Tokyo 2020

In which my mother has (good) advice for the IOC

In which my mother has (good) advice for the IOC

Maybe you have a Jewish mother. Maybe not. I do. I’m the oldest son, of four boys. Let’s be honest. Being a sportswriter? Is this a doctor, or a practicing lawyer, or something else brag-worthy? OK. Does my mother truly, honestly care about sports? Do you have to ask? 

Like me, my mother went to Northwestern. Could she tell you who the Wildcats are playing this weekend? Not if her life depended on it. 

So you might understand further how little sports intrudes into my mother’s life, especially these past few days: last week, my mother, her husband of nearly 20 years (my dad passed away many years ago) and the fugly dog had to be evacuated from their home in south Florida because of Hurricane Irma. (Update: some minor damage to the patio outside, more or less everything OK.) 

Hurricane be damned, a matter of import apparently had been weighing on my mother’s mind. “I want to tell you something,” she said in that tone that when your mother uses you go, uh-oh. Obliging son that I am, I replied, “Yes?”

It has been a long time since, you know, I lived under my mother’s roof. Even so, she likes to keep up, at least in a general sense, with my whereabouts. She knew I was bound for Peru, and the International Olympic Committee session at which Paris would be awarded 2024 and LA 2028.

“These Olympic people,” my mother said, “have a big problem on their hands.”

And now: the latest, greatest IOC corruption scandal

And now: the latest, greatest IOC corruption scandal

The International Olympic Committee is meeting in Peru at what should be a moment of triumph, the awarding of the 2024 and 2028 Summer Olympic Games to Paris and Los Angeles.

Instead, the news cycle is dominated by headlines trumpeting seemingly more of the same: corruption in the Olympic scene.

Is it really so difficult to understand why taxpayers are so fed up?

Thoughts at tax time of $26 million budgets


The mind wanders as our friends at the U.S. tax agency, the Internal Revenue Service, prepare to say thanks ever so much for the notion of taxes being the mark of civilization, or something. In that spirit, here are 10 things to think about: 1. You want to get serious, really serious, in the anti-doping campaign? Let’s see governments step up their financial support of the World Anti-Doping Agency. WADA's annual budget is roughly $26 million. For comparison, that’s annual revenue of the sort the university athletic departments at Texas-San Antonio or New Hampshire work with, according to a USA Today survey. Let’s see what might happen were WADA to run with money along the lines of annual athletic department revenues at Oregon ($196 million), Texas ($161 million) or Michigan ($157 million), the top three in that survey. And here’s a telling stat: Ohio State’s athletic department received more in donations than WADA’s entire budget — $28.2 million of its $145.2 million annual revenue.

Maria Sharapova bidding to control the narrative at a March 7 news conference in LA, announcing her positive test for meldonium // photo Getty Images

2. Who believes the tennis star Maria Sharapova? Really? With now more than 100 positive tests for meldonium in all kinds of sports?

3. You hear over and again that the role of anti-doping agencies is to protect the rights of clean athletes. If that’s true: how do you bar the entire Russian track and field team from Rio when, presumably, some on that team are clean?

4. They open the Main Press Center in Rio. But — is this a sign of how these Games are going to go  — the press isn’t allowed in to cover the opening?

Kobe Bryant at the 2008 Beijing Olympics // photo Getty Images

5. Outside the 1992 Dream Team, is Kobe Bryant — whose last game as a Los Angeles Laker is Wednesday — the most important figure in USA Basketball’s Olympic history? Or is it Doug Collins, with those clutch free throws at the 1972 Games? Or — who?

6. With apologies to the creators, who purportedly have “poured their hearts and souls into their designs,” all four would-be Tokyo 2020 emblems are legitimately terrible. One looks like the conflation of hallucinogenic mushrooms and someone’s brain (“D,” “flowering of emotions”). One of the Paralympic logos evokes — unfortunately — nothing so much as Donald Trump’s hair (“B,” “connecting circle, expanding harmony”). Please, can the soulful designers keep at it?

7. It is now a year since SportAccord imploded. Isn’t it time to acknowledge the obvious — that Marius Vizer was right? Disagree all you want — if you want — with the way he said what he said. But who quarrels with the substance?

