Karim Massimov

Talking the talk: IOC elects Beijing for 2022


KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Earlier this week, when he opened the 128th International Olympic Committee session, president Thomas Bach declared of Agenda 2020, his would-be reform plan, “We need to demonstrate that we are indeed walking the walk and not just talking the talk.” On Friday, the members — the very same ones who fell into lockstep in approving Agenda 2020 last December — voted for Beijing to win the 2022 Winter Olympics. The count: 44-40, Beijing over Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Beijing, stage for the 2008 Summer Games, will become the first city to put on both the Summer and Winter Olympics.

Friday’s vote, the first major test of the 40-point Agenda 2020, revealed emphatically its major challenge: it is, in large measure, just so much noise until the IOC members actually follow its prescriptions.

IOC president Thomas Bach at the opening of the 128th session // photo IOC

There’s only one way for the IOC to really walk the walk. Therein lies a huge opportunity for the U.S. Olympic Committee and, now, Los Angeles for 2024.

Agenda 2020 promotes sustainability and feasibility. LA is tailor-made for such a blueprint. Almost all the venues stand ready, on the ground, for an Olympics; political and business support is rock-solid; the locals are hugely in favor of the effort, with poll numbers in favor of the Games in the 70s.

The Boston debacle, which ended Monday, is not going to make things easy for the USOC. Nor will the FIFA indictments. Nonetheless, Friday’s vote spotlights the path by which LA not only can but should win for 2024.

If LA saved the Games in 1984, now LA can not only save the USOC but Agenda 2020 — that is, make the reforms real, and make it possible for western democracies, and their taxpayers, to believe again in the Olympic Games.

Based on the chatter here in Kuala Lumpur, if Los Angeles bids, it would immediately become a formidable 2024 contender — with a real chance of winning.

Indeed, a strong LA bid would turn Boston into a fleeting memory -- an appropriate casualty of what now, via Agenda 2020, is called the "invitation phase" of the bid process. The USOC actually could, and should, emerge stronger for having gone through the months of Boston dithering.

On the other hand -- no LA bid will result in four years, or more, of Boston post-mortem.

That’s not the talk of someone who has lived in Los Angeles for more than 20 years. That’s talk that simply reflects what Bach says — if, that is, the IOC is going to walk the walk.

Paris is always awesome to visit but the French have to prove that they can overcome their traditional political and bid difficulties. (See Annecy 2018: seven votes.) Hamburg is not Berlin, and it’s now unclear how dramatically Friday’s vote for Beijing might impact the forthcoming Hamburg referendum, particularly since German voters shot Munich down not all that long ago.

Rome and Italy have financial woes. Budapest is uber-chic but 2024 in Hungary is likely going to be a hard sell. Toronto? Not yet a reality, and in choosing between Canada, which played host to the Games in Vancouver in 2010, and the United States, where the Olympics haven’t been held in a generation despite U.S. financial contributions, that’s a slam-dunk.

Baku? Not ready, at least for 2024, for prime time.

Been there, done that? That’s the knock against LA?

Not after Friday -- not after the IOC voted for Beijing in 2008 and again for 2022. That kills that LA-three times argument, and totally.

Listen to the words of Craig Reedie, an IOC executive board member from Great Britain, who earlier this week observed, “They won’t have to build temporary stadiums, which is expensive. It could be third-time lucky for LA. It was third-time lucky for London,” for 2012.

LA would make it so easy. Not to mention — obviously — fun.

The beaches. The weather. The restaurants. The stars.

Veteran IOC member Mario Pescante of Italy moments before Friday's presentations

Bach this week has made it abundantly clear that he expects a bid from the USOC. Indeed, he used the word “commitment" in emphasizing at a Wednesday news conference that an American bid is expected; on Thursday counted the USOC among those who had "already committed themselves to a candidature"; and on Friday published a pre-vote op-ed of sorts in which he noted that the United States was on the list of nations "seeking to host the 2024 Games."

Please pay close attention, each and every one of you on the USOC board of directors. Bach could not have made himself more explicit: there must be a 2024 U.S. bid. And not bidding for 2024 will not go down well for, say, 2026.

Logistically, the USOC has until Sept. 15 to name its candidate.

LA, San Francisco and Washington were the finalists against Boston. San Francisco and Washington were never viable candidates. That leaves only one option. Especially given the time constraints.

