Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr-

IOC drops to three for 2026 while signaling clearly: it wants Stockholm

IOC drops to three for 2026 while signaling clearly: it wants Stockholm

The International Olympic Committee, in moving three — not four — candidates along Thursday to the final stage of its 2026 Winter Games process, also signaled unequivocally where it wants those Games to go: Stockholm. 

Will Stockholm actually stage the 2026 Winter Olympics? Is there government will in Sweden for this thing? Magic 8-Ball says — what?

This is why Milan and Calgary were also moved along.

Erzurum, Turkey, the fourth entry nominally still in the hunt before Thursday’s policy-making executive board meeting, was always going to get cut. For 2026, it had zero chance. Not fake news.

Also not fake: none of these three may yet make it to the finish line. In which case, what then, Magic 8-Ball? 

Is it, “Cannot predict now”? Or, “Outlook not so good”? 

As ever, meanwhile, the IOC like Magic 8-Ball speaks in code, and in decoding the announcement that Stockholm, Milan and Calgary were your finalists, it’s 100 percent obvious that the IOC wants to go back to Scandinavia, which after all is the the heart and soul of the Winter Games experience and, indeed, sought to use Thursday’s announcement as a means to deliver this shout-out to the political and governmental authorities in Sweden:

Hey, play ball with us. Because if you do, you’re gonna win.

Stockholm for 2026: IOC, go freeze yourself


If you are hung up on figure skating, OK, but maybe get with the program: the Olympic Winter Games has indisputably become a ski and snowboard festival.

Next February in South Korea, there will be 102 medal events. If you don’t count biathlon, 50 will be on skis or snowboards. Add in the biathlon ski-and-shooting combo, and you’re up to 61.

All of this is hugely interesting when considering Stockholm’s announcement Wednesday that, in considering the 2026 Winter Games, the International Olympic Committee can go freeze itself. Stockholm is out before it ever got in. Just like 2022. It’s out.

Our European friends keep telling the IOC versions of this. They’re out.

"Why,” the IOC vice president Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr. was quoted as saying about a month ago by the Spanish news agency EFE, “is it so difficult for us to get the message out that the Games are something positive?”

The answer is simple: taxpayers don’t believe it.

More to the point: they don’t believe the IOC.

Even more bluntly: to a great extent, they just don’t trust the IOC.

If they did, cities and nations would be lining up for the chance to stage the Games. Instead, they’re dropping like flies — dropping out midway through the campaigns, like candidates have done through the 2024 Summer and 2022 Winter Games derbies, or bowing out now, as Stockholm did Wednesday for 2026.

It’s ugly and painful and awful for the IOC.

It’a also reality, and the sooner the IOC admits this reality, acknowledges beyond just words that it has a problem, the sooner it can confront it and take up the change that, whether it likes it or not, must be implemented.

Stockholm’s decision came just a day after IOC president Thomas Bach, speaking at a meeting in Uruguay of the Pan American Sports Organization, pointedly noted that the IOC has fat sponsor deals that run into the 2020s and 2030s even as he said the IOC “cannot ignore that we have an issue with the candidature process.”

He added a moment later:

“… The good old times are over with regard to [the] candidature procedure.

"Today hardly any mayor or political authority can go to their population and say, 'Let's try again, and maybe we will win,’ after spending millions on an unsuccessful bid.

"Maybe it will change back in five or 10 years. But it is not possible today."

There is a remedy, which involves coming to the United States, and Los Angeles, for 2024. If only the IOC will listen.

It’s not clear that it will, LA and Paris the only two cities in the 2024 race, purportedly to be decided later this summer.

This is a logic problem, and it is easy to solve, because the IOC — more than anything right now — needs seven years of peace amid every red warning sign taxpayers in western democracies, particularly in Europe, the IOC’s traditional base, keep handing up.

Like the one Wednesday in Sweden.

From several insider accounts, though, the IOC is apparently having a very difficult time grasping the logic of the logic.


Because IOC leadership, members and staff tend far too often to live in a bubble in which the change they need to effect — and that change manifestly is unequivocally necessary — gets wrought amid crisis instead of the way it should come about, through best practice while its key franchise, the Summer Games, sits in calm, solid hands.

As it would be in a privately run LA 24 — away from the government-financed, cost overrun-plagued editions in recent years that have gotten the IOC in the existential moment it faces now (Sochi 2014 at a purported $51 billion the loss leader).

Speaking of crisis:

Now that the first round of the French presidential elections is over, would the authorities there  investigating the former president of the international track and field federation, Lamine Diack, have renewed interest — or not — in making public what they have learned over these past several months?

If gossip is to be believed and the names of this important IOC member from country x or that influential one from country y are ever leaked to the French press, what then?

What if the French authorities, knowing what is believed they know, sit on that information until after the September 13 vote for 2024? What then?

You want more credibility problems? You want yet more crisis?

To be clear:

The Olympic movement inevitably carries with it any number of problems. Any enterprise its scale and scope does. But right now, it is confronting a grave threat to its credibility if not its very existence.

In general, this space is not — repeat, not — anti-France or anti-Paris. Just the opposite. I lived in Paris in 1984; I was not even in Los Angeles during those Summer Games but, yes, in Paris. Above my desk in suburban Los Angeles is a picture of Mont Blanc, commemorating the IOC evaluation visit there in February 2011 for the 2018 Winter Games; I look at it each and every day.

Again, I love Paris and I love France. But 2024 is not the time for the IOC to go there. And as our friends in Sweden made plain, 2026 is not the time for them, either.

At issue is the ongoing relevance and vitality of the Olympic enterprise. Our broken world is so much better with the Olympics in it, even if the Games and the movement are — of course they are — flawed.

All of that has its roots in the bid system. Because it produces the cities, and the cities are the stage upon which the athletes star. Those athletes inspire kids all over our world to dream big dreams.

To that end, the IOC has got to fix — that is, scrap and start all over with — its bid process. That process used to work. It does not now.

And the signals have been there for years.

For 2024, Budapest, Rome and Hamburg have all dropped out.

In the 2015 race for the 2022 Games, five European cities pulled out along the way: Stockholm, Davos/St. Moritz, Oslo, Munich and Krakow. Taxpayers or officials would have nothing to do with it.

For 2022, voters in Davos/St. Moritz said no via referendum by 53 percent.

This winter, asked about 2026, voters in Davos/St. Moritz said no via referendum by 60 percent.

That’s a bad trend line.

If you are the IOC, here is the really discouraging part: that 2026 vote in Davos/St. Moritz came as the 2017 world championships in alpine skiing were going on there.

So everything was set up for success: the ski world championships — again, the sport that is now the core of the Winter Games — were a party, the après-ski was all the more so and … voters said no, in a blowout.

Stockholm? Same kinda deal. Except for maybe the après-ski.

Are, Sweden, is the site of the 2019 alpine world championships. In any Stockholm Winter Games bid, Are would figure to play a major role.

Here’s the thing that underscores in no uncertain terms the IOC’s credibility challenge:

For Sochi, the IOC announced, and many times, it would give local organizers $800 million. In fact, it ended up giving the organizing committee $883 million. The Sochi operating budget, to be clear, is a fraction of the $51 billion commonly associated with the Games.

The IOC has failed miserably at communicating that basic fact.

It also has failed abjectly at communicating the fact that it currently gives organizers of a Winter Games somewhere in the neighborhood of $800 to $900 million — once more, for clarity, toward operating budgets typically in the $2 to $4 billion range.