8. The Australian swim Trials just went down. Look out, Rio: 21-year-old Cameron McEvoy went 47.04 to win the men’s 100, the fastest time ever in a textile suit. That is just 13-hundredths outside Brazilian Cesar Cielo’s world record of 46.91, set at the plastic suit-dominated 2009 world championships in Rome. Check out a video of the race:

9. Alysia Montaño, the U.S. 800-meter runner, went off at the recent U.S. Olympic Committee media summit, saying, “Once a doper, always a doper.” Then, when asked by the veteran Chicago-based sports writer Philip Hersh if Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay — both of whom have served time for doping — should be allowed to compete in Rio, she said, "No.”

Alysia Montaño surrounded by reporters at the USOC media summit // photo Getty Images

LaShawn Merritt posing for a portrait at the same USOC summit // photo Getty Images

Besides the sweet team spirit that ought to engender, there’s this: what about the notion of redemption? Further, doping matters tend to be complex; they do not necessarily lend themselves to a binary, all-black or all-white, sort of resolution. At issue, typically, are different — 50? — shades of grey. If it’s one thing for Athlete X or Y to do time for, say, illicit steroid use, what about the case of LaShawn Merritt, the U.S. 400-meter champion, who was busted for ExtenZe, a different sort of performance enhancer? He bought ExtenZe at a neighborhood 7-Eleven. “I spent $6 and it cost me millions of dollars,” amid a 21-month suspension, Merritt once said. Putting aside the legal formalities and the practical realities — these include double jeopardy concerns and human rights considerations noted by tribunals in rejecting the idea of most lifetime bans — there are moral and ethical matters, too: on what grounds should Merritt be out forever? Answer: none.

10. The underlying big-picture purpose of the Olympic movement is to move the world, little by little, day by day, toward peace. What does it say about the terrible, awful disconnect in our broken world when a teen-age suicide bomber blows himself up at a boys’ soccer game in Iraq? What, if anything, is sport to do when sport itself becomes the target? The death toll: 43, 29 of them boys who had been playing in the game or watching their friends. “It was a children’s soccer game. Of course he knew he was going to kill children,” said a local sheikh. Please read this harrowing account from the Washington Post. Then ask: how do we — all of us with a conscience — stop our children from killing and being killed?

#USOCGoHome: seriously, how bad can this get?


Here is a group from the Rome 2024 campaign. They met Thursday at International Olympic Committee headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, with, among others, the IOC president, Thomas Bach. Afterward, it was all smiles.  

Just some of the Rome 2024 delegation with IOC president Thomas Bach //  Twitter

Now let’s search for a Boston 2024 group picture with Bach.

Oh, wait.

You mean there aren’t any? Not even one over the past six months?

Ladies and gentlemen, you know what they say: a picture is worth a thousand words.

To reiterate a point made often in this space, there is only one reason to play the Olympic bid game. It’s to win.

Boston 2024 is not a winner.

The Pan American Games are going on right now in Toronto. Guess who was there just a few days ago? Bach. It’s not far from Toronto to Boston, if you had the inclination to, say, talk up the advantages of Agenda 2020, the IOC’s would-be reform plan.

In bid offices overseas, they have to be gleeful at how bad this Boston 2024 effort is. Because what should be a time for an American bid to shine is, instead, day after day, week after week, a succession of headlines that figuratively scream, how bad can this get?

Indeed, if you’re Toronto, aren’t you thinking a good Pan Ams might just jumpstart your way into the 2024 race? The way it did for Rio de Janeiro in 2007 en route to IOC victory in 2009 for 2016?

The Canadian Olympic Committee even shrewdly put on a gala event in Montreal — where Bach won his gold medal in fencing in 1976. He was the special invited guest, and grew emotional in his reminiscing.

Just what the USOC needs — another contender in the eastern time zone.

In Paris this week, a huge crowd gathered on the Champ de Mars to celebrate Bastille Day and the launch of Paris 2024. The president of France was there. The mayor of Paris. Bid leaders. More than 100 athletes. The Eiffel Tower was lit up.

The Eiffel Tower lit for Paris 2024 and Bastille Day // Paris 2024

In Boston on Thursday, the two top USOC officials met with Mayor Marty Walsh — again, zero photo op — and afterward put out a well-intentioned news release.

But even that release made plain why Boston 2024 is a bad slog.

"We’re pleased to have the support of the Mayor and look forward to working with Steve Pagliuca and the entire team at Boston 2024 to make this bid a success,” USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun was quoted as saying.

Fascinating. Where was the governor, Charlie Baker?