If the USOC wants to, say, hold sailing in San Francisco Bay — the kind of shared-city prospect Agenda 2020 expressly envisions — hey, have at it. That would, among other things, enable the Olympic Rings to go up the Golden Gate Bridge, which Bach is known to find a keen proposition.

But to be clear: this would be a Los Angeles bid. Never in a million years would the IOC be good with a joint bid, a suggestion floated this week in the San Francisco Chronicle. IOC rules say there is one person who signs the host-city contract, which provides guarantees against any financial shortfall — the mayor of the host city itself. That would be LA mayor Eric Garcetti, a huge backer of the Olympics.

For its part, LA officials should proclaim, loud and often, that Garcetti will sign that contract — the thing that purportedly caused Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to withdraw his support.

Any project involves risk. Such risk in LA is, however, extraordinarily minimal. The 1984 Games made a surplus of $232.5 million.

This 2024 bid thus offers LA, the USOC and the Olympic movement a new way forward, particularly in the United States, which the IOC — to be candid — seriously needs.

Chicago 2016 and New York 2012 foundered in part because of the demands of this contract.

For 2024, LA and the USOC should acknowledge that they are honest-to-goodness real partners, and that as partners the USOC would cover 25 percent — or some other equitable slice — of any shortfalls, should they occur.

The likelihood of which, again, is super-low.

It’s a no-lose, win-win proposition all around.

This would get LA and the USOC in the game, and with emphasis — showing that, especially in the United States, a Summer Games is a proposition not to be voted down but to be welcomed.

A scene from this past winter from one of the proposed Beijing 2022 venues

Another scene, showing lack of snow, from this past winter around Beijing 2022 venues

If the knock on the IOC right now is that only autocratic or dictatorial governments want the Games, what better?

So why, Friday, did the IOC membership vote for China?

Despite significant human rights concerns?

The awful air pollution?

The fact that there isn’t going to be anywhere near enough natural snow in the mountains?

That the Chinese are going to have to spend billions and billions to build a new high-speed rail line to connect the mountain venues, now hours away, from Beijing itself — and are not going to include that money in Olympic budgeting, making a mockery of Agenda 2020 concepts such as “transparency,” all just to avoid a Sochi-like financial reckoning?

Because, simply, with the Chinese the IOC knew it can — as the saying here repeatedly went — sleep at night.

In putting on those 2008 Games, the Chinese government, with its immense resource, spent at least $40 billion.

In a video shown Friday to the IOC members, Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed his “strongest support” for the Games. The project was described as a “national priority.” Xi promised a “fantastic, extraordinary and excellent” 2022 Games.

The Chinese bid team, including basketball star Yao Ming, at its post-presentation news conference

With that kind of backing, the IOC could be assured that — amid any and all controversies, now and into the future — the 2022 Games will, no problem, come off.

This was particularly key after difficulties in Sochi as well as the struggles in Rio for 2016.

Also: 1.4 billion Chinese represent a huge marketing opportunity for the international federations, sponsors and others. The sports industry in China was represented Friday to grow to an $800-billion industry by 2025.

Even before the vote, the IOC knew that it was headed back to Asia for a third straight Games — Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018, and Tokyo in 2020.

Over the course of the 2022 campaign, four western European democracies dropped out, all put off to varying degrees by the $51 billion figure associated with the Sochi 2014 Games or with the IOC itself: Oslo; Munich; Stockholm; and Krakow, Poland.

A fifth European city, Lviv, Ukraine, fell out because of war.

That left Beijing and Almaty.

The super-direct Almaty presentation on Friday, building off its slogan, "keeping it real," made for arguably the best any bid city has mounted since London, in 2005, won those 2012 Games.

Almaty bid leader Andrey Kryukov, right, just moments after the presentation

“We want to help the IOC show the world that a country does not have to be a superpower, or spend tens of billions of dollars, to host the Winter Games,” Erlan Idrissov, the Kazakh foreign minister, told the members.

Prime Minister Karim Massimov directly confronted the notion that China was a safer choice.

“We’ve heard the sentiment that if you don’t select Almaty, then you, the IOC, can ‘sleep well at night’ for the next seven years. I find that a curious statement.”

He said the IOC had been “brave” on a number of prior occasions: challenging apartheid in South Africa, selecting Moscow for 1980 at the height of the Cold War and going to Beijing in 2008.

