Giovanni Malago

Milano-Cortina for 2026, and seven years of ... adventure

Milano-Cortina for 2026, and seven years of ... adventure

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — The International Olympic Committee turned 125 on Sunday. It celebrated by opening a new, $145-million headquarters on the shores of Lake Geneva.

In a news release commemorating the occasion, the current IOC president, Thomas Bach, said he saw “direct parallels’ between the IOC then and now.

“When Pierre de Coubertin founded the IOC, his vision and values at the time went against nationalism, against aggressivity among nations. It was about friendship and understanding. It was about bringing people together. It was about making the world less fragile.

“This is somehow a position we are in this moment with regard to the Games. We see this zeitgeist of rising nationalism. We see this zeitgeist of aggression. It is a great opportunity because we can demonstrate how relevant, how important our values are. We have to fight even more for understanding, for dialogue, for respect.”

On Monday, the IOC confronted its most consequential bid-city election in years, choosing the site of the 2026 Winter Games: Stockholm-Åre in Sweden or Milano-Cortina in Italy. A swirl of complicated dynamics framed the vote, including rising nationalism and aggressive anti-immigrant politics in Italy and, within the IOC itself, purported reforms designed not just to bring the organization into the 21st century but to underscore the import of its values. 

In a verdict seemingly at odds with all that lofty rhetoric, one that worldwide could well send taxpayer perceptions of the IOC’s self-proclaimed reforms — dubbed Agenda 2020 and the New Norm — all the way back to the last century, the members picked Milano-Cortina. The vote was not even remotely close: 47-34.

Rome 2024: it's about time


Maybe corruption is everywhere within and around the Olympic movement. Or maybe not. Maybe an Olympic Games is a financial boondoggle. Or maybe not.

The International Olympic Committee needs to better understand — and then confront — the perception, widely held around the world and particularly in its longstanding base in Europe, that the movement stands not for inspiration but distress. This is a huge problem. This problem is now playing out in the campaign for the 2024 Summer Games. Real life has revealed Agenda 2020, the IOC’s 2014 would-be reform program, for what it always was, mostly lip service. The institution needs big changes in the way in which it selects cities to stage the Games, in particular its franchise, the Summer Olympics.

The ugly implosion over the past few days of the Rome bid for 2024 underscores the seismic fractures.

Italian Olympic Committee president Giovanni Malago kisses Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi's hand at Euro 2020 event, Malago saying, "I always do that with people I don't know that well" // Getty Images

Virginia Raggi, a 38-year-old lawyer, is Rome’s first female mayor. She was elected in June. Part of what carried her to office was no to the Olympics. So it can hardly be a surprise that this week she made that position formal.

The dig is that she wouldn’t even meet with sports officials before the news conference at which she described the bid as irresponsible. She kept them waiting for 35 minutes. They left. Then she showed up a half-hour late to that news conference, declaring, "In light of the data we have, these Olympics are not sustainable. They will bring only debt.”

In response, those officials, in a lengthy and bitter statement, couldn’t even bring themselves to utter her name.

The statement goes on at length in explaining why the bid team was “disappointed”:

That “prejudice and superficiality have won.” That “this same political force has transformed an extraordinary opportunity for youth and the city into an ideologically, politically and demagogically based decision, and that rather than taking action they have opted to do nothing.” That this “new political force” did “not want to take advantage of the opportunity to launch a significant project of urban redevelopment, as was the result of the 1960 Games in Rome.”

That “the rhetoric around wastefulness has won out over the new, important IOC regulations, created specifically to address waste and projects that are not beneficial for citizens and to involve other cities in the hosting of the Games.”

Italian Olympic Committee president Giovanni Malago further told reporters that Italy — Rome has now dropped out of two races in four years, for 2020 and 2024 — isn’t likely to bid for perhaps the next 20 years.

He also said during the week, “We’ve lost all credibility if we pull out. Because they’ll think people in Italy are not serious.”

Well, no. At least not about staging the Olympics. The Torino 2006 Winter Games were pretty much a logistical train wreck.

But that’s not the point.

The point is that Italy has long been an IOC member stronghold. And yet the “new, important regulations,” meaning Agenda 2020, couldn’t convince the mayor of Rome that an Olympic bid might be worth it.

And she is far from alone.