Amazing that Blackmun, along with USOC board chair Larry Probst, could fly all the way to Boston, and take a meeting with the mayor, but the governor was available only by phone.

What the governor is doing right now is waiting for a report from consultants. They’re supposed to assess whether the Boston 2024 plan, dubbed Bid 2.0 in a release made public June 29, is financially feasible.

This is hardball realpolitik.

If this report comes back — next month, probably — and says Bid 2.0 would be a hard sell financially, the governor has the out he needs.

Without key political support, any Olympic bid is a dead-bang loser.

But that’s exactly where Boston 2024 is already.

Compare: in Lausanne Thursday, the Rome delegation was led by the mayor and included a senior representative from the prime minister’s office. That’s important generally but more so now for Rome because the former prime minister was the one who, in February 2012, pulled the plug on Rome’s 2020 effort.

Baker, as demonstrated again Thursday, has shown distance in his approach to Boston 2024.

When Bid 2.0 was released, meanwhile, Walsh — and it’s a bid city mayor who has to sign a host city contract — was nowhere near the scene.

Check Walsh’s Twitter account. There’s he’s a rah-rah cheerleader of sorts, posting regularly — in the last couple weeks, for instance, sending congrats to the U.S. women’s World Cup soccer champs, even wishing the Dalai Lama happy birthday. The last time he posted something about the bid? That appears to be a little over five weeks ago, when he declared, “I will not use public money to build Olympic venues.”

You wonder why Walsh would keep his remove, at least in public, from Boston 2024?

Let us count the ways:

— Post-Bid 2.0 poll numbers in favor of the project range from 37 percent to 42. Worse, 50 percent opposed. That 42 percent is the current WBUR poll; for anyone inclined to say it’s an improvement over last month’s 39 percent reading, that very slight increase falls within the margin of error.

— A stadium design that is estimated at $1.376 billion. For something due to be torn down. This at a time when cost estimates for the Tokyo 2020 stadium have spiraled north of $2 billion, up some $700 million from the original estimate. Who seriously believes that $1.376 billion would be the final number?

— Agenda 2020 is big on the use of existing and temporary venues. Nowhere does Agenda 2020 promote the idea of a temporary $1.376 billion facility. That runs counter not only to policy but common sense.

— Bid 2.0 features no plan yet for an aquatics center or velodrome and a media center priced out at a laughably low $51 million. How can taxpayers be expected to know whether there might be cost overruns when there are no costs to begin with?

— And, as longtime Olympic reporter John Powers points out in the Boston Globe, “What began as an intimate and walkable scheme — the non-LA alternative — now involves half a dozen counties and five of the state’s six largest cities.”

Too, the Globe reports, there’s suddenly going to be a public debate on Boston 2024. On the one side, there’ll be bid chairman Pagliuca and Dan Doctoroff, a former deputy New York mayor and New York 2012 bid leader who is now on the USOC board of directors. On the other, Chris Dempsey, a co-chair of the opposition group No Boston Olympics, and Smith College economist Andrew Zimbalist.

Pagliuca is a basketball guy. But this debate next Thursday is less two-on-two than the feel of something more evocative of football: it’s the Boston 2024 version of a political Hail Mary.

Like, just to be obvious, especially when there are locals who are affiliated with the USOC board of directors: why invite the New York guy to woo the gentle folk of Boston? Should he wear a Yankees cap for full effect?

In Boston, what was the top trending hashtag Thursday? “#USOCGoHome”

Also Thursday, as the Globe reported, a group opposed to public funding for an Olympics filed papers with the state attorney general, aiming to put a question on the November 2016 ballot that would largely prohibit the state from spending money to support the Games.

The USOC has a Sept. 15 deadline by which it must decide what to do.

Upcoming next is the IOC session in Kuala Lumpur, at the end of the month. There you can bet senior USOC officials will hear the same thing they heard in Toronto — you’re making this unbelievably hard and you need to do something to change it.

The answer is so blindingly obvious.

Again, the idea is to win, and to do so within the constraints of Agenda 2020. It’s not to engage in 20- or 30-year urban planning; that’s the lesson from Sochi 2014, and the $51 billion figure associated with those Olympics. Indeed, the unhappy fallout from that $51 billion clearly animates Agenda 2020’s call for restraint.

In Los Angeles, the stadium is a real thing.