“Those were visionary, heroic declarations,” he said, “about sport’s ability to serve humanity. And, in each case, you were right. So today, we ask you to have faith in us, to have faith in Kazakhstan. Our request is not simply based on blind faith. It is based on facts, the facts that you need to make an historic decision — historic not only for Kazakhstan but for the Olympic movement as well.”

IOC sessions are typically long on diplomacy. Massimov, however, all but called the Chinese out, saying of Almaty 2022, “There were no fabrications about our compact venue plan, our travel times or our accommodation resources.

“There was no overstatement about public or political support, or our ability to host large-scale winter sports events.

“There was no enhancement of our beautiful mountains in the city, or our abundant, real snow and winter atmosphere.

“And there is no doubt about Kazakhstan’s financial stability.”

44-40. A new electronic voting system -- by tablet -- didn't work so ballots were, in the end, cast the old-fashioned way: by writing. Immediately unclear: whether the many conversations in the election room in the transition between the electronic and paper ballots proved pivotal in what amounted to Round 2 in a two-city vote.

44-40. Much closer than expected but nonetheless, in the end, Beijing prevailed.

Action speaks louder, way louder, than words. Agenda 2020 -- for real?

Now the page turns. Here comes the contest for 2024, and the chance to, as Bach said, walk the walk.

Agenda 2020 -- keeping it real


LAUSANNE, Switzerland — The International Olympic Committee is trying, really trying, to prove that Agenda 2020, the would-be reform plan that president Thomas Bach and the members passed last December in Monaco, amounts to significant change. But when confronted with real-world realities, like the two candidates for the 2022 Winter Games, Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan, which made presentations here Tuesday to the members, the question must be asked: how much change, really, is in the air?

This is the predicament the IOC has put itself in, and it has only itself to blame.

To be clear, Agenda 2020 is at best aspirational. The only concrete point among the 40 that the members approved in Monaco is the development of a television channel.

Almaty 2022 vice chairman Andrey Kryukov answers reporters' questions after the bid presentation to IOC members at the Olympic Museum

The rest are in line with prior efforts at reform — in particular, a 2003 package of 117 specific recommendations that included the format of the Games, the bid process, TV coverage, the extravagance of the opening and closing ceremonies, fiscal accountability and more.

In recent days, the IOC has done self-congratulatory cartwheels over changes, purportedly spurred by Agenda 2020, to venues in Tokyo for the 2020 Games; those moves will save $1.7 billion. Saving that much money is of course to the good. But if the IOC were really that interested in saving money in the first instance it would have chosen Madrid for 2020 — where, all-in, the construction budget totaled a mere $1.9 billion.

We live in the real world. Tokyo was going to be elected because that was part of the three-way deal at the IOC session in Buenos Aires in 2013 — Tokyo for 2020, wrestling getting back on the Summer Games sports program and Bach for president against five challengers.

We live in the real world.

While it is true that Agenda 2020 has considerably strengthened Bach’s standing as IOC president — and the IOC traditionally works best when the president is firmly in charge — Agenda 2020 now has to be measured against the real world.

For the IOC, the first significant test is this 2022 process. To be real, for the IOC this 2022 process probably can’t end soon enough. After the hangover of Sochi 2014, and the $51 billion figure associated with those Games, a handful of western European cities pulled out of the 2022 contest, leaving only Beijing and Almaty.

Almaty presents a compact bid with real snow. That’s far more in line with the spirit of Agenda 2020.

But Beijing, with China’s political and economic strength, has assuredly emerged as the overwhelming favorite.

Even with Agenda 2020, the IOC stuck with the post-Salt Lake City rule that prevents the members from visiting any of the bid cities.

Of course, a significant number of the members spent 17 days, or more, in Beijing at the 2008 Summer Games and, as well, visited China last summer for the Nanjing Youth Games. Big advantage to Beijing.

Because there are no visits, the IOC prepares a report after visits to the candidate cities by what’s called an evaluation commission. The commission visited the cities earlier this year. Many of the members candidly admit they don’t read the report. It’s full of facts, figures and coded double-speak.

Our real world is full of uncertainties. In the 2022 report, 137 pages long, this is the one paragraph that jumps out, from the Beijing analysis:

“Overall, the [organizing committee] budget appears to be well thought-out and presents a viable financial plan. Upside potential on marketing revenues, strong government support and experience gained from hosting the 2008 Games suggest that the degree of financial risk should be relatively low.”