Indeed, for the PyeongChang 2018 Games, though the exact number will remain uncertain, the working figure is $850 million.

For the 2022 Beijing Games, the IOC’s announced figure is $880 million.

For all that, the mayor of Stockholm, Karin Wänngard, who also oversees municipal finances, said Wednesday the city had no choice but to back out of 2026 because the IOC is not able to immediately say how big the financial contribution to the host city will be, according to an Associated Press report.

She said the figures “will arrive at the earliest in November,” adding, “This means that time will be too short to get enough analysis for the issues raised by several actors.”

One, if Stockholm wanted to get in, it surely could, because November 2017 is a long way from 2026.

Two, even a sports writer can figure this out. If it was $800 million in 2014, $850 million in 2018 and $880 million in 2022, odds are pretty good you’re looking at, hmm, $900 or maybe $920 million for 2026.

What, you need it down to the penny? Ballpark me for now — let’s say $900 million, cool — and get back to me by November.

But no. Freeze off, IOC.


In Europe, the evidence is clear: the IOC has significantly forfeited that level of trust with officials and the taxpayers those officials represent.

So the mayor of Stockholm used the “we don’t know how much money we might get” dodge to tell the IOC that in Sweden there isn’t enough interest or political capital to risk Olympic business.

Don’t kid yourself and think that the situation is, would be, will be or ought to be different in France. The Budapest situation — killed in just weeks by a referendum driven by social media, even though every level of government backed the bid — ought to serve as a major warning to the IOC.

In that same speech Wednesday in Uruguay, Bach also said:

“What we have seen is a change in the decision-making procedures in different countries, particularly in Europe but also elsewhere.

“I do not need to go into detail about how the Olympic Games is used for political purposes by groups in some countries.

“We have to understand that our candidature procedure is giving arguments for this, as it is too expensive and too complicated …”

This, then, is the hole the IOC has dug itself.

To reiterate: LA24 is different. It is privately funded. There’s no agitation to get agitated about when it comes to government funding.

That’s why LA offers the IOC, right now, the one calm, rational pathway: peace for seven years — stability and time to bring in the world’s best minds to think about how to fix a broken bid process.

Alternatively, there’s the other path for the IOC.

It’s called crisis.

2020: Madrid's day to surge


LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- Four years ago, the bid team for Rio de Janeiro's campaign for the 2016 Summer Games came here and unveiled The Map. It was so simple, so breathtakingly elegant, so powerful.  In a single stroke of unassailable logic, it showed it all: the Olympic Games had never been to South America.

Three months later, when the International Olympic Committee convened in Copenhagen to vote for the site of the 2016 Games, Rio rolled to a runaway win.

On Wednesday, the three candidates for the 2020 Summer Games -- Istanbul, Tokyo, Madrid -- took their chances for the first time before the full IOC, each hoping to generate the same sort of lightning that jolted Rio.

There was no vote Wednesday. That will come Sept. 7, at another all-members assembly in Buenos Aires. Instead, the idea Wednesday was, again, elemental -- to spark momentum and roll to Argentina.

Madrid 2020 Presentation

All three candidates were judged to have performed well by the IOC members. But -- the clear surge Wednesday went to Madrid.

As Alejandro Blanco, the head of the Madrid 2020 bid had put it in a briefing Tuesday with a small group of reporters, "I hope people look into our eyes and see the true passion we have," and by all accounts that's exactly what happened -- the Madrid bid jolted by the appearance on stage of Crown Prince Felipe, who drew wide praise for his energy, enthusiasm and, moreover, elegance in simply telling the IOC, "Madrid 2020 makes sense."

Madrid had been thought by some -- who never did understand the dynamic -- to be lagging in this three-way race.  After Wednesday -- no way.

Then again, this is July. September is still two months away. And as Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., Spain's executive board member, cautioned, what happened Wednesday amounts in the vote column to, as he put it, "nada."

On hand Wednesday were 86 of the 100 members; a handful more are due in Thursday, when the six presidential contenders will make presentations and the IOC will also pick the site of the 2018 Youth Games from among Buenos Aires, Glasgow and Medellin, Colombia.

Some 530 accredited reporters and camera crews were also on the scene at the Beaulieu congress hall, up from 160 at the similar event four years ago. Seventy percent of the 530: Japanese.

There could be no single grand gesture Wednesday like The Map.

There's no geographical singularity at issue in the 2020 race like there was in 2016. Beyond that, the world has changed considerably in four years. Indeed, the dynamics of this race have changed profoundly over the last several weeks, tied to the fluidity of the situation in Turkey.

Once the three finalists were announced, the 2020 race has always been -- even before the unrest in Turkey -- in the first instance a referendum on Istanbul. Do the members want to continue the trend of going to "new horizons" -- say, Korea (Winter 2018) Brazil (Summer 2016), Russia (Winter 2014) China (Summer 2008)?

Implicit in such a move are big construction projects. Istanbul comes with a roughly $19 billion infrastructure bill.

Or does the IOC want to go to a more traditional venue, with lower capital costs? Tokyo, site of the 1964 Games, comes with a $4.9 infrastructure bill. Madrid, bidding for a third straight time -- and of course Barcelona played host to the 1992 Summer Olympics -- is stretching the envelope with a radically low $1.9 billion infrastructure tab. It's that low because, over the course of the prior two bids, pretty much everything there already got built.

For Istanbul, the direction Wednesday was clear. Despite everything, there of course remains  sentiment for the Turkish bid. For those members who might be leaning the Istanbul way -- the trick was to offer sufficient assurance, if not reassurance, that everything not only is would but would be OK, in time reassurance theoretically translating into votes.

This must be understood: in the complex domino-world of IOC bidding, a vote for Istanbul takes Doha and Qatar out of the running for the Olympics, perhaps for a generation, and it's abundantly plain there are those within the IOC who simply do not understand -- or who are outright threatened by -- the potential of the Qatari wealth.

All the presentations Wednesday were offered in closed session so word of what happened is, at best, reliable hearsay -- the IOC opting, despite vows of best-practices and good-governance transparency, not to make the show available on a closed-circuit feed to the nearby media room. During the Istanbul presentation itself, the protests and violence were only slightly mentioned. In the Q&A that immediately followed, the members offered no questions on the topic.

As the members mingled at the IOC coffee break immediately after, the buzz was whether Istanbul had just effected a most sophisticated move -- or not.

At the news conference that ensued thereafter, Ali Babacan, a deputy prime minister for economic and financial affairs, asserted that "non-violent peaceful protest is a very basic human right" and the government "has no problem with that" but does take issue with what he called "some illegal organizations … in the crowd." He also said, "Our police maybe made some mistakes."

On the matter of social media -- Turkish prime minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan has called Twitter a "menace" -- Babacan said, "We have to drive good policies, inclusive policies" but cautioned that government is concerned such new media is "not used for illegal purposes, it is not used for bad purposes."

How this jibes with free speech rights in a liberal democracy, of course, remains uncertain.

In a later interview, Babacan said, referring again to the protests, "It is very natural in any democracy, these things happen. Every incident is a good excuse to learn from, to upgrade our practices, whether it's about freedoms or fundamental rights or so forth. It's a changing country, we shouldn't forget that. It's a changing country, an evolving country, moving for better and better."

He also said that Erdogan -- who, according to most accounts, is the government voice that matters in Turkey -- would be in Buenos Aires: "He is going to be our chief." And he noted that Erdogan, before turning to politics, used to play soccer. The deputy noted of the prime minister, "He is very into sports."