Not only that, it was announced this week that USC, which now controls the LA Memorial Coliseum, reportedly has chosen Fox Sports to sell naming rights to the venue.

USC is committed to renovating the facility. Renovations figure to be in the $600 million range. Naming rights figure to bring in huge dollars; the Coliseum, site of the 1932 and 1984 Games, among other spectacles, has never had a naming rights partner.

At the same time, the NFL appears closer than ever to being back in LA. Hello, Coliseum rent.

USC is acting boldly.

The USOC could, too — and here’s how.

The newest initiative on the Olympic scene is what are called the "ANOC World Beach Games." They are now being pushed, and hard, by one of the most influential people in the Olympic scene, Kuwaiti Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah.

The sheikh is the president of the Assn. of National Olympic Committees and, as well, the Olympic Council of Asia.

The first edition of the Beach Games? Perhaps as soon as the summer of 2017.

The 2024 vote? August 2017.

What’s going to be the hot ticket at the Rio 2016 Olympics? Beach volleyball.

Worldwide, everyone knows the home of beach culture: Southern California.

Would it really be that difficult to stage a Beach Games — and win incredible goodwill — in, say, Venice, California?

Venice is hip, urban, has a famous stretch of beach and, not incidentally, is now the home of Snapchat, the way young people increasingly talk to each other. The Beach Games assuredly is aimed at the demographic the Olympic movement has had such difficulty reaching, teens and young 20s.


Also imagine: the IOC is said to be very supportive of this ANOC proposal. At the same time, IOC rules prohibit members from visiting bid cities. But, you know, what about seeking a waiver for those interested in seeing the Beach Games?

If that notion would work the IOC ethics people into a frenzy, there’s always San Diego. It got cut from the USOC 2024 list but is known since to have expressed interest in the Beach Games. San Diego is not Los Angeles; just ask anyone in San Diego. But say what? San Diego is only a two-hour drive away?

This, of course, underscores the fallacy of the no-visit rule. But that’s a topic for another day.

Right now, the days are counting down to Sept. 15. Kill the Boston bid. It's time for the USOC to move with boldness, creativity and resourcefulness. The United States deserves at least a winning chance at pictures with the president of the IOC that are all smiles.

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.


Istanbul 2020: James Bond's new hangout


ISTANBUL -- There once was a time, and candidly it was not all that long ago, when if you said, "Turkey," referring to the country, not Thanksgiving, the reference that not infrequently came to the minds of many might well have been the Oscar-winning movie "Midnight Express," depicting American Billy Hayes' time in an infamous Turkish prison, caught trying to smuggle two kilos of hashish at the Istanbul airport. In some ways, Istanbul now is as it was when Hayes was here. As it ever may be. When the sun rises over the hills, it reveals the beauty of mosques and minarets reaching toward the sky. Several times a day, the cry to prayer still beckons the faithful.

Yet this city -- now teeming with nearly 15 million people -- is, in many ways, unrecognizable from the time Billy Hayes met his fate, moving to embrace a new era.

Skyscrapers now dot the skyline, too. Billboards are everywhere, and some of them show pretty girls in nothing but fetching green camisoles. A fancy upscale mall on one of the city's main streets features not only shops like those you could find in London but Wagamama, the noodle chain, too.

This is the message Istanbul is carrying to the International Olympic Committee as it presses its bid for the 2020 Summer Games: it, like Turkey, has arrived on the world stage, and the Games would not only cement that arrival but further propel Istanbul's development as one of the world's great centers in the 21st century.

As Turkey's president, Abdullah Gül -- who bears a resemblance to the American actor, George Clooney -- said in an interview with a small group of international journalists Sunday, the meeting taking place at a former hunting lodge about a half-hour from Istanbul's historic waterfront, "We are very ambitious in this bid."

Istanbul 2020 bid leader Hasan Arat, left, and Sir Craig Reedie, head of the IOC evaluation commission, aboard a new Istanbul metro subway car en route to the would-be Olympic Park // photo courtesy Istanbul 2020

Madrid and Tokyo are also in the 2020 race. The IOC is due to pick the winner Sept. 7 in Buenos Aires.

An IOC evaluation team on Sunday went through the first of a four-day tour of Istanbul's plan. It spent last week in Madrid. It saw Tokyo March 4-7.