To hammer home the point that the members can sleep at night if the Games go to Beijing, there’s this as well:

The 2008 Games generated $1.2 billion in sponsorship. The 2022 estimate is only $740 million. The commission said the 2022 bid team “appears to have significantly underestimated sponsorship targets” — that is, they significantly low-balled the number.

From the report on Almaty:

“Kazakhstan has limited experience with complex high-value marketing programs relating to sporting events.”

And: “The guarantee regarding the financing of venue costs involving multiple parties, creating ambiguity on the division of responsibility including ultimate financial responsibility.”

And: “Economic factors, including low oil prices and exchange rate issues, could negatively impact Games preparations and the government’s capacity to provide financial and other support.”

How does all this jibe with Agenda 2020?

Let’s see, because the IOC put out a statement Tuesday after both bids made their presentations to the members in which Bach said, “You could see a clear focus in both bids on sustainability and affordability.”

Turning to the Beijing bid, and focusing first on sustainability:

There is no little to snow in the mountains there. The evaluation report is clear that the Chinese would have to use artificial snow, requiring diversion of water from existing reservoirs, which may impact other land uses. The proposed alpine ski and sliding venues as well as the Olympic village in the mountains are next to a nature reserve, which would “impose a number of environmental requirements.” Travel times will be long. Air pollution is a “prime concern.”

Again, from the report: “Northern China suffers from severe water stress and the Beijing-Zhangjiakou area is becoming increasingly arid.”

And: “The commission considers Beijing 2022 has underestimated the amount of water that would be needed for snowmaking for the Games but believes adequate water for Games needs could be supplied.”

It’s almost laughable, really, because the Beijing slogan is “Joyful Rendezvous upon Pure Ice and Snow.”


From the IOC evaluation report: “The word ‘pure’ conveys China’s desire to create a cleaner environment.”

To piggyback off the Almaty slogan, “Keeping it Real”: how has that worked out since 2008? Earlier this year, there were pictures of runners wearing masks at the Beijing marathon. That was, for sure, real.

Continuing from the IOC report on Beijing: the ski jump there would require the relocation of 400 people, one of the Olympic villages another 1,100. All 1,500 have been offered “new housing or compensation.”

As for affordability?

Almaty 2022 said its infrastructure budget totals out at $1.853 billion.

For comparison, Beijing said its capital works would cost $1.511 billion. Less than Almaty! For real?

Who believes — after a reputed $40 billion was spent for 2008 — that a 2022 Beijing Winter Games, considering for starters the environmental work that needs to be done up in the mountains, would cost only $1.511 billion? Again -- for real?

There’s a new train line needed between Beijing and the mountain venues. Intriguingly, that’s not included in the $1.511 billion figure.

Dozens of reporters and camera crews, most of them Chinese, eagerly awaiting the Beijing 2022 bid team after its presentation to the IOC members at the Olympic Museum

So now we have a new way of Olympic accounting, to compensate for the Sochi hangover.

Before Agenda 2020, there used to be there were two columns of numbers: 1. Games costs and 2. infrastructure that went with the Olympics.

Now there are three: 1. Games costs, 2. infrastructure that goes with the Games and 3. infrastructure that goes with the Games (like that train line) but is not being identified as going with the Games so that it can never, ever be counted because that way there can never, ever be a $51-billion figure ever again.

Is that even remotely honest? Either from our Chinese friends or the IOC? How is that in keeping with Agenda 2020’s demand for financial accounting and transparency?

This is what the IOC will have to answer for if the members elect Beijing, not to mention seven years of human-rights protests, just as in the run-up to 2008.

This is the opening the Kazakhs tried to take advantage of on Tuesday — hammering, time and again, on the proposition that they were “keeping it real,” reminding the members that they have snow, and lots of it.

To be real, the odds are still against Almaty. But maybe it's a race.

Kazakh prime minister Karim Massimov headed the Almaty delegation and was widely credited with giving an excellent performance, longtime IOC member Dick Pound of Canada, for instance, saying he was “very, very agreeably surprised” by the presentation.

That 2003 IOC report, with the 117 recommendations? It was headed by Pound.

Massimov told the members the bid was a “national priority,” and that Agenda 2020 aligned “perfectly” with the desire to leave “lasting economic, health and sporting legacies for future generations.”

“To put it simply,” he said, “Kazakhstan not only wants the Winter Games, we need the Winter Games.”

The vote in Kuala Lumpur is July 31.