The Japanese came next, unveiling a government-sponsored initiative dubbed "Sport for Tomorrow" comprised of overseas projects aimed at promoting the Olympic movement, the creation of a Japan-based international sports academy and support for the World Anti-Doping Agency.

What the Japanese have -- no problem -- is money. They have a $4.5 billion reserve fund, cash, sitting in the bank.

What they also can tout is security. "The other day my daughter lost her wallet," the Tokyo governor, Naoki Inose, said Tuesday. "It contained $600. The wallet came back. And it contained the cash in the wallet."

What's at issue is whether they can convey to the IOC the passion they assuredly feel, and in particular the way the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan have served as a catalyst for the bid, and indeed the entire country.

Takeda, proclaiming that Japan's "affected areas are now rising," said that by "maintaining your hopes and dreams, you can rise again," adding, "We can show the world … that is the power of sport … by giving them hopes and dreams through the power of sport, it is possible to rise up."

2013-07-03 14.44.41

The Madrid team closed the day.

The Spanish capital would have to build only four new permanent venues and three temporary sites. In the world of Olympic bids, this is a novel approach, indeed. Because of the bids for 2012 and 2016, "The promises made then are today realities," Samaranch Jr. explained.

The Madrid bid was presented with but five questions from the IOC members. None dealt with the Spanish economy -- a notion perhaps unthinkable perhaps even six months ago.

"A realistic bid for realistic times," Blanco said at the news conference following their presentation. He also offered an extraordinarily fresh take that perhaps ought to be the new 21st-century template for what the Games should be: "Many years ago [the talk was of] the globalization of the Olympic movement," adding, "The true globalization comes today from television. The Games have to be a reality of the country, a reality of the world in which we live. Madrid presented a bid that is compact and a reality of the times in which we live."

On top of all that came the appearance on stage of the crown prince, the honorary Madrid 2020 president, an Olympian and Spain's flag-bearer at the 1992 Barcelona Games. One IOC member called the prince, who told the members he wanted Spain to again feel "promise and hope," the "star performer of the day."

"Whatever the goalposts were, he moved them," the member said.

Added Craig Reedie, the chairman of the IOC 2020 evaluation commission, emphasizing that he was observing, not endorsing, Madrid "lifted their game."

Two months now until the vote in Buenos Aires. Only one thing matters.

As Masato Mizuno, the Tokyo 2020 vice president and chief executive put it in a comment that could apply to all three bids, "We have to get more votes. We have to work hard from now until Sept. 7."


2020: playing the safe card


ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- Tokyo 2020's Yuki Ota, a two-time silver medalist in fencing, bounded across the stage and said to the crowd, with enormous energy and enthusiasm, "It is great to be back in St. Petersburg," where he had competed in 2007. Everyone laughed, and he had them from there as he said, "I can promise that Tokyo 2020 will see your sports shine." A few moments later, Jaime García-Legaz, at the lectern for Madrid 2020, tackled the pink elephant in the room head-on -- the Spanish economy. His nation's minister of commerce and international trade, García-Legaz noted that the International Monetary Fund and others project "steady" economic growth for Spain in the next five years, adding, "The fundamentals of the Spanish economy are strong and deep."

Meanwhile, the Turkish minister for youth and sport, Suat Kiliç, his tie knotted just so and his pocket square sitting just right, said in an interview after confidently rocking his presentation, "We believe Istanbul will deliver a unique chance. Not just for the Olympic movement but for global peace."

Two-time fencing silver medalist Yuki Ota (far left) and the Tokyo 2020 bid team

With precisely 100 days to go before the International Olympic Committee selects the 2020 site, the three cities in the race took their presentations public Thursday for the first time, throwing the race  into a fresh phase -- not only revealing strategies but minting personalities likely to frame this campaign homestretch.

The IOC will vote by secret ballot Sept. 7 in Buenos Aires.

Intriguingly, each of the three cities sought to play the safe card -- that is, asserting that it could best offer the IOC financial security in these uncertain economic times.

Given that the three offer wildly divergent construction budgets, each came at the notion Thursday on stage from wholly different approaches.

Each also struck a markedly different tone.

Istanbul, bidding for the fifth time, its first time as an "emerged nation," according to campaign leader Hasan Arat, sought Thursday to highlight the allure of a Games that would go for the first time to a nation with a Muslim majority and that literally and figuratively bridges Europe and Asia.

"You have one city where you see the sun rise on two continents," Arat said.

"We have a city that bridges light and shade, old and new, east and west," Kiliç said. "Istanbul shines like a diamond." At that, up came a short film accompanied by the Rihanna hit "Diamonds."

Mostly, though, the emphasis was this: Istanbul's $19.2 billion infrastructure plan would, according to Kiliç and Arat, be worry-free.

Over the past 10 years, Turkey's economic growth has averaged more than 5 percent annually, Kiliç said. It is now the 16th-largest economy in the world, projected to be in the top-10 -- as ranked by gross domestic product -- by 2023, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Turkish republic.

As a sign of how things are booming in Istanbul, Kiliç pointed out, just Wednesday Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan broke ground on a third bridge over the Bosphorus strait -- a structure that will be the longest combined road and railway bridge in the world, with a combined capacity of 270,000 cars, scheduled for completion by the end of 2016, at a cost, privately funded, of $4.5 billion.

The bridge was not included, incidentally, as part of the $19.2 billion in the bid file -- the tender process had still been ongoing.

Arat asserted, "This week our focus has been risk-free delivery, proving that we are ready to be perfect partners."

Madrid's infrastructure budget would be one-tenth Istanbul's: $1.9 billion. Eighty percent of its venues are already in place -- this being Madrid's third bid in a row.

Simply put," the bid's chief executive, Victor Sanchez, said, "Madrid 2020 makes sense."

He added, "We will have zero white elephants, only four new permanent venues and three temporary venues. All are already budgeted for and fully guaranteed."

Added Alejandro Blanco, the bid's president, "Madrid 2020 is not a bid of dreams -- we've already built them."

García-Legaz, on stage in a clear bid to evoke memories of Brazil's central banker, Henrique Meirelles, key to Rio de Janeiro's winning 2009 campaign for the 2016 Summer Games, said real data shows that Spain leads export growth in the Euro area, with an expected increase of 4.2 percent, compared to 3.3 percent for Germany.

Moreover, Spain will have the second-highest balance of payments surplus in the coming years among the five biggest European economies, behind only Germany.

Meanwhile, in a clever turn, Marisol Casado, the president of the International Triathlon Union, began the Madrid 2020 presentation with this introduction, "I am one of the three IOC members from Spain," a fact that remarkably gets little play but may ultimately prove significant.

Madrid can work the room with Carisol; José Perurena López, president of the International Canoe Federation; and Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., the IOC executive board member.

Turkey has one IOC member, Dr. Ugur Erdener, president of the international archery federation.

Similarly, Japan has just one active member, Tsunekazu Takeda.

In a vivid contrast from the often-dull affect of the Tokyo 2016 bid, it wasn't just Ota who on Thursday was pumped up.

Takeda's passion for the project was vividly on display. So, too, Tokyo governor Naoki Inose, bid chief executive Masato Mizuno and the others.

The connection that the Japanese team forged with the audience was notable -- and from the get-go, with Takeda, at the lectern, extending "best wishes" to the "European cities of Istanbul and Madrid," then noting, "We are proud to carry the hopes of Asia," home to "more than one billion young people."

When the Japanese team came home last summer from London, half a million people took to the streets in welcome. "Imagine that passion in 2020," Ota said, and as the closed-circuit camera panned to the audience around the LenExpo Center, heads nodded all around.

