'America's bid,' whichever city it is


The U.S. Olympic Committee formally announced Tuesday it intends to launch a bid for the 2024 Summer Games, by now the news equivalent of dog bites man. It has been evident for months the USOC would be in the game for the Games. The issue is what city, and when the USOC will finally announce its choice from among four: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston or Washington, D.C. In that spirit, it’s so interesting that International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach is now making plans to attend Super Bowl XLIX on Feb. 1 in Glendale, Arizona. Just imagining here: if you came all the way over from the IOC’s base in Switzerland to Arizona, wouldn’t USOC headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado, make for a handy place to ask all four U.S. bid cities to come for, say, a briefing on Agenda 2020, the IOC’s just-passed series of initiatives? Then again, if you were the IOC president spending a little time in the United States, of course you would meet with top-tier sponsors in New York — which would also do just fine, too, for a quiet rendezvous on the side with bid-city teams, right?

If you had an active imagination, you might bet this was why, among other reasons, the USOC didn’t choose one city Tuesday from among the four.

No need. No time pressure. Why, after spending nearly a year getting to Tuesday and board of director approval to jump into 2024, force a decision that doesn’t now need to be made? Early next year sometime — that’s plenty fine.

The five rings in a scene from the 2010 Games in Vancouver // photo Getty Images

This is a race with a long, long, long way to go. It holds many, many variables.

There are but a few certainties.

This: come 2024 it will have been 22 years since the Olympic Games were in the United States, since the Winter Games in Salt Lake City in 2002, and 28 years since the Summer Games in Atlanta in 1996.

This, too: 2008 Beijing (Asia). 2012 London (Europe). 2016 Rio de Janeiro (South America). 2020 Tokyo (back to Asia). The IOC has a kinda-sorta continental rotation rule that’s not really a rule but if it were one — it would be time in 2024 to go to North America.

And this: in May, NBC paid $7.65 billion dollars to the IOC to extend its right to televise the Games in the United States from 2022 through 2032. At some point, the Olympics are coming back to the United States; the first opportunity is 2024.

Rome jumped in Monday to the 2024 campaign. Fascinating. For the 2020 race, the economy was so bad in Italy that the then-prime minister yanked the Rome bid right out. Since, all across Europe, cities pulled out of the 2022 Winter Games race, mostly because of the economy (and the prospect of spending billions of euros when measured against that $51 billion figure associated with the Sochi 2014 Games).

Italian premier Matteo Renzi told Associated Press the Rome 2024 campaign “isn’t based on great infrastructures or big dreams but rather great people,” adding, “We will be at the vanguard for all the spending controls.”

Berlin or Hamburg are going to jump, if they can get past voters in Germany. With all due respect to the IOC president, who is German, this proved the challenge in Munich, which — after coming up short for 2018 — tried to mount a campaign for 2022 and could not get past the ballot box.

Paris is making noise about 2024. OK, but have the French learned their lessons from the disaster that was the Annecy bid for 2018? Oh, and the European economy.

Budapest? Where the sports leaders are eager but the political establishment not so much? And about that European economy …

Istanbul? The 2020 bid leader, Hasan Arat, is one of the great guys in the Olympic movement. The challenge there is president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Three weeks ago, at an international conference on justice and rights for women, he said, “You cannot put women and men on equal footing,” and, for good measure, said some forms of work are just not suitable for women: “Give her a shovel and maker her work — this cannot be. It would be primarily against her delicate nature.” One of the 40 planks of Agenda 2020 affirms what’s called Principle 6 of the Olympic movement, which calls for non-discrimination of all sorts.

South Africa. If they win the 2022 Commonwealth Games there, 2024, too?

Doha is often mentioned as a 2024 possibility. The economy is not an issue in Qatar. But there are all kinds of machinations about whether or not Qatar will or won’t bid, or should or shouldn’t. Stay tuned.

At this very early stage — and it needs to be stressed that at the end of 2014 for a vote that won’t be taken until 2017, it is almost comically early in the 2024 race — you see the dominoes potentially lining up.

There is intense interest — again, intense interest — within some of the highest levels of the Olympic movement in seeing a 2024 Games in the U.S.

That was the message Larry Probst, the USOC chairman, put it as plainly as he could — he’s not in the business of giving anything away, nor should he be — in a teleconference Tuesday with reporters.

He said that “all across the board,” from IOC members and leadership, there is encouragement for the Americans, who have spent the past five years — since the debacle that was the Chicago 2016 vote in October 2009 in Copenhagen — promoting humility and repairing relationships in the Olympic sphere.