Madrid and Tokyo are both well-developed world capitals. Each already has most of the infrastructure needed to stage an Olympics. Tokyo would spend $4.9 billion to ready for 2020, and has it in the bank; Madrid's infrastructure costs -- this is its third straight bid -- are estimated at $1.9 billion, which in this kind of competition is remarkably low.

For those two cities, the challenge is to present a compelling narrative about why the IOC ought to pick one or the other.

In Istanbul, it's a completely different story.

Here the sell is full of strands and would seem, at first blush, crazy easy. It's a "bridge to excellence," or whatever their new slogan is going to be -- they're going to unveil it sometime this week.

This is Istanbul's fifth bid. It tried for the 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 Games. The 2012 bid was cut before the final round; the 2008 campaign, which took place in 2001, made it to the finals but then was eliminated in the second round, with only nine votes, Beijing winning handily with 56.

"Turkey bid four times as an emerging nation. This time," bid chairman Hasan Arat said at a Sunday night news conference, "Turkey is bidding as an emerged nation."

These would be the first Games in a Muslim country.

These would be Games linking -- literally -- Europe and Asia. Imagine, Arat said, seeing rowing in Asia in the morning and golf in Europe in the afternoon.

These would be Games befitting the IOC's expansionist trend in recent elections in recognizing the strength of assertive regional and global players (see, for instance, China 2008, Russia 2014, Brazil 2016, South Korea 2018).

In Turkey, the challenge in this 2020 election is not why but how.

Because rarely in life is anything worthwhile ever crazy easy.

And for as compelling a narrative as they might be able to present in Istanbul, the issue here is also super-straightforward:

It's not just the technical piece -- meaning, can they get it done, and on time, and on budget?

It's -- in this environment, can they get roughly 55 voters in the IOC to believe all that can happen?

The Istanbul 2020 plan proposes the spending of $19.2 billion in infrastructure.

That is 10 times Madrid's figure, and that is certain to be an issue in a world in which finance makes for front-page headlines day after day.

That infrastructure is, by design, spread out. It would link four sports-related clusters.

For better or worse, the Rio 2016 plan is also a four-cluster plan. As everyone who moves in Olympic circles knows, the Rio project is dogged by delays so significant that comparisons to the Athens 2004 Games are now matter-of-fact.

Istanbul is not Rio. The comparison is hardly perfect. Nor is it, maybe, fair. But IOC elections are not fair. What matters are perceptions. And this election is going to take place in September with Rio absolutely part of the dynamic.

And Sochi 2014, too. Costs there have risen to more than $50 billion.

Getting around and between the four Istanbul clusters is going to be one of the issues sure to draw close attention in the evaluation commission report, when it is released before the IOC's all-members meeting July 3-4 in Lausanne, Switzerland, on the 2020 race.

The IOC came here knowing the traffic was a bear. Usain Bolt runs 100 meters in nine-pus seconds. Along the waterfront Saturday night, it took more than five minutes to go the same distance in a car. The locals shrugged the same way they do when they talk in Los Angeles about the 405 -- it's life.

The Istanbul team, for its part, came prepared to show the aggressive tack they're taking in building a metro system, aiming to change the way people get around town. The commission even took a ride Sunday on a brand-new line out to what is already being called Olympic Park, a development northwest of the waterfront.

By 2018, Arat said, the metro system will feature some 264 kilometers -- 164 miles -- of rail lines.

The president of Turkey, Abdullah Gül, meets the press

On the road, it took just under 45 minutes to get back from the would-be Olympic Park to the waterfront. This was on a Sunday night. It's life.

There are two schools of thought about such a drive.

One is that this is precisely why you have an event like the Olympics. It super-charges development; for public policy wonks, you get done in seven years -- because of the fixed deadline of an opening ceremony -- what might otherwise take 20 to 40.

The other school holds that this is exactly why you don't plunk an event like the Olympics in a place like Istanbul. If it already takes 45 minutes and you are about to load in thousands more people, most of whom don't speak the language and it's the middle of summer -- is that a recipe for racing in the streets?

Proponents of the second school, moreover, would point to, say, Beijing. It's four and a half years after the 2008 Games, they would note, and given all the infrastructure improvements there, would the pollution levels now in Beijing suggest that people are driving less, or more?

To say here in Istanbul, however, that they prefer the first of those arguments would be a gentle understatement. They are brimming with confidence.