Tokyo's construction budget: $4.9 billion.

The message from the Japanese: "certain delivery," because as they have noted time and again, they have $4.5 billion of it already squirreled away in the bank, just sitting there. If it were a country, Inose said, Tokyo's economy alone would almost make the global top-10.

Moreover, he said, Tokyo is itself safe -- a different kind of clever tack in a world where security issues are always at issue. "If you lose something," Inose said, "many times it returns to your hands, including [the] cash."

In concluding, Takeda made his pitch: "In these uncertain times, Tokyo offers certainty. You can have total confidence that we will deliver."

Then, continuing slyly: "In a city that bridges and unites two global cultures, east and west -- and which will connect with all five continents.

"Tokyo 2020 will be Games that reach new generations in these challenging and fast-changing times for sport."



The Samaranch legacy -- still "amazing"


TIANJIN, China -- The past, present and future of the International Olympic Committee intersected here Sunday in this northern China port city of 13 million people. Exactly three years to the day after he passed away, the Juan Antonio Samaranch Memorial Museum was dedicated, its 16,578 pieces on rich display to tell the story of the former IOC president's unparalleled impact on the modern Olympic movement.

Misunderstood by so many in the American and British press but beloved by so many within the Olympic movement, and particularly in China, the ceremony attracted nearly a fourth of the current IOC membership as well as a crowd of more than 300 leading sports figures, personalities and dignitaries from all four corners of the world.

"Dear friends," the current IOC president, Jacque Rogge, said in inaugurating the museum, "we know what we all owe to Juan Antonio Samaranch.

"If our movement is today strong and united, it is thanks to his visionary qualities and extraordinary talent. His knowledge of the world of sport and his deep attachment to the Olympic values were unquestionable. Juan Antonio Samaranch left us a great legacy that we must conserve and perpetuate. This memorial is the greatest homage we can pay to him."

Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr. in front of the statue of his father

That, and the business at hand Saturday night in the lobby of the Renaissance Hotel in Tianjin, because as Samaranch always understood, the business of the Olympic movement is relationships, and with so much at stake this historic election year, the scene in the lobby served as an intriguing prelude of what's to come.

This was, to be candid, a power get-together. Samaranch would have loved it.

At the IOC's session in Buenos Aires in September, the IOC will elect a new president; decide the 2020 Summer Games site (Madrid, Tokyo and Istanbul are in the race); and perhaps make changes to the Summer Games program (as of now, wrestling, baseball and softball and other sports are in the mix).

This museum dedication drew together a clutch of those often mentioned as potential presidential candidates -- nothing being official because nothing is allowed yet to be official, but in alphabetical order: Thomas Bach of Germany, Sergei Bubka of Ukraine, Richard Carrión of Puerto Rico, Ser Miang Ng of Singapore, C.K. Wu of Chinese Taipei.

Bach and Ng are IOC vice presidents.

Bach is a gold medal-wining fencer turned lawyer who for years has been a senior IOC presence. Ng, a businessman and diplomat, oversaw the enormously successful 2010 Youth Games.

Carrión, a banker, has negotiated the IOC's most complex television deals; he had served on the IOC's policy-making executive board until just last year.

Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr. of Spain, was here, naturally, along with his sister, Maria Teresa, and some of their extended family; he now sits on the IOC EB.

So does Bubka, the former pole vaulter, now a mainstay in track and field and IOC politics.

So, too, Wu, an architect who sparked the construction of the museum. An IOC member since 1988, he is now president of the international boxing federation, which goes by the acronym AIBA.

Also here: Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah of Kuwait, head of the Assn. of National Olympic Committees and the Olympic Council of Asia.

To be precise, this dedication attracted 24 IOC members (out of 101); four honorary members; and eight international federation presidents.

Those numbers are all the more remarkable because the IOC is staging a major assembly in just a couple days in Lima, Peru, the 15th "World Conference on Sport for All." It is testament to the elder Samaranch's hold on the imagination that so many opted to come here.

"His wisdom and genius inspired all those who loved the Olympics," Wu said in his speech Sunday.

IOC president Jacques Rogge, IOC executive board member C.K. Wu and Chinese dignitaries immediately after unveiling the Samaranch statue in front of the museum

Wu and Samaranch shared an interest in collecting, and before his death Samaranch donated his lifelong collection to Wu, who had become a good friend. It includes books, stamps, souvenirs, paintings, letters, photographs, personal items, manuscripts and texts on Olympic-related themes.

Samaranch went to the Chinese mainland authorities in December, 1987, to express his intention to nominate Wu for IOC membership at the session in Calgary in February, 1988. In those days, the relationship between Beijing and Taiwan was sensitive, indeed.

Wu went on to be elected without opposition at that Calgary session. He said here: "I really appreciate what he has done for me. He has changed the entirety of my life. I might still be working as an architect in my profession. After this, it totally changed my life. Now -- I want to build a museum. In Chinese, we say, when you drink water, you always think of who gave you the water. This is an important philosophy."

The project broke ground in 2011 -- 205,000 square feet, in all, amid a park 45 minutes from central Tianjin. But construction really got underway only last July, finishing for good just before Sunday's formal opening. The project, which cost $61 million, was largely financed by the Tianjin municipal government.

The project required express approval by various branches of the Chinese national government -- the first time it had granted such OK to a memorial for a foreign figure, evidence again of Samaranch's stature here.

Why Tianjin? Why, for that matter, China for such a memorial? Because Samaranch visited China many times and believed powerfully in the possibilities of the movement here. Indeed, it was at his final IOC session -- in Moscow in 2001 -- that Beijing was selected as site of the 2008 Games.

Just a few days later, Rogge was picked as Samaranch's successor. The museum shows a picture of the two men shaking hands on that day.

Time keeps turning. Buenos Aires nears. It is three years already, and yet Samaranch's influence on the movement is still considerable.

"He was a real human being, with big passion, who loved sport," Bubka said Sunday afternoon, adding a moment later, "His legacy is -- amazing."


Madrid's intriguing test: is IOC ready to listen?


MADRID -- This is of course a thoroughly developed city, rich in history and culture. Indeed, it is the only major European capital never to have played host to the Games. By combination of circumstance, economic and otherwise, Madrid's bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics has put itself more or less at the metaphorical point of the spear.

It represents nothing short of a test case, perhaps even a clash of philosophies, because it seeks to re-frame in a significant way for the Summer Games the idea of what Olympic "legacy" should be about in these early years of the 21st century.

"We were greatly impressed by what we saw," the chairman of the International Olympic Committee's evaluation commission, Britain's Sir Craig Reedie, told a packed news conference here Thursday evening after a four-day site visit.

Tokyo and Istanbul are the other two candidates in the 2020 race. The IOC will pick the winner Sept. 7 in a vote in Buenos Aires.

The commission heads next week to Istanbul. It visited Tokyo at the beginning of the month, where Reedie proclaimed the panel was "hugely impressed."

Sir Craig Reedie, left, chairman of the IOC evaluation commission, and Gilbert Felli, the IOC's Games executive director, at the closing news conference // photo courtesy Madrid 2020

"If you want to translate 'hugely' into 'greatly,' or the other way around," he said Thursday, immediately launching betting pools on what adverb will prove suitable in Istanbul, because the news conference Thursday capped a tour of one of the most intriguing propositions presented in recent years for IOC consideration.

Of course, the question is whether the IOC is anywhere ready to listen.

To explain:

Spain is in the midst of recession, its second in three years. The unemployment rate stands at 26 percent.

