in 2020, "We will aim to make the transport experience immune from unforeseen events." Asked a few moments later to clarify, he said, "I don't think there will be any big surprises."

Meanwhile, a factor that has gotten virtually no scrutiny whatsoever -- yet -- is that the current IOC Games executive director, Gilbert Felli, will be stepping down soon. He has more than 20 years experience. If the IOC votes for Istanbul, these Games presumably would be in the hands of his successor, Christophe Dubi. On Dubi's watch, does the IOC want to take on another massive project?

These are all legitimate questions.

As are other factors, some geopolitical, that also may weigh on the vote:

-- The IOC has in recent years not just opted for big projects but gone to cities and countries keen to make plain their station in the world -- China, Russia and South Korea, in particular. Turkey would fit that pattern precisely, bid chairman Hasan Arat noting in an interview Wednesday with a small group of international journalists the impact the 1988 Seoul Games had on Korea and in turning Barcelona into a world-class destination after 1992, declaring, "It's a great opportunity."

-- Istanbul is a hot tourist destination. Feza Solaklar, the bid's head of accommodation, said Tuesday, that it is now the third-most popular destination in Europe, after London and Paris.

-- One of Istanbul's major selling points is that it would offer the IOC the chance to take the Games to a Muslim nation for the first time. In the Eurocentric IOC, how does that play -- positively, not or makes no difference?

-- Unsaid in that selling point -- but well-understood in IOC circles -- is that a vote for Istanbul would probably take Doha, the Qatari capital, out of the bid game for 20 years. There are elements within the IOC who would view that with favor and those who assuredly would not.

-- The conflict in Syria, on Turkey's eastern border -- they sought here this week to downplay that, understandably enough. How, if at all, will that conflict, figure into the vote?

In Istanbul, they know they have a real chance at 2020. Indeed, they have a confidence that borders -- already -- on something close to bravado.

The president of the country, Abdullah Gül; bid leader Arat; the sports minister, Suat Kiliç -- each of them used the word "deserve" this week. As in, Istanbul deserves the Olympics.

Asked to explain the word choice, Kiliç said at a Monday news conference, his comments translated to English, "As a Turkish delegation, we did not say anything negative. We did not make negative comments about the other candidates. Olympic ethics and morals are involved. We are competitors. That doesn't mean we should treat them bad. We don't belittle them. We don't underestimate them. We don't treat them bad. We don't make negative comments. But I am a Turk. I am minister of youth and sport.

"… I share what I believe is true regarding Istanbul. I have used the appropriate discourse for that. Istanbul is a candidate city. I have to use a discourse which fits this identity. We are also a modest city. We are open to all diversities.

"… Istanbul will show itself to you. We are trying to tell you to what extent we are ready to host the Games, to what extent we want and are willing to host the Games. The words we are using reflect our excitement [and] the commitment of the government … please look at my words from this point of view."

For a group that is indeed very smart and very clever, "deserve" -- and such a round-about way to explain it -- seems off-message, indeed. Typically, humility plays better in bidding campaigns within the International Olympic Committee.

After all, it's a long, long way until September.

 

Special Olympics send-off: feeling the joy

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Next week, there's a super little event down in New Orleans that will occupy thousands of reporters, camera crews and beignet-consuming, bead-throwing party-goers. You won't be able to escape it. Meanwhile, over on the other side of the world, in Pyeongchang, South Korea, another major sports event will be going on, too. If you read anything about it in your local newspaper, however, it's likely to be buried back in the very back pages. It's unlikely to command a fraction of the television time, if that, that Ray Lewis or Colin Kaepernick will.

Jim and John Harbaugh against one another for Vince Lombardi's trophy makes for a great tale, for sure. But you want a story? On display Thursday night at a Los Angeles hotel were  hundreds  -- literally -- of  stories of pride, perseverance, dedication, discipline and overcoming the odds.

Indeed, it was all genuine emotion and heartfelt enthusiasm as the 150 Special Olympics athletes of Team USA made their way down a red-carpet introduction  before a send-off dinner.

"To see the joy -- it makes me want to cry," said Julie Foudy, the soccer star turned television analyst, who was on hand to help the athletes cruise the carpet.

"And," she said, "scream, 'U-S-A!'"

Chase Lodder, 25, of Salt Lake City, Special Olympics snowboarder

Daina Shilts, 22, of Neillsville, Wis., Special Olympics snowboarder

Some 2,300 Special Olympics athletes from more than 110 nations are due to compete in Pyeongchang in seven sports: alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, short-track speedskating, figure skating, floor hockey and the demonstration sport of floorball.

Organizers expect perhaps 15,000 fans and family to attend.

Just like the Olympic Games, the Special Olympics run on a two-year cycle. The 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games will be held in Los Angeles.

In Pyeongchang, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge is due to attend some of the Special Olympics action while checking out some of the already-built venues for the 2018 Winter Games; he will be joined by Gunilla Lindberg, head of the IOC coordination commission for the 2018 Games. They are set to be briefed by, among others, Pyeongchang 2018 chief Jin Sun Kim.

Also traveling to Korea with Rogge are the IOC director general, Christophe de Kepper, as well as IOC Games executive director Gilbert Felli and sports director Christophe Dubi.

Rogge is also due Feb. 1 to meet with South Korea's president-elect, Geun Hye Park.