It's almost as if they feel as their time has come. Indeed, Gül went so far Sunday as to list the several reasons why, in his words, "we deserve" the 2020 Games -- political stability, economic growth, meaningful physical legacy, an event that at the center of the western world that could cross cultural, religious and racial boundaries.

"Deserve" in Olympic bidding is a concept fraught with peril. Even so, in Turkey, right here, right now, they might ask -- remember James Bond? The guy from the London 2012 opening ceremony? He didn't lack for confidence. That guy filmed his last movie here, "Skyfall." And it was a blockbuster.

What else is there to say?

Arat, welcoming a handful of international reporters to town Saturday evening, said, "We believe very much in our concept and in our city. We are in it to win it."



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."



Big-picture IOC thinking in this election year


Sir Craig Reedie, an International Olympic Committee vice-president, got the full red-carpet welcome Friday at Tokyo's Narita International Airport. Photographers happily caught Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose introducing his wife, Yuriko, to Sir Craig. In another shot, Sir Craig was seen bounding along Narita's walkways with a bouquet of welcoming flowers, a perfect tableau to set the stage for the IOC evaluation commission's four-day inspection of Tokyo's plan to host the 2020 Games.

And so it begins again, another round of these evaluation visits. The IOC commission visits the other two cities in the 2020 race, Madrid and Istanbul, later this month.

Over the years, these inspections have become a defining tenet of Jacques Rogge's tenure as IOC president. In September, however, Rogge's 12 years in office come to a close; voting for his successor, along with balloting for the 2020 bid-city race, will take place at the IOC general assembly in Buenos Aires.

The question the shrewd contender to replace Rogge will ask in meetings around the world with fellow members this spring and summer is elemental: does this system do what it's supposed to do?

It’s time, in this, a pivotal year for the IOC, for big-picture thinking.

Sir Craig Reedie, chairman of the IOC Evaluation Commission, arrives at Tokyo's Narita International Airport to begin a four-day review of its bid for the 2020  Games // Photo Shugo Takemi, courtesy Tokyo 2020 Bid Committe

The IOC is poised now for a once-in-a-generation turn. The presidential campaign is just starting to take shape. That race is entwined with, among other dynamics, the 2020 bid-city campaign, the policy-making executive board’s recent move to drop wrestling from the 2020 program, a notion that the 70-year-old age-limit now in place for members ought to be reviewed and a persistent feeling among some number of members that IOC staff at headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, exerts a disproportionate influence in Olympic affairs.

At issue, fundamentally, is the role of the members of the International Olympic Committee. In these first years of the 21st century, what is their mandate?

This is the pivot around which the presidential race likely turns, as potential candidates such as Thomas Bach of Germany, Ser Miang Ng of Singapore, Richard Carrion of Puerto Rico and perhaps others, including C.K. Wu of Chinese Taipei, weigh their options.

The mainstream press is often replete with stories of how being an IOC member has to be a cushy gig. The reality is that the actual "job" -- being an IOC member is, of course, a volunteer position -- is hugely limited.

In essence:

-- Every other year, members choose a host city for the Games, Summer or Winter. The vote is seven years out. In 2013, members will choose for 2020.

-- The year after an edition of the Games, Summer or Winter, they vote for which sports go on the program of the Games -- again, seven years from that vote.

-- They elect their fellow members to the policy-making executive board (15 positions) or vice-presidential spots (four).

The executive board typically meets in-person four times a year. The rest of the time, that leaves the staff to run the show, and advocates for Rogge's management style would say he and staff have professionalized the IOC in innumerable says.

That said, it almost inevitably has led to the persistent feeling of a shift in the balance of power toward headquarters in Lausanne and away from the members themselves.

That development now animates the presidential race.

Which leads back to the evaluation commission. And, in another example, the executive board's move Feb. 12 to cut wrestling from the 2020 Games.

The 50-point reform plan passed in late 1999 in response to the Salt Lake City corruption scandal took away one of the perks of membership, visits to cities bidding for the Games.

Was the goal of the ban to keep the members honest? Reality check: if you want, you can meet an IOC member anywhere in the world. Still.

The goal was to keep the cities honest.

Now: has the IOC achieved what it sought?

The answer has to come in three different parts.

Has there been another bid-related corruption scandal? No.

But has the cost of the bid-city process come down? Hardly. It is now routine for cities to spend $50 million or more on bids -- $75 or $80 million, maybe more, is not uncommon. Bluntly, there is no way, given that accounting systems in different parts of the world vary in transparency, to know how much every single bid cost.