This, though, marks Madrid's third straight bid for the Summer Olympics. Say what?

The reality is that, over the past several years, even though the 2012 and 2016 bids came up short, nearly everything they would need to put on an Olympics is already built -- 28 of 35 venues. The huge T4 terminal at the airport opened just seven years ago. Subway lines have been extended. All of that.

Thus Madrid's infrastructure budget for 2020 is $1.9 billion, which by Olympic standards is remarkably low.

For comparison, Tokyo's capital costs: $4.9 billion. Istanbul's: $19.2 billion, or 10 times the Madrid figure.

In recent bid cycles, the IOC has bought into the notion that "legacy" means big construction projects that leave tangible reminders afterward that the Olympics were there: Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, London 2012, Sochi 2014, Rio 2016.

The issue is that these projects also tend to come with huge cost over-runs (Sochi, where the bill is now known to be north of $50 billion). They also tend to run to delay (Rio, where the IOC is pushing hard to keep things on track). And then those reminders not atypically sit empty afterward (Athens, Beijing). Or just get torn down (the bobsled track in Torino, after being built for the 2006 Games at a cost of $100 million).

Around the world, many cities in developed nations -- even if they don't have 28 of 35 -- already have some combination of the things that Madrid has, ready to go, like, right now. The Madrid team showed the local flavor this week to the evaluation commission.

The commission saw one of the world's best tennis facilities, the Caja Mágica.

Golf? The Club de Campo course, around since 1932, with stunning views of the city.

Equestrian? La Zarzuela, the hippodrome in existence since 1936 and still looking fresh.

Traffic? In rush hour Wednesday evening, it was all of 15 minutes, door to door, from the Caja Mágica back to the IOC hotel, the Eurostars Madrid Tower.

You'd think, particularly since this is a third-time bid and the IOC rewards persistence (see, Pyeongchang, winners for 2018 after coming up short for 2014 and 2010), this might be an easy sell.

You'd think some of the IOC members might even have noticed that their president, Jacques Rogge, was quoted as saying Sunday in El Mundo, a Spanish newspaper, that the economic crisis "won't affect Madrid 2020 because 80 percent of the facilities are already built."

Here, they were almost giddy about that quote. Not so fast. The president doesn't vote in the bid city elections and he was for sure not publicly favoring Madrid nor sending out a signal; he was just saying, in his way, facts are facts.

The only thing for sure about Madrid 2020 is that this is March and the election is September.

For Madrid's bid, the language barrier remains a challenge, perhaps formidable. They mostly speak Spanish. The IOC mostly moves in English.

The layers of bureaucracy here can sometimes prove a struggle.

The Operation Puerto doping matter hardly is going to disappear before Sept. 7. "It has been a problem for Spain. It is a problem for Spain," Alejandro Blanco, the president of both the Spanish Olympic Committee and Madrid 2020, acknowledged Wednesday in an interview with a small group of international reporters.

The economic issue remains, candidly, significant. Who knows how good or bad circumstances are going to be on Sept. 7? Any prediction for conditions seven years from now is just a guess. Trying to convince 55 members of the IOC to have confidence you have money to do something -- even when you say you for sure have it -- is, well, a confidence game.

And re-purposing the idea of "legacy" as something other than buildings on the ground is going to take a profound articulation of what the Olympic movement is about in the year 2013, and where it is headed by 2020.

If, though, Madrid and Spain can do it, it might well open the door wide open to bids in the coming years from all over the world, including the United States, where Michelle Obama has been pushing her "let's move" campaign. Because then there would be undeniable proof that "legacy" doesn't just mean throwing up a new Olympic Park in your town.

Vancouver, it must be noted, won for 2010 with much this same argument. But that vote was already 10 years ago; it hasn't proven compelling since; and it was for the Winter Games.

The Summer Games -- and in Europe, the IOC's traditional base -- would send an entirely different signal to the world.

"The Games proposition in Madrid is very different from any other proposition for the Summer Games in recent history," Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., Spain's member to the IOC executive board, said -- in English -- in a conversation Tuesday with a small group of reporters.

"Here in Spain, we are at the bottom, or near the bottom, of [the] economic crisis. With little further investment -- let me repeat the No. 1 point, $1.9 billion over a seven-year period -- we would be able to generate a significant economic growth.

"Economic growth -- you probably already know, it's not just about numbers, it's about sentiment. What this country needs very, very much is sentiment at this stage. The moral boost and the moral effect that might have, we believe, would be extraordinary. I am very confident that is the pill, one of the medicines, we need at this stage."

At Thursday's news conference, Blanco -- speaking in Spanish -- said, "All we really want to say to the IOC is, 'Trust us, because we are ready and our Games will be great Games.' "

On Wednesday, meeting with a small group of international reporters, he was far more expansive. He said, "The great legacy we are trying to obtain through these Games is not about improving our sports performances or our results or the organization of events. It's about sport transforming the life of people in this country."

A moment later, he asked rhetorically, "What is sport?" Again speaking in Spanish, his remarks translated to English, he answered, the philosophy underpinning the bid fully and clearly on display:

"Of course it is physical activity. As well, it is just that, it is health, it is education, it is culture, it is work, it is social affairs. In any country, sport should be mainstreamed right across six or seven ministries, at least.

"That is the whole point. Sport is so important in any country. Sport can't be straight-jacketed or pigeon-holed into one specific ministry. Sport runs right across the whole country.

"I think for all of us here, and I mean for all of us, the most important legacy we can leave from these Games is an education in healthy living and healthy habits -- that young people will then learn about respect and hard work. That is far more important than winning another 10 or 12 medals."

He paused, then added one more thought:

"Results in sport for any country go through ups and downs, certainly. You win some, you lose some. But if sport is to become part of life in a country's society, there's no ups and downs there at all. That must be a firm upward track, always."



Madrid: Games as hope to city, country that needs it

MADRID --- Despite the economic hammering this country has taken, an International Olympic Committee survey indicates 76 percent of local residents want the 2020 Summer Olympics and 81 percent throughout Spain, the Madrid 2020 bid team saying at a Tuesday evening news conference that such figures show the Games offer a measure of hope to a city and country that wants and needs it. The poll numbers stayed relatively even from from IOC survey results released last May, which showed 78 percent support for the Games in Madrid and the surrounding area. That polling remained consistent, even as the Spanish economy remains mired in recession, Spain's second in three years, with the nation's unemployment rate at one in four, is proof indeed of the power of the Olympic spirit, bid leaders asserted.

"During a crisis," said Alejandro Blanco, president of the Spanish Olympic Committee and Madrid 2020, as "everything is being questioned," when "you see a poll that says 81 percent of all citizens in Spain support this and 76 percent of Madrid residents support it, that's not to be laughed at."

The bid, he said, has three easy-to-understand big-picture non-sports goals:

One, to improve the image of Spain. Two, to attract foreign investment. Three, jobs. "Keeping that in mind," Blanco said, "looking at the support we are receiving -- it's major."

Madrid is competing against Tokyo and Istanbul in this 2020 race. The IOC will select the winner Sept. 7 at a vote in Buenos Aires.

Tokyo's poll showed 70 percent support, up 23 points from 47 percent last year, the evaluation commission said when it was there two weeks ago.

Current public support levels in Istanbul will be released next week when the IOC commission visits there. The IOC poll last year showed 73 percent support for the Games.

Margin of error, survey methodology and other data are due to be outlined when the evaluation commission report is made public in advance of the IOC's July all-members meeting on the 2020 race at its Lausanne, Switzerland, headquarters.