Or, as Scott Blackmun, the USOC’s chief executive put it, “It is a really good time for us to throw our hat into the ring again.”

So which of the four cities will it be?

“It’s a four-way tie,” Blackmun said on the teleconference, being politically correct, which for now is totally appropriate.

The truth-serum answer: it’s the one that not just can, but will, win.

Which one will that be?

This is where it’s appropriate to ask hard questions, to not hold on to even the slightest bit of romance about what you might think about the cities. Olympic bidding is not for the faint of heart or the naive.

It’s one thing to be able to hang the Olympic rings on bridges or across buildings for postcard-pretty pictures. It’s quite another to actually get stuff done. Little stuff. Big stuff. What do recent events in the cities suggest about that?

It is essential, moreover, to have a team, and in particular charismatic figures, around whom a bid can be built. These are lessons from the Chicago 2016 and New York 2012 bids, and from the winning London 2012 and Rio 2016 teams, too, and this is another reason why the USOC sought Tuesday to buy time.

Another: you can bet that per Agenda 2020 the key watchwords now are sustainability and legacy. Probst, again, responding to a question on that teleconference: “Existing venues are a plus, for sure.”

For now, the USOC is — as it should — playing it cool.

No need to get out in front of the game when, legitimately, time is on the USOC’s side.

This, too, from Probst, and this is yet another lesson from Chicago 2016 and New York 2012, which were bids that were mostly about Chicago and New York. “We want to think about this,” meaning the 2024 city, whichever one it turns out to be, “as America’s bid,” and there you heard first the inkling of a probable bid slogan, “not just that particular city.

“And hopefully we can energize the country, and get the country to engage with the Olympic movement, inspire youth to get involved with sport. So not only do we hope that there are benefits for the individual city but we hope that it will have a positive impact on the country as well.”


The IOC presidency Top-10 list

The next president of the International Olympic Committee, whoever it will be, takes over an organization that is, in these early years of the 21st century, at a crossroads. By many indicators, one would look at the Olympic movement and see positive trend lines. The Games in Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012 were memorable, indeed. The five rings are, without question, one of the world's top brands. The IOC itself seems to have weathered the global economic downturn.

At the same time, the pace of change in today's world is ever-increasing and the paramount challenge facing the movement is not merely to remain a source of connection and inspiration. Bluntly, and above all else, it's to remain relevant.

The new president will be elected in September at an all-members IOC assembly in Buenos Aires. He -- the presumed candidates are, at this moment, all men -- will replace Jacques Rogge of Belgium, who has served as president since 2001.

The potential candidates are believed to include, in alphabetical order, Thomas Bach of Germany, Sergei Bubka of Ukraine, Richard Carrión of Puerto Rico, Ser Miang Ng of Singapore and C.K. Wu of Chinese Taipei.

Mr. President-to-be, you did not ask for a Top-10 list of what you need to do when you set up shop on Day One at the Chateau de Vidy, the IOC headquarters by Lake Geneva in Lausanne, Switzerland. Please consider this merely an early expression of goodwill in the form of constructive suggestion, along with a healthy measure of good luck -- because, sir, you're going to need that, too.

1. Be a thought leader

There is a lot to be said for making money. Every other sporting concern -- the soccer leagues, American football, the NBA, the NHL -- is there to make money. But that's not what the Olympic movement, and by extension the IOC, are about. The movement stands for a set of ideals, and for values such as excellence, friendship and respect. The Games are the expression of those ideals and values, and at their best they produce moments that remind us of the best in each of us. As IOC boss, given that you get to meet with presidents, prime ministers and with school kids, too, your job is to promote those values. Relentlessly. Creatively. The mission is not to organize good Games. That's too narrow. Instead, it is to make the ideals and values shine so brightly that they draw in young people and communities. The money will follow.

2. Fix the Summer Games program

In Vancouver in 2010, there were 24 medal opportunities in freeskiing and snowboarding. In Sochi next winter: 48. That speaks to the IOC's understanding of how to keep the Winter Games program fresh and current. As for the Summer Games program? Not so much. The IOC has added rugby and golf for 2016 and 2020. Under Rogge, it has dropped baseball and softball. It now threatens to drop wrestling. The controversy over the policy-making executive board's move in February to drop wrestling from the 25-sport "core," and the uncertainty over the process by which sports might be added to the program underscores the wider bewilderment. Beyond process, there is also substance. It says everything you need to know that skateboarding is not even on the shortlist for inclusion. Or that dual trampoline and synchronized diving are in but wrestling is fighting for its Olympic life. This might make sense to IOC insiders -- who understand the distinction in Olympic jargon between "disciplines," "events" and "sports" -- but to much of the outside world looking in, it can be all too difficult to fathom. Is that a good thing?