Moreover, has the IOC actually gotten what it thought it was buying when it voted?

Just two examples:

Beijing 2008? It made history, yes. In bidding for the Games, the Chinese fixed the investment at $14 billion. It turned out to be $40 billion, probably more.

London 2012? A rousing success on many levels. But, again, a construction and infrastructure budget that ended up way high, at roughly $14 billion. That was nearly four times the estimate provided in London's 2005 bid book.

Though the world will be transfixed come September on whether the IOC picks Madrid, Istanbul or Tokyo, the back story is that last February, Rome – one of the world’s great capitals – bowed out of the 2020 race, saying it was too expensive to play. That is a huge warning sign.

And the IOC has for several cycles had trouble finding enough qualified Winter Games bids. Annecy, the 2018 French candidate, received only seven votes.

Rogge has been a vocal proponent of the system as it is now. With his term ending, however, perhaps the time has come to suggest a review – or at least for a presidential candidate to explore whether, in a broader context, the time is now to somehow more empower the members in the bid-city  process.

Because, obviously, the underlying principle of that process now is that the members can't be trusted not to take bribes if they go on fact-finding missions.

If you were a presidential candidate, would you say that principle empowered your fellow members, or not?

To reinstate member visits would certainly involve complex logistical and financial steps. For instance, would the cities pay? Or the IOC?

Are these issues, however, at least worth serious discussion? A winning bid is worth billions of dollars; visits by 100 members would run seven figures. There is a compelling argument that’s a worthwhile investment on all sides.

Compare that to the way it works now:

The evaluation commission, which itself costs significant money, prepares a report -- most members could not truthfully say they read it, word for word -- and the bid cities get to make presentations, with videos and speeches, to the full IOC. When you ask the members to make a decision on a project worth billions, is that a best-practices method?

Reporters are allowed to go on the evaluation visits. They get to read the evaluation report and watch the presentations. Yet the members have votes but reporters don’t. What’s the disconnect there?

Not to say that Rio de Janeiro still wouldn't have won in 2009 for 2016 but Chicago figures to have gotten more than 18 votes if there had been visits; to this day, how many members have seen the beauty and potential of the Chicago lakefront?

Sochi probably still would have won in 2007 for 2014 -- it had the best story -- but what would the members have thought if they had gone there and seen the palm trees by the Black Sea and then nothing but forest up in the mountains?

Moreover, the Sochi project – with capital costs budgeted at roughly $10 billion, in 2006 dollars, in the bid book -- is now north of $50 billion.

In Sochi, the Russians were starting from scratch. It's one thing to look at the bid file and see $10 billion, which is course a ton of money; it's quite another to be there, up in the Krasnaya Polyana, in the forbidding geography, and wonder just how much money and manpower it would take to make it into a Winter Olympic site.

Sometimes there really just is no substitute for seeing something with your own eyes.

As for wrestling – this time around, it was wrestling that got the executive board’s boot. Who's got next? Which Summer Games sport, or sports, will it be then?

Unless the system changes with the new president, the “core” is due to be reviewed every four years. That means the next call is after Rio, in 2017.

The 25 that are, right now, the “core” – nowhere is it written that come 2017 they will be the core again.

What that means is that – just to keep the focus on the Summer Games -- the sports are living, like zombies, in a state of permanent dread. (Swimming and track and field excepted. It’s not written that they are mainstays. But they are.)

What it also underscores is the process: The IOC program commission undertook a study. The executive board, acting on that study, voted on the “core.” It will vote again in May on which sports to present to the floor in September. So what are the members’ choices? Take it or leave it? Or risk raucous debate? Since one memorable session in Mexico City in 2002, such debate has not been the IOC way under the Rogge presidency.

No wonder there is already talk that a new president has to find a different way.

And one final thing. The 1999 reforms mandated that newer members have to give up their membership at age 70. In the 13-plus years since, what has been learned is that many sports officials don’t even get to be in position to become IOC members until their early 60s. By the time they then learn their way around, the rules say they have to leave.

Wouldn’t the smart presidential candidate push to raise that age limit to 75?

Indeed, wouldn’t the smart candidate simply be framing a platform all around with the notion of seeking to empower the members as much as possible?

Doesn’t that just make sense?