The release of the poll results came as Spain's IOC executive board member, Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., walked the commission Tuesday through perhaps the key element in the Madrid bid, the financial details underpinning what they are calling here their "prudent" and "financially responsible" Games model.

Because this is Madrid's third straight bid, and because so much that would be needed to stage the Games has already been built, construction costs are -- by Olympic standards -- a relatively low $1.9 billion. Tokyo's estimated construction bill: $4.9 billion. Istanbul's: $19.2 billion, or a full 10 times Madrid's.

Over the course of those three bids, Samaranch said, Madrid has spent perhaps $100 million. Further, billions have been spent in infrastructure in and around the city. "Madrid's transformation has been considerable," Mayor Ana Botella echoed.

Of course, Samaranch said, everyone knows the Spanish economy is having it rough. But, Samaranch said in an interview with a small group of international journalists, "The truth of the matter is that ...  for Spain to continue bidding for the Games -- it is an act of responsibility.

"We have put in the money. It would be hugely and vastly irresponsible to walk out now and not wait there and get the financial and economic and social return of all the money we have invested and paid for already.

"Contrary to other bids, to other cities, like Rome that said we can't afford it," bowing out of the 2020 race last year, "in our case, we can not afford not to continue. You have invested all that money and you are ready to walk out and let go before trying to get what it brings, the windfall? We believe it's our perseverance, financially and from an economic point of view -- [to continue] is an act of responsibility."

photo courtesy Madrid 2020

Meanwhile, as a steady rain lashed the city Tuesday, the evaluation commission toured what would be Olympic Stadium, the aquatics center and several other sports pavilions.

The mayor said later, with a smile, "It's good news that it's raining. The level of the dams has risen. Therefore the visit of the evaluation commission has brought us the rain which is always good for our city."

Blanco, also smiling, said, "We scheduled the rain as of 6:30," meaning p.m. "It started as of 1:30. We got it slightly wrong."

Madrid 0319-3

Here is the what the inside of the stadium -- built in 1994, site of a Bruce Springsteen show in May, 2003 - looks like now:

2013-03-19 15.44.48

The bill to re-do the stadium for Olympic purposes: $210 million.

And here is the aquatics center, just a few steps away:

2013-03-19 15.52.27

The aquatics center up-do would cost about $70 million.

"We have done [the] investment [and now] we need to see if we can put into value -- know, it's billions of dollars. Building an airport, extending the subway system, building the stadiums, building the Magic Box [stadium] for tennis, all that investment that has been done," Samaranch said.

"Many candidates, they think that if I get the Games I will do the improvement. Madrid did it the other way around -- continue to improve the city in order to get the Games."


Wrestling's Olympic future: now what?

So interesting, indeed, to bear witness to the emotional recoil to the move by the International Olympic Committee's policy-making executive board to cut wrestling from the 2020 Summer Games. When you strip that emotion out of it, and look at the cold logic of it, there's a compelling argument to be made in the IOC"s favor.

Not to say they're right. Just to say there is indeed some logic there.

There's also this -- this has nothing to do with being anti-American.

And this -- there's a sound argument to be made about how wrestling gets back onto the 2020 program. Which would also be logical. Though that would be rooted in politics, too, which after all is how wrestling got dropped in the first instance.

To begin:

This is, at one level, a math problem.

The IOC caps participation in the Summer Games at 28 sports.

In London last summer, there were 26. Golf and rugby are added for 2016 and 2020. That makes, obviously, 28.

After London, the rules were that one of the Summer Games sports was going to be dropped to form a "core" of 25. Doing some math here: 25 plus (golf and rugby) = 27.

So, for 2020, you add one to make 28.

That's assuming a big if -- if the IOC, at its all-members session in September in Buenos Aires, so chooses. It could choose to leave the number at 27. The 2020 Games site will also be chosen at that meeting in September; Madrid, Istanbul and Tokyo are in the running. The next IOC president, replacing Jacques Rogge, in office since 2001, will also be picked in Buenos Aires. It's a big meeting.

To its credit, the IOC has done a good job in the Winter Games of making the program way more attractive to a younger audience, adding events such as ski and snowboard halfpipe and slopestyle.

For the Summer Games, it has struggled to find a more current formula.

After London, each of the 26 sports was analyzed according to 39 criteria.

For weeks before Tuesday's IOC board meeting it had been clear to insiders that the two sports most at risk were modern pentathlon and wrestling.

As the Associated Press has reported, pentathlon ranked low in general popularity, getting a 5.2 on a scale of 10. It also scored low in TV rankings, with an average of 12.5 million viewers, a maximum of 33.5 million.

The modern pentathlon federation's governing body goes by the acronym UIPM; it has 108 member federations.

Wrestling's international governing body goes by the acronym FILA. It has 177 member federations.

Wrestling scored just below 5 on that 10 scale. It sold 113,851 tickets in London out of 116,854 available -- at a Games where most events were screaming sellouts.

It ranked low in the TV categories as well, with 58.5 million viewers max and an average of 23 million. Internet hits and press coverage also were ranked as low.

For all of wrestling's claims of "universality," moreover, the sport -- while immensely popular in places such as the United States, Japan, Russia, eastern Europe, former Soviet bloc nations, Turkey and Iran -- doesn't really offer up that many Asian, African or Latin athletes. Which longtime observers such as Harvey Schiller, the former baseball federation president, pointed out, also noting that it simply is "not great TV."

Moreover, the IOC report also observed that FILA has no athletes on its decision-making bodies, no women's commission, no ethics rules for technical officials and no medical official on its executive board.

There's this, too, though the IOC report doesn't mention it: FILA is virtually invisible on Facebook. In the year 2013, that is almost indefensible.

Pentathlon -- given a warning in 2002 -- got with the program, so to speak.

It cut its competition schedule from five days, to four, to one. It instituted the use of laser pistols instead of regular guns. It also played politics, an IOC essential, with UIPM first vice president Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr. now sitting on the IOC board.

FILA did virtually nothing.

So why expect a different result?

Even so, the outcry, especially here in the United States, was predictable. Crowds of 18,000 at big-time meets are hardly uncommon. Wrestling, especially in high schools, is a feature of American life. Supporters of the sport felt, in a word, blindsided.

But, again, look at it from the IOC perspective. Not emotionally -- logically. How has the sport grown over the past 10 years?

USA Wrestling is a model federation. That is not the issue.

With the inclusion next year of Grand Canyon University in Arizona, there will be 78 men's Division I wrestling programs.

It has been eight-plus years since women's wrestling arrived on the Olympic program in Athens in 2004. In that time, universities, even big-time programs such as USC. have launched women's varsity programs in sports such as sand volleyball and lacrosse. By contrast, the number of Division I women's wrestling programs: zero.

In the United States, the social media response to Tuesday's announcement sparked, for instance, a Facebook save-wrestling page and an online petition that urged the White House to "please put pressure on [the IOC} to overturn this horrible decision to drop the oldest sport in the world."

With all due respect, and in particular to the 20,051 people who had signed the petition as of Wednesday afternoon California time -- keep in mind that the members of the IOC entertained the president of the United States in Copenhagen in 2009, as he was urging them to vote for Chicago for the Summer Games, and then voted Chicago out in the very first round, as he was flying back home on Air Force One.

Since that very day, the U.S. Olympic Committee, led by chairman Larry Probst and then by chief executive Scott Blackmun as well, has made great strides in doing what FILA should have been doing -- recognizing that Olympic politics is all about relationships.