That's obviously big stuff.

But one wonders -- bigger, really, than what awaits, say, U.S. snowboarders Daina Shilts, 22, of Neillsville, Wis., or Chase Lodder, 25, of Salt Lake City?

Perhaps more than anything, the Special Olympics is about breaking down stereotypes. Yes, they rip it on snowboards at the Special Olympics World Winter Games, and in disciplines such as slalom, giant slalom and super-G.

"A lot of people don't know that," Lodder, who has been boarding for five years, said.

"When I work at Home Depot and I tell them I am in the Special Olympics," he said, a smile across his face, "they are really supportive. They are really good about it."

Shilts -- the others uniformly said she was fastest on the American team -- has been snowboarding for six years.

At first, she said of learning to ride, "It was rough. It was hard." She quickly added, "But if a sport is not hard, it's not a sport."

A substitute aide for special-needs children, Shilts said this would be her first trip overseas. "I just say this will be challenging and fun and new and exciting," she said.

And one other thing. She said, "I'm going to win."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reedie to lead IOC 2020 evaluation

Sir Craig Reedie, Britain's recently elected International Olympic Committee vice president, will lead the team that inspects the three cities in the hunt for the 2020 Summer Games, the IOC announced Thursday. Reedie -- who has extensive experience in sports, business and politics -- is superbly positioned to do a first-rate job leading the nine-person panel, which next March will tour Madrid, Tokyo and Istanbul. After those visits, the commission will then write a report detailing each city's so-called "technical" strengths and weaknesses.

The IOC will select the 2020 site next September at an assembly in Buenos Aires.

Reedie said in a telephone interview, "Clearly I'm very pleased to be doing this," adding he's looking forward to what he predicted would be an "interesting exercise."

The commission will visit Tokyo March 4-7, 2013; Madrid March 18-21; and Istanbul March 24-27. The order was based purely on logistical considerations, the IOC said.

Reedie is the former president of the international badminton federation and has been an IOC member since 1994. He has served on the 2008 and 2016 evaluation commissions and, as well, on the 2004 and 2008 coordination commissions.

He has been an IOC executive board member since 2009.

Reedie played a key role in London's winning 2005 bid for the 2012 Games. Since 2005, he has served on the London 2012 organizing committee's board of directors.

The IOC president, Jacques Rogge, said in a statement that Reedie "knows as well as anybody what it takes to host a sustainable, well-organized and ultimately successful Olympic Games."

The eight others on the evaluation commission:

Guy Drut of France; Frank Fredericks of Namibia; Nat Indrapana of Thailand; Claudia Bokel of Germany; Eduadro Palomo of El Salvador; Pat McQuaid of Ireland; Andrew Parsons of Brazil; and, of course, Gilbert Felli, the IOC's Olympic Games executive director.

The IOC sports director, Christophe Dubi, will aid the commission, as will the IOC's head of bid city relations, Jacqueline Barrett, and a number of advisors who have yet to be named.

All of this is normal.

Drut's appointment is noteworthy for two reasons. It means the IOC is reaching out, even if in a small way, to France. It also signals that Drut's rehabilitation within the IOC is apparently total and complete. In 2006, the IOC reprimanded Drut and barred him from chairing any commissions for five years in connection with a corruption case in France.

Indrapana ran for senior IOC office at the session before the London Games but didn't win.

Bokel is -- make no mistake -- a rising star in OIympic circles.

So, too, may be Palomo, and his name may be the most interesting of all on the list. Any name from the western hemisphere in the European-dominated IOC must always be understood to be intriguing, and Palomo -- head of El Salvador's national Olympic committee -- is fluent in both Spanish and English and, as well, Latino and American cultures. He is a Texas A&M graduate.

Reedie and the others on the commission doubtlessly will be met at each stop next March by breathless television crews hoping for a scoop about who has the inside line in the 2020 election. The reality is that the process is thoroughly anodyne.

Absent a major mistake in protocol -- hugely unlikely under Reedie's watch -- the commission is a traveling road show that is, in a way, both a bit of IOC genus and simultaneously a missed opportunity.

It's genius because it generates astonishing publicity. And yet, thoroughly by design, pretty much nothing happens.

Nothing can happen because the IOC vote itself will be months away, and because of the Salt Lake City corruption scandal of the late 1990s the 100-plus members themselves are forbidden from visiting the bidding cities. So this -- the evaluation commission visit -- is the next best thing.

The missed opportunity is that, for all the publicity, the IOC has since the late 1990s largely failed to communicate what its evaluation teams are doing during its four days in each city and why those visits actually really matter.

There is no behind-the-scenes what-is-really-going-on. There is for sure no 21st-century social-media presence.

There is -- to put it simply -- a lot of show but very little tell.

Without that, pressure is going to continue to build to resume the member visits. That pressure is going to come not just from the public but, way more important, from the members themselves.

Rogge is adamantly against member visits. And that's fine, indeed a thoroughly defensible position. But Rogge's 12 years in office will end next September. And then what? With time, the Salt Lake scandal is going to keep receding farther and farther into history.

Having myself covered these evaluation visits for many of the recent IOC elections, it begs the obvious question -- should I know more, or have a better feel, about what's literally on the ground in these cities than the members themselves? I don't have a vote, and they do. Does that make sense?