The underlying cause of the mayor’s concern amounts to the same thing that, to varying degrees, caused no fewer than five European cities to drop out of the 2022 Winter Games campaign, leaving only Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan. A sixth, Lviv, Ukraine, dropped out because of war.

It’s all about money and the perception that an Olympics costs way, way, way too much and amounts to way, way, way too much trouble.

The cost figure commonly associated with the 2014 Games in Sochi is $51 billion.

Rio 2016 ran way over budget. London 2012 ran way over budget. Tokyo in 2020 had to start over from scratch with the stadium because it started costing way too much.

Beijing in 2008 ran to a reported $40 billion.

In China, perhaps $40 billion against the national budget amounts to a rounding error. Maybe that’s why last summer the IOC opted for Beijing for 2022.

If money isn’t a problem in China, there’s this: snow. Like, there isn’t really any in the far-off mountains where the 2022 snow events are due to be held.

A system that produces this sort of process and result is irrational if not worse.

Agenda 2020 was supposed to be the answer, at least according to the IOC. And the 2024 race was due to mark the test of the 40-point reform plan.

In the bid context, Agenda 2020 was supposed to turn the tables. Instead of the IOC setting forth a list of demands, cities were supposed to come to the IOC with competing visions for what a Games could and should be.

The evidence clearly shows that politicians and voters understand that Agenda 2020 is not any sort of fix.

Boston opted out -- which at least paved the way for Los Angeles, what should have been the U.S. choice all along.

Hamburg, Germany? Out in a voter referendum.

Now Rome.

That’s three total, and two of the five formal candidates. Left standing, for now: LA, Paris and Budapest, and only the first two are widely viewed as serious contenders. Budapest may yet face a referendum.

And read again that Rome 2024 exit statement — with a focus, at least in significant part, on the idea of an Olympics as an “opportunity to launch a significant project of urban redevelopment.”


The era of the Games as urban catalyst, launched in Barcelona in 1992, is done.

Again: done, finished, no mas.

The day after rejecting the 2024 Olympic bid, meanwhile, Raggi said Rome would be “honored” to help stage the Euro 2020 soccer tournament at Stadio Olimpico — which, it should be obvious, is on the ground. It was extensively rebuilt for the 1990 World Cup and was the site of that tournament’s final.

It’s curious that the lengthy bid committee's exit statement did not address two essential facts noted in the Associated Press report about the mayor’s decision: the Rome 2024 candidacy had been allotted a budget of $27 million and much of that had already been spent.

The IOC won’t make its 2024 decision until next September 13, and yet a bid has already blown through, say, $25 million?

That just highlights, again, the serious disconnect at issue.

To reiterate the premise launched in this space a few days back: the IOC needs to buy itself time to study the bid process from start to finish, with help from leading experts and the aim of making it workable and, more, appealing. This is, at the core, both a governance and PR problem.

The IOC still won’t let its members visit cities bidding for the Games, a result of the late 1990s Salt Lake City corruption scandal. It’s little wonder officials and voters in so many cities don’t trust the IOC when the IOC won’t even trust its own members.

Plus, there’s the FIFA scandal. The allegations of state-sponsored doping in Russia. And more.

The IOC needs time to address these challenges.

The logical way to buy that time is for the IOC to award the Games to Los Angeles in 2024 and Paris in 2028, and in that order.

Budapest is a lovely, lovely city. But it’s not what the IOC, and the Olympics, need right now.

What the Olympics need is a place where 95 percent or more of everything needed for a Games already exists. (Los Angeles, the bid committee this week announcing the intended use of more venues that are already on the ground.) Where the mayor, governor and federal authorities are on board. (Los Angeles.) Where polls show public support at nearly 90 percent. (Los Angeles, and it would be curious indeed to see the results of an independent survey of residents of the city of Paris — not a France poll and not an online survey.)

USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun, left, and board chair Larry Probst in Rio // Getty Images

Where, moreover, the national Olympic committee and bid team have forged a real partnership. (The U.S. Olympic Committee and LA 2024 announced Friday they have come to agreement on the key issue of what’s called a joint marketing agreement. Fights over this agreement produced bid-threatening friction for the Chicago 2016 and New York 2012 efforts. “We talk repeatedly about a high-quality partnership this is, and this is a demonstration of the quality of the partnership,” USOC board chair Larry Probst said.)

California has 12 percent of the American population but accounts for 20 percent of the public companies on the major American markets, including Google, Facebook and Apple, a column in the New York Times reported this week. It’s zero wonder why the IOC president, Thomas Bach, made a visit earlier this year to Silicon Valley.

