Three for 2020 in, Doha and Baku out

QUEBEC CITY, Canada -- In cutting the 2020 Summer Games bid city field Wednesday from five cities to three, the International Olympic Committee eliminated both Baku and Doha, immediately raising the provocative question of whether Doha -- which, let's face it, is due to put on soccer's 2022 World Cup -- is ever going to get its chance to make its case before the full IOC. The IOC's 15-member policy-making executive board, meeting here amid the sprawling SportAccord assembly, passed Tokyo, Madrid and Istanbul through to the so-called "candidate city" phase.

The IOC will select the 2020 city at a secret vote in September, 2013, in Buenos Aires, a congress marked also by an election to succeed Jacques Rogge, who because of mandatory term limits will be stepping down after 12 years as IOC president.

The contours for the 2020 election are plain:

Will the Eurocentric IOC, after electing Pyeongchang, South Korea, for the 2018 Winter Games, want to return to far-away Asia for Summer 2020? This is Tokyo's second-straight bid, Madrid's third, Istanbul's fifth overall.

The IOC report released Wednesday that assessed all five would-be 2020 cities called Tokyo's application "very strong." Tokyo typically has graded out terrifically well in such so-called "technical" reports. Now comes the hard part:  the political sell.

"We have to explain to the members our planning … the excitement … [why] it would be the best Olympic Games and a model for the future," asserted Tsunekazu Takeda, the president of Tokyo 2020 and the Japanese Olympic Committee.

The report called Madrid's file "strong." Obviously, Spain is currently beset by economic woes. At the same time, much of what's needed to stage an Olympics is already built; that's the advantage of two prior bids. But can the Madrid 2020 team deliver a winning message?

Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., a key Madrid bid official, said, "The IOC, by coming to southern Europe, would be giving a new generation of youth hope and opportunity, and we can afford to do it  because the infrastructure is already in place."

Can Istanbul run the gamble of bidding for the Games and the 2020 European soccer championships simultaneously? The IOC report, noting that Istanbul's file offers "good potential" but needs to be "refined," stressed that the notion of not only bidding for but actually staging the Olympics and soccer so close together -- they would be held just months apart -- presents "significant risks."

Ugur Erdener, an IOC member as well as president of the world archery federation and the Turkish Olympic committee, said the Games were his country's "first priority," adding, "That is very clear."

The announcement Wednesday follows Rome's February withdrawal from the 2020 race. Some had considered it a favorite. The Italian government said it simply could not provide the financial guarantees the IOC demands.

Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, was never going to win for 2020 -- Azerbaijan doesn't even have an IOC member -- and so whether they were passed through was always more a matter of passing interest, no more. Make no mistake: a Baku bid is to be taken seriously because they have abundant resource and will. But Baku is for future editions of the Games.

The intrigue in this 2020 election was always Doha, the capital of Qatar.

Then again, the intrigue in the early stage of the 2016 election involved Doha as well.

Four years ago, the IOC cut Doha at this same stage, even though the 2016 technical review had it rated ahead of Rio de Janeiro, which then went on to win.

This time, after a ferocious internal debate at the IOC's executive board session meeting last summer at the time of the world track and field championships in Daegu, South Korea, Doha was allowed to jump into the 2020 race amid the proviso it hold the Games from Oct. 2-18 to avoid the desert heat.

Doha has successfully staged the 2006 Asian Games and, last December, the Arab Games. Doha has won the right to stage, among other significant events, the 2014 swimming world short-course championships and the 2015 men's world handball championships; last spring, it put on the IOC's sport and environment conference.

Overwhelmingly, the summer sports federations said ok to the Doha bid.

The Qataris are adamant about the use of sport as one of the four "pillars" of both a "national vision" plan that aims to achieve concrete goals by 2030 and, as well, to cement Qatar's role as a "leading nation in bringing the world together," the Qatar Olympic Committee's vision statement.

Here in Quebec City, there was more debate.

In Olympic politics -- as in all politics -- perception is as important, if not more so, than reality. It may or may not matter that the issues confronting Doha are on-the-ground real. What matters is that some number of key Olympic stakeholders believe they are real enough.

Is the country big enough for the Olympics? The soccer World Cup is big. But the Olympics are a completely different scale: 28 simultaneous world championships. The financial aspects might pose no difficulty, the IOC report said, but building, coordinating and testing transport, housing, competition and non-competition venues as well as identifying, training and housing a Games workforce, all within seven years "presents a major challenge and risk."

What about the idea of the 2020 Olympics as dress rehearsal for the 2022 World Cup? That's not the way the IOC works. In Brazil, the World Cup is coming before the Olympics -- in 2014, two years before the 2016 Summer Games.

There's this, too, and it's impossible to pretend this isn't part of the dynamic: it wasn't going to happen that Rogge's final months in office were going to be marked by questions at news conferences relating to whatever did or didn't happen in the 2022 FIFA election that gave Qatar that World Cup.

If in Baku they have resource and will, that can be said time and again in Doha. Anyone who has ever been there knows how patient, persistent and committed they are in the emirate to achieving their goals.

"We will continue and we will not give up. Sport is in our DNA," Sheikh Saoud bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, a Doha 2020 vice-chair and secretary-general of the Qatar Olympic Committee, said after the IOC announcement.

Echoed the other Doha 2020 vice chair, Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, "We're good learners. We're good listeners. We'll be back."

It all begs the question: when are they ever going to get the chance to least get a vote before all 115 members of the International Olympic Committee? That, rest assured, would be a most interesting vote.

Which brings the underlying issue squarely into focus, doesn't it? Is that really why Doha got cut?

2020 -- fairness in IOC rules?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then comes the kicker.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To his credit, he immediately acknowledged he had misspoken:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time will tell.


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

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

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

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

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