Again, the IOC move to strike wrestling from the program is not directed at the United States. Want more proof? For all the great American gold-medal victories over the years in the sport -- Rulon Gardner in Sydney in 2000, for instance -- the U.S. won only four medals in 2012, two gold.

The biggest winner in wrestling in London, without question, was Russia, with 11 medals.

Overall, the Russians won 82 medals.

Again, math: wrestlers accounted for 13 percent of Russia's entire medal tally.

That is what is called incentive.

It's why the head of the Russian Olympic Committee, Alexander Zhukov, was quoted by AP as saying they would use "all of our strength" to keep wrestling on the 2020 program.

The Russians are spending north of $50 billion readying for the Sochi 2014 Winter Games next February. When Vladimir Putin took over again as president of Russia, last May 7, the very first meeting he took that day was with whom? Of all the people and dignitaries in the world?


This is not a difficult triangulation: the Russians could bring a lot of "strength" and relationships to bear -- again, so to speak -- to this. In the sports sphere, this might help accelerate the end of the Cold War; the Americans might well be helpful supporters.

As it turns out, the next IOC board meeting, in late May, is in Russia -- in St. Petersburg. There the IOC board will decide how many sports the full IOC membership will get to consider in September for that 28th spot. Right now, the odds are good the number might well be three.

Wrestling is up against seven other sports, including a combined bid from baseball and softball, karate, squash and others.

Rogge, asked at a news conference Wednesday in Lausanne, Switzerland, the IOC's base, whether wrestling had a 2020 life, said, "I cannot look into a crystal ball into the future. We have established a fair process by which the sport that would not be included in the core has a chance to compete with the seven other sports for the slot on the 2020 Games."

As for all the criticism from the United States and elsewhere? Before the London 2012 Games the IOC dealt with the feral British press for seven years. So this, too, shall pass.

"We knew even before the decision was taken," Rogge said, "whatever sport would not be included in the core program would lead to criticism from the supporters of that sport."

IOC throws wrestling to the mat

In Sydney in 2000, who can forget Rulon Gardner beating the Russian man-mountain, Alexander Karelin, for gold? Or in Beijing in 2008, the brilliance of Henry Cejudo, who came from the humblest of beginnings to claim gold?

Or last summer in London, the awesome ferocity of Jordan Burroughs? He had said beforehand that nothing was going to get in his way of his gold medal, and nothing did.

Wrestling has offered up so many compelling gold-medal memories  at the Olympics, in particular for the U.S. team.

And that's very likely what they'll be going forward: memories.

The International Olympic Committee's policy-making executive board, in what some viewed as a surprise, moved Tuesday to cut wrestling from the 2020 Summer Games as part of a wide-ranging review of all the sports on the program.

It's a surprise only to those who don't understand the way the IOC works.

"This is a process of renewing and renovating the program for the Olympics," the IOC spokesman, Mark Adams, said at a news conference. "In the view of the executive board, this was the best program for the Olympic Games in 2020. It's not a case of what's wrong with wrestling. It's what's right with the 25 core sports."

Adams, as ever, is being diplomatic.

In fact, it's totally what's wrong with wrestling, and in particular its international governing body, which goes by the acronym FILA. Otherwise, the sport wouldn't have been cut. That's just common sense.

The IOC move came as part of a mandate to cut one sport to get to a "core" program of 25 sports. One sport of the 26 from London last summer had to go. Those were the rules.

Two sports were most at risk, as everyone inside IOC circles has known for weeks: modern pentathlon and wrestling.

All the sports on the program were subjected to a questionnaire from the IOC program commission purporting to analyze 39 different factors: TV ratings, ticket sales, a sport's anti-doping policies, gender issues, global participation and more.

The questionnaire did not include official rankings. It did not include recommendations.

Even so, it was abundantly clear that pentathlon was No. 1 on the hit list and wrestling No. 2.


Pentathlon has been at risk ever since the IOC's Mexico City session in 2002. The sport involves five different disciplines -- fencing, horseback riding, shooting, swimming and running -- and, obviously, there just aren't that many people in any country who do that. But it traces itself back to the founder of the modern Games, the French Baron Pierre de Coubertin, and has waged a clever political campaign, instituting just enough modern touches, like the use of laser pistols instead of real guns, for instance.

Wrestling brought women into its sport at the Athens Games in 2004. It also has reconfigured some weight classes. But aside from those developments, it was pretty much the same as it ever had been -- pretty much the same as it had been in the ancient Games in Greece way back when. Ticket sales in London lagged, when virtually every other sport was a sell-out, a clear sign something was amiss.

Thus, heading into Tuesday's board meeting, the decision would be -- as usual -- subject to politics, conflict of interest, emotion and sentiment.

This is the way the IOC works. It may or may not make sense to outsiders that, for instance, Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., a first vice president of the modern pentathlon union, sits on the executive board while the fate of modern pentathlon is being decided.

But this is the way it is.

The IOC voted Tuesday by secret ballot. We will never know whether Samaranch Jr. voted. Frankly, it doesn't matter.

What matters is that he is matters. The proof of that is his eminently convincing win last summer at the IOC session in London when he was elected to the board.

As an aside, it's early in the race for the 2020 Summer Games -- the vote won't be until September -- but Tuesday might be an intriguing indicator.  Madrid is, of course, one of the three cities in the race, along with Tokyo and Istanbul, and Samaranch Jr. is a key player for Madrid.

And pentathlon. And pentathlon surely proved to have political influence within the IOC.

The pentathlon World Cup next week in Palm Springs, Calif. -- featuring five Olympic medalists from London, including both the men's and women's gold medalists, now promises to be a celebration -- not a dirge.

"We are very open but we know where we have to go together," Klaus Schormann, the president of the modern pentathlon federation, said in a telephone interview from Germany.

Taekwondo -- seemingly forever battling for its place on the program -- also showed political smarts. A few days ago, IOC president Jacques Rogge traveled to Korea, where taekwondo was developed. Though the sport's medals were spread among a number of nations at the London Games, it still carries enormous prestige in Seoul, and when IOC president Jacques Rogge held a personal meeting with South Korea president-elect Park Geun Hye, what was one of the things she told him: keep taekwondo in the Games, please.

What was FILA's political strategy? Nothing, apparently.

Who was advocating inside the IOC board for wrestling? No one, seemingly -- of all the biggest wrestling countries, none have seats on the IOC board.

A belated, after-the-vote statement on the FILA website declared that it was "greatly astonished" by the IOC action and would take "all necessary measures" to try to get back on the program.

"Greatly astonished"? Like gambling in the movie, "Casablanca." Shocking, just shocking.

At the top of the FILA website -- it's Feb. 13, mind you -- the page greets you with "Season's Greetings!" and best wishes for a "peaceful and successful New Year 2013!" This is an international federation that just isn't up to speed.

The way this works now is that wrestling will join seven other sports -- the likes of wushu, squash, baseball and softball -- in trying to get onto the program for 2020.

Bluntly, the IOC move Tuesday probably signals the end for baseball and softball, which are trying to get back on as one entity, not two.

If the IOC is going to let any one sport back on, it might -- stress, might -- be wrestling. "I would have to think the IOC made an uninformed decision," Jim Scherr, the former USOC chief executive officer and Olympic wrestler (fifth place at the 1988 Seoul Games), said Tuesday, urging reconsideration.

The current USOC chief executive, Scott Blackmun, said in a statement: "We knew that today would be a tough day for American athletes competing in whatever sport was identified by the IOC Executive Board.