3. Make wholesale changes to the bid city process

Every two years, the roughly 100 IOC members award the next edition of the Games -- whether  Winter or Summer, each is a multibillion-dollar proposition -- to a city and country that has spent millions chasing the prize. The members, because of rules imposed after the late 1990s Salt Lake City corruption scandal, are not allowed to visit the bid cities. Instead, an IOC evaluation commission tours the cities and issues a report. Problematically, many members acknowledge not reading that report. Is this best practices? Short answer: no. The time has come to thoroughly re-visit the bid city rules. The bids cost too much. For that matter, the members should be permitted once again to visit the cities. Some things really do have to be seen to be -- well, if not believed then at least perceived. The problem is not trusting the members -- it is, as it always has been, about trusting the cities. Here are some further assumptions for a thorough review of the bid process: since the Games are supposed to be about sport, not nation-building, perhaps future bids should meet some metric of preparation. Examples for consideration: Should x percent of venues already be completed? Should non-organizing committee budgets not be over $x billion? Should total budgets not exceed $x billion? In 2003, the IOC adopted a report calling for prudence, indeed modesty, in Games build-out and venue construction; the 2014 Sochi price tag is now known to be at least $51 billion. That sort of disconnect merits some hard reflection.

4. Fix the Youth Games, or get rid of this experiment

Why are the 2014 Summer Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China? Originally, the notion was that YOG was a vehicle for cities and nations that couldn't possibly stage the "regular" Games. Example: the inaugural version, in Singapore in 2010. Already, though, the second Summer YOG will be in China, where the Summer Games themselves were staged in 2008? With, it must be said, a budget of more than $300 million? Why? Is that only to keep this initiative alive? Big picture -- what, exactly, is YOG doing? Originally, again, the idea was to connect teenagers more actively with the Olympic movement. Where is the real evidence YOG is achieving that goal? The Young Reporters project run as part of YOG has proven an unqualified success. But what metric shows YOG itself gets the Olympic spirit moving in teens? It is true, for instance, that South Africa's Chad le Clos won five medals in swimming in Singapore and then won on to defeat Michael Phelps in the 200-meter butterfly in London. But le Clos wasn't inspired to swim with Phelps because of what happened in Singapore. It had been his dream to race against Phelps ever since he saw Phelps compete in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

5. Decide: who, really, are the IOC members, and what are they doing?

The Rogge years have seen a concentration of power in the executive board and in the growing numbers of staff at Vidy. This has left many members wondering what, exactly, they're there to do. They vote for the bid cities -- but don't get to see them. They vote on the sports -- but not for sports that many would like to see on the ballot. The IOC's sessions, as the annual assemblies are called, are not -- repeat, not -- exercises in robust floor debate but, rather, a succession of reports read out, often numbingly, to the members. To quote Peggy Lee: is that all there is? For all that, the line to get in as an IOC member remains long, and that needs to be addressed, too, because the current rules -- again, adopted in the wake of the Salt Lake affair -- make it difficult to recruit someone not affiliated with an international federation or particular national Olympic committee. Has that proven a sound notion or too limiting? As for the athlete members -- in theory, that is a good idea but in practice they can be treated as second-class citizens because everyone knows they're done after eight years. One essential -- the mandatory retirement limit, again a function of the Salt Lake reforms, is now 70. It should be raised to 75.

6. Re-balance the "pillars"

Juan Antonio Samaranch, the IOC president for 21 years before Rogge, used to talk about how the Olympic movement depended on the unity of certain "pillars," likening the entire thing to a table stool and insisting all the legs needing to be equal. There are the national Olympic committees, he would say. The international federations. The IOC. The IFs? How many of them right now could stand to be more accountable in terms of governance, use of IOC funds and anti-doping efforts? The more than 200 NOCs? How many of them could stand to have their governance brought into line with 21st century IOC practices? The Samaranch era, of course, has given way to a far more complex time in which there are other "pillars" that must be included in the calculus. While the IOC has always moved with governments around the world, the pressures on state-funded sport -- which but for the United States means virtually everywhere -- are now especially pronounced. And yet at the Games, if the IOC were called to produce records, how would it say it treated sports ministers, particularly from developing nations? Life, as Samaranch always taught, is a relationship business.