Because all these conditions are real, a Los Angeles organizing committee would be free to use the Games not as a catalyst for urban renewal. Appropriately, it could reimagine the Games for the 21st century.

There’s this, too, even if few want to acknowledge it in the public space. The IOC has over the past several cycles dismissed the first- and third-largest cities in the United States. LA is the second-biggest. You want to say no thanks to numbers 1, 2 and 3 and somehow expect the United States would come back for another try in 2028? The chances of that are — slim.

Paris is a lovely city as well, rich with Olympic history, and a 2024 Games there would mark the 100th anniversary of the 2024 Games.

But the IOC is not in the anniversary business.

It’s in the relevancy business. And it needs to go where conditions are ripe to sustain — better, advance — that relevance with young people.

LA for 2024, Paris for 2028. It’s about time.

Kobe, Tiger, Lindsey, Rita, First Amendment and more


A quick quiz. How are Kobe Bryant and I alike? For starters, let’s count the ways in which we’re not: he makes $25 million a year, has a cool nickname — Black Mamba — along with a way better jump shot and can dunk. The world has to be different for people who can dunk. I wouldn’t know. That two-handed dunk Wednesday night, in the second quarter of the Los Angeles Lakers’ loss (another loss) to the New Orleans Pelicans, apparently proved too much. Like me -- aha! -- he has a bad right shoulder. Him: torn rotator cuff. Me: torn labrum. Me: surgery last Thursday (thank you, Dr. Keith Feder). Kobe: got examined Friday, and now will be examined again Monday, probably out for the season if he, too, needs surgery.

Kobe, I feel your pain.

I can also recommend many excellent prescription drugs.

So many interesting things have been going on while I have been lying low. Tiger Woods flies to Italy, where he appears with a skeleton-patterned scarf and then a gap tooth. The Kenyan marathoner Rita Jeptoo shows up in Boston 2024 bid committee documents. Then there’s a crazy First Amendment issue in those same Boston documents.

And I’m the one who was on prescription meds?

Tiger Woods in the ski mask, all incognito-like in a skeleton-patterned ski mask, in the finish area at Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy // photo Getty Images

Let’s start with Woods and significant other Lindsey Vonn. He flew to Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, to “surprise” her on the occasion of her winning her 63rd World Cup victory, most-ever by a female alpine skier.

To be clear: Lindsey Vonn is an amazing athlete. She deserves rounds of applause for this accomplishment, especially coming back from two knee injuries that kept her out of last year’s Sochi Olympics.

Vonn had recorded career win 62, tying Austria’s Annemarie Moser-Pröll, in Sunday’s downhill at Cortina. Victory 63 came in Monday’s super-G.

Cortina has always been one of Vonn’s favorite spots, along with Lake Louise, Canada. Nothing — repeat, nothing — is a given in alpine skiing. But it was hardly a surprise that she would win there.

Vonn’s family, in anticipation, had come to Cortina to share in her success.

It would have been kind of weird if Woods hadn’t been there, too, wouldn’t it?

Here's the thing: Woods doesn’t go anywhere without a security presence.

So he shows up. "Surprise"! But only on Monday, and trying to be all incognito-like, but then with the look-at-me skeleton scarf.

Strange, strange, strange.

Then, somehow the scarf drops, and there’s an Associated Press photo of him with the gap tooth.

“No way!” Vonn exclaimed when she saw him, according to press accounts. She also said, “I knew it was him immediately. He loves that stupid mask.”

Immediately, the gap tooth took virtually all the attention away from Vonn, and her accomplishment. The spotlight shifted to Woods.

His agent issued a statement that, in its entirety, read like this:

“During a crush of photographers at the awards’ podium at the World Cup event in Italy, a media member with a shoulder-mounted video camera pushed and surged towards the stage, turned and hit Tiger Woods in the mouth. Woods’s tooth was knocked out by the incident.”


We are to believe that Tiger Woods showed up at an event jam-packed with cameras and videographers and no one — not one single lens — captured this riveting action? It hasn’t yet shown up on TMZ? For real?

What is this, Cortina by Zapruder? A gap in the teeth but are there holes in the story? What?

As the expert alpine ski writer Brian Pinelli wrote in USA Today, quoting race secretary general Nicola Colli, “If you look at the pictures, there was no blood, nothing of pain in his face. He was calm, he was quiet.”