"Given the history and tradition of wrestling, and its popularity and universality, we were surprised when the decision was announced. It is important to remember that today's action is a recommendation, and we hope that there will be a meaningful opportunity to discuss the important role that wrestling plays in the sports landscape both in the United States and around the world. In the meantime, we will fully support USA Wrestling and its athletes."

To get back on the program now, though, the fact is wrestling faces considerable odds. This, too, is the way the IOC works.







2020 race takes shape

For two weeks in the summer of 2004, Olympic Park in Athens seemed like the center of the world. Now the park is mostly empty, the buildings and the flies together under the Greek sun. Authorities in Italy built a new bobsled run for the 2006 Winter Games up in the mountains near Torino. Now that track, which cost $100 million to build, $2 million annually to operate, is due to be torn down.

In 2008, the Bird's Nest in Beijing was where Usain Bolt burst to worldwide fame. Now the stadium draws the occasional tourist or two. It's a long time until its next meaningful date, the 2015 world track and field world championships.

The International Olympic Committee likes to talk about legacy, the notion that venues built for a Games will have utility afterward. It costs tens of millions of dollars to bid, billions to then get ready. The race for the 2020 Summer Games, which formally hit the start line Tuesday, highlights that notion even as it underscores the dramatic choice facing the IOC.

Like perhaps never before.

The IOC will choose Sept. 7 at a meeting in Buenos Aires from among three cities: Madrid, Tokyo and Istanbul.

At this early stage, it is far too premature to declare any a favorite. All three cities have upsides. All three have flaws.

It's laughable, even, to note the odds from the British bookmaker William Hill: Tokyo the 4-6 favorite, Istanbul at 5-2 and Madrid at 3-1. Based on -- what?

Tokyo barely made it out of the first round in voting for 2016. Madrid, if anyone at William Hill wants to look it up, finished second to Rio de Janeiro; moreover, Madrid was essentially one vote shy of making it into the final round of voting for 2012.

Tokyo's 2020 bid is likely to draw rave technical reviews from the IOC. It did in 2016.

This 2020 Tokyo bid was launched to remind the world, in the wake of the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan, that the country is not only safe and welcoming but open for business.

Istanbul is in many ways the most intriguing choice. It represents the IOC's recent expansionist turn.

One must always, however, remember that the IOC is an institution historically dominated by European interests. The only traditionally European city in the race is -- Madrid. The only major European capital never to have hosted the Games is -- Madrid.

The IOC works on personalities and relationships. Last summer, Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr. -- who will be playing a key role in Madrid's campaign -- stormed to a powerful win for an IOC executive board seat.

Just last month, the Olympic committee in Panama held successful elections, ending a nearly five-year power struggle. Who helped them get there? Alejandro Blanco, the president of the Spanish Olympic Committee and the Madrid 2020 bid.

In 2003, the IOC commissioned a report -- led by Canadian member Dick Pound -- that among other matters, urged caution and restraint in the building of Games venues.

Indeed, the report begins with a quote from the founder of the modern Games, Pierre de Coubertin, decrying the "often exaggerated expenses" incurred in readying for the Games, a "sizable part of which represented the construction of permanent buildings, which were moreover unnecessary."

That was in 1911.

Since that 2003 report, which the full membership adopted, the IOC has nonetheless gone on to endorse mega-projects.

To be clear: The IOC avows one thing. And then it goes and does the other. The issue is when -- if ever -- the IOC is going to get serious about what it says it's serious about.

Because the warning signs are there. Rome pulled out of this 2020 race last February, saying it was too expensive -- in its case, $12.5 billion -- to play.

London's 2012 Games ran to more than $14 billion in public funding.

Sochi for 2014? The Russians started from scratch in transforming a Black Sea summer resort into a Winter Games destination. Who knows how much it will cost? Public accounting -- in Russia? Really?

Rio de Janeiro for 2016? Billions. Stay tuned. Last month, the IOC cautioned that "time is ticking" and the Brazilians have to move "with all vigor." Does anyone think that moving vigorously under deadline pressure is now going to cost less money than more?

Pyeongchang for 2018 represents the IOC's latest move into "new horizons," the Koreans' brilliant tagline. The Koreans also budgeted -- this was figured in 2010 dollars -- $6.3 billion for capital improvements tied to the Olympics.

Now the 2020 numbers:

In 2012 dollars, Istanbul's infrastructure and public services budget for 2020 totals $19.2 billion.

Tokyo's capital improvements budget: $4.7 billion. Of that, $1.47 billion is marked for a wholesale renovation of  Olympic Stadium, which would also be ready for the 2019 rugby World Cup.

Madrid: a mere $1.9 billion. Most of its infrastructure is already in place. What a concept.

The Turkish strategy is transparently in line with what the IOC has been doing in recent elections. Simply put,  it's go big or go home, and the Turkish economy, which has been booming, right now can absolutely can handle $19.2 billion. Or more.

With Istanbul, meanwhile, there's not only a double but a triple play at work. The IOC could not only go to a Muslim county for the first time; by doing so, it would take Doha out of the bid game for probably 20 years. The IOC -- looking at soccer's World Cup there in 2022 -- has been, shall we say, skeptical of the impact Qatari money might have if Doha were allowed as a full-on candidate, cutting it early from the 2016 and 2020 IOC races.

So is it a slam dunk for Istanbul?


The ongoing violence in Syria -- which borders Turkey -- remains a serious IOC concern. Moreover, already there's noteworthy talk about Istanbul's traffic and other "technical" problems. In that vein, there was this Twitter post last month at the short-course world championships from U.S. swimmer Jessica Hardy:  "Good job Turkey for hanging our flag backwards in every medal ceremony. And for filling the stands for 1 night of world champs!"

So it's Tokyo, right?

Everyone who counts within the Olympic movement is clear that Tokyo and Japan would put on well-run Games. Not the issue. Tokyo is a cool city, too. So that's not it.

And neither is the risk of an earthquake in Tokyo, despite questions from some Tuesday. That's just silly.

The Games are going to be in Korea in 2018. China is suddenly making noise about the Winter Games in 2022. Does the IOC want to go back to that part of the world again in 2020?

Also, and of perhaps more significance: the IOC wants to feel welcomed. Like, really wanted. A recent poll by Tokyo organizers fixed public support at 67 percent. That was behind Madrid and Istanbul. An IOC poll last year put it at 47 percent -- and 47 percent is not going to get it done. Neither, frankly, is 67 percent.

So -- it has to be Madrid?

Who wouldn't want to spend 17 days in Madrid? The food. The museums. The street life.

That, though, is actually one of the challenges: the IOC moves now increasingly -- sometimes almost exclusively -- in English, and the Madrid team's strength is still mostly in Spanish.

And for a country beset by an unemployment rate of one in four, the natural play in handing over the bid book this week at IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, would have been to have had on hand a charismatic player in finance, the same way Brazil's central banker played an outsized role in Rio's winning 2009 bid.

He or she could have pointed out, after all, that the Madrid campaign -- with only $1.9 billion in capital costs -- is precisely in line with the strategy the IOC has said since 2003 it wants to enforce. At least in theory.

Madrid sent a team of nine to Lausanne. But not one such individual.

It's a long, long road from January until September in Buenos Aires. The IOC evaluation visits take place in March -- Tokyo first, then Madrid, then Istanbul. In July, at a meeting in Lausanne, the IOC will hold an all-members briefing to review the three files.

By then, perhaps, someone else will have noted that $19.2 billion is slightly more than 10 times $1.9 billion. The question is not whether it matters. It does. It's whether that's a good thing, or not.