7. Re-think the broadcast strategy

This is the elephant in the room: NBC is the cash cow (apologies for mixing cows and elephants) that keeps the Olympic movement funded as we know it now. Its most recent deal is for broadcast rights to the Games in the United States from 2014 through 2020, and is worth $4.38 billion. NBC is paying $775 million for the 2014 Winter Games, $1.226 billion for the 2016 Summer Games, $963 million for the 2018 Winter Games and $1.418 billion for 2020. Three obvious questions: 1. How long can the IOC expect an American television network to keep carrying the financial load, as NBC has done for a generation? 2. How long is it reasonable to expect the U.S. Olympic Committee to remain politically sidelined -- as it has been, partly because of its own internal issues, for most of the Rogge years -- while an American network is so economically potent? 3. Compare: Brazilian TV rights for 2014-16, $210 million (after a 2012 Games that saw disappointing ratings there). China, 2014-16: $160 million. France, 2014-16: $120 million. Now, please, refer once more to the NBC sum and then to obvious questions 1 and 2 in this section, and ask, what is wrong with this picture?

8. Make the anti-doping campaign a priority, and betting, too

Rogge, a doctor, has talked a good game about trying to stamp our performance-enhancing drugs. He genuinely means it. A fair reading of the record during his term, however, will detail the BALCO and Lance Armstrong scandals in the United States; widespread doping in Russian sport; the Operation Puerto matter in Spain; and more. To be clear, the IOC president is not -- repeat, not -- to blame for cheating in elite sport. That would be absurd. He has the authority, however, to help engineer an even more coordinated effort -- and way less infighting -- between the IOC, the IFs, governments and the World Anti-Doping Agency. Governments need to understand the plain truth, and get serious about spending real money: sports stars are role models and the entire Olympic enterprise depends on the credibility of clean competition. For their part, the IFs need to stop fighting WADA over the truth, too -- athletes cheat because they can, and they do because performance-enhancing drugs work. To read the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's "reasoned decision" in the Armstrong case is to sit down with a legal brief that reads like a John le Carré thriller. For its part, WADA needs to figure out what to do about a system in which doping tests prove almost nothing -- Marion Jones, a serial cheater, passed 160 tests without a problem, and Armstrong got through hundreds cleanly -- and far too many cases are marijuana-related positives, which burn up time and resource, and prove -- what? Illegal betting, meanwhile, represents the next systemic threat to the Olympic movement. The IOC -- along with police and prosecutors -- must make it clear, as Rogge has done, that it will tackle match fixing aggressively.

9. Make equality count

On the field of play, especially at the Summer Games, the IOC is nearing gender equity. In London, every nation sent female athletes -- a first. Women made up 44 percent of the competitors in London; that's up from 23 percent in Los Angeles in 1984. In Sochi next February, women will, finally, take part in ski jumping -- evidence, too, of how the IOC moves, if sometimes too slowly for some, toward increasing the number of women's events on the program. The next issue: the percentage of women in executive and management positions. Simply put, it is way too low. The NOCs, IFs, national federations and others within the movement originally set a target of reserving 20 percent of all decision-making positions for women by 2005; this objective was not met. The current numbers, based on survey responses from 110 of the 205 NOCs (a 53.7 percent rate -- itself showing that not enough take the matter seriously) and from 70.4 percent of the IFs: women account for only 4 percent of NOC presidents and 3.2 percent of IF presidents; as well 17.6 percent of the seats on NOC executive boards, 18 percent on IF boards. Those numbers must -- to repeat, must -- go up. Doubters? The IOC Charter -- rule 2, paragraph 7 -- declares that one of the roles of the IOC is to "encourage and support the promotion of women in sport at all levels and in all structures, with a view to implementing the principle of equality of men and women."

10. Communicate, communicate, communicate

The IOC needs a 21st century media department and press officer. Two reasons: 1. External communication is far too dependent -- almost to the point of ridiculous exclusion of everyone else -- on the wire services to get its message out. But the media landscape is changing -- if not changed already. Moreover, in far too many cases, the IOC -- for whatever reason -- can seem defensive in relaying whatever the message might be. That's mysterious. The IOC so often has a great story to tell. Again, it is the only enterprise rooted in ideals and values. 2. The IOC's internal communications system is so lacking that any number of members and staff have created their own ad hoc networks to find out what's what. Fixing both elements, external and internal communications, ought to be a pressing priority.