As for the statement itself from Woods’ agent — that’s it? You go to the effort of issuing a statement to the hungry press but there are no words of congratulations from Woods to Vonn? Just: some cameraman knocked out my tooth?

Further, and more to the point: it might be understandable why Woods — or Woods’ people — would want to villainize the media.

But Lindsey Vonn? What’s in that sort of play for her? Or U.S. Skiing?

She is the one cross-over star in winter sports. She is the one who, after all, got hurt and seized the opportunity to make a documentary out of it, which is showing Sunday on NBC. Football players get knee injuries all the time. Do they make documentaries out of their rehab? Of course not. Lindsey Vonn? Why not?

So what’s really going on here?

Very strange.

As was the decision by Boston 2024 organizers to include the photo of the marathoner Jeptoo in their bid presentation, the one that purportedly wowed the U.S. Olympic Committee board of directors.

Timeline: that presentation was made in December. Jeptoo, winner of the 2013 and 2014 Boston Marathons, among other major races, had tested positive in November for the banned blood-booster EPO.

Hard to understand how the USOC board could have been so wowed when her picture came up. Was anyone seriously paying attention?

Why didn’t Boston 2024 just go with Meb Keflezighi on that very same page, for goodness’ sake? After all, he’s an American, the 2014 Boston Marathon winner as well and the 2004 Athens marathon silver medalist.

Very strange.

The Boston 2024 documents, moreover, repeatedly observe that the city itself will be “Olympic Park” — for instance, “at the heart of the city, at its reinvented waterfront and in its cherished parks.”

It is understood that these documents are a “plan” and not a finished product. Even so, there is a real reason that in recent editions the International Olympic Committee has opted for real Olympic Parks.

The IOC has said time and again that security is priority No. 1. Olympic Parks are more easily, in a word, secure-able.

Think back to the last Summer Olympics in the United States, which featured tremendous open space in a major American city. Within the IOC, Atlanta 1996 is remembered mostly for its transport and technology woes, and for the bomb that went off in Centennial Park.

The less said here about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings the better. Just this: at this very preliminary stage, has anyone stopped seriously to think about the security implications of making the city of Boston “Olympic Park”?

Switching gears:

The provision that caused such controversy mid-week, when it was discovered that the USOC had included in its contract with Boston a non-disparagement provision — that is, city workers would not criticize the Games during the bid process -- this is very serious stuff.

Think back a year ago, before the Sochi 2014 Games, when much of the West was up in arms about a Russian law targeting “propaganda” aimed at gays.

Now the USOC writes into its deal with its chosen bid city a clause that would appear to fairly directly contravene not only the letter but the spirit of the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights? The fundamental thing that makes the United States different from so many places around the world?

This is not, despite anyone’s best efforts to explain it away as “boilerplate,” anything of the sort. This is a deliberate attempt to chill speech. It is not, in any way, acceptable.

Granted, the parallels are hardly precise -- but if you were Mr. Putin, wouldn't you find some ironic comedy in this episode, in the effort by the U.S. Olympic Committee, of all parties, to restrict free speech? Wouldn't that seem to him a little bit like a case of the pot calling the kettle black?

The Boston Globe was absolutely right in an editorial to insist that Mayor Marty Walsh and the bid committee drop that ban. The mayor has since seemingly been backtracking.

While that gets sorted out, mark your calendars: IOC president Thomas Bach is due to attend the Super Bowl next weekend in Arizona.

It will be fascinating to see whether he meets with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft — assuming, of course, the NFL doesn’t do what it should do, which is disqualify the Patriots for deflategate. If this were the Olympics, there's a very good argument to be made that the Patriots should be out and the Indianapolis Colts in. The evidence would seem manifest that the Patriots cheated.

At any rate, it was always understood that while the USOC was always in 2024 for one thing only, and that was to win, at the same time any American bid for 2024 was going to travel a long road. In that spirit, Bach met Wednesday — at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland — with the head of the Italian Olympic Committee, Giovanni Malago, and the Italian premier, Matteo Renzi, to discuss Rome’s bid for the 2024 Games.

Renzi: “We can say that after this meeting the bid for the 2024 Olympic Games can continue with more enthusiasm.”

Very interesting.

For the record, and with enthusiasm: Kobe has more gold medals than I do. He also speaks way better Italian.