Rogge's final months -- and what's next

SEOUL -- Jacques Rogge has been president of the International Olympic Committee for nearly 12 years. He has held hundreds, if not thousands, of news conferences and briefings. He presided over another one Friday at a downtown hotel as the rain came down hard and cold here in Seoul, reporters and camera crews shaking off the water like poodles after a walk, and then came the usual breathless questioning from some of the local reporters met by the president's calm and measured responses, a scene from a real-life movie that has played out before many, many times.

It was odd in its way to think that this set piece will soon be coming to an end. But these are indeed the final months of Rogge's presidency; he steps down at the IOC session in Argentina in September. There the IOC will choose his successor.

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge at Friday's Seoul news conference // photo courtesy Korea Herald

And while there wasn't any breaking news Friday -- there typically isn't at a standard-issue IOC press conference, only clues to what's really going on -- what was plainly and powerfully evident is that this year, 2013, holds the potential to re-shape the Olympic movement in far-reaching ways.

At issue are fundamental philosophies about where the IOC has been, is now and is going amid three decisive reckonings: what sports will be included at the Summer Games, what city will play host to the Games in 2020 and who will be the next president.

Given the way the IOC presidency works -- an eight-year term followed by another, shorter term of four more years -- the vote for Rogge's successor is essentially a once-in-a-generation event. Already in 2013, it frames the backdrop to most everything of significance happening in Olympic circles, even if subtly.

In two weeks, the IOC executive board, meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, will review the 26 sports that appeared on the London 2012 program, charged with cutting one to get to a "core" of 25.

Then -- as the year goes on, and even trying to describe the process is complicated -- it's possible the IOC will add sports. Or not.

Baseball and softball, for instance, which are trying to get back in as one entity, not two, will learn whether the basics of interpersonal dynamics ultimately will prove more potent than the merits of either sport.

Everyone knows it can sometimes be incredibly hard to admit you made a mistake, if indeed you did. Would an IOC that under Rogge's watch kicked both out be tempted now to double back and say, oh, we get it -- now we are going to let them back in?

As the February executive board meeting approaches, meanwhile, rumors have been increasingly fevered about which of the 26 sports might be the one left out.

Track and field, swimming and sailing -- Rogge competed in the Games as a sailor -- would seem to have nothing to worry about.

That said, modern pentathlon has been fighting to keep its place for years. It sparked a huge debate that consumed the IOC session in Mexico City in 2002. Now? The sport has undertaken a series of initiatives to make it easier to follow. Yet any realist can see that while the IOC is trying to reach out to a younger audience, and there are taekwondo gyms on seemingly every other block with little kids running around in their colored belts, a modern pentathlon enthusiast with a gun, a sword, a horse, a swimsuit and a pair of running shoes would be hard-pressed indeed to find a place to practice all its pieces.

Meanwhile, in September, the IOC will choose Madrid, Istanbul or Tokyo to be its 2020 Summer Games site. The process ramps up next month with visits by an evaluation commission to all three.

Which leads, in a circular way perhaps but inevitably, to the presidential campaign.

When Rogge took office, in July 2001, the IOC was still feeling its way after the Salt Lake City corruption scandal. The key element in a 50-point reform plan, passed in December 1999, bans the roughly 100 members from visiting cities bidding for the Games.

Rogge has been a vocal proponent for that rule. It seems to have prevented a recurrence of what happened in Salt Lake -- where bidders showered the members with inducements -- from happening elsewhere.

On the other hand, there's also the argument that rule fundamentally says to the members, many of whom are important personalities in their own countries: we don't trust you.

The way the process works now is that the evaluation commission undertakes four-day visits to each city and then produces a report. The full IOC meets a few months before the vote to go over the report and hear from the bid cities. Then they get together again a few months later, for the vote itself. The members vote after having the report available to read (which some don't), watching videos (maybe, if they're interesting) and taking in the presentations from the bid cities.

This for a process that costs hundreds of millions of dollars and is worth billions to the winning city and nation.

With great power comes great responsibility, goes the saying. Certainly the IOC wields enormous power. But does the bid city process -- as it is now -- assign to the members meaningful responsibility?

Thomas Bach of Germany is widely considered the leading presidential candidate. Ser Miang Ng of Singapore might well prove a strong challenger. And Richard Carrion of Puerto Rico has shown business skills to help keep the IOC strong in the global economic downturn.

The smart candidate, if he were to be moving around the world, meeting with other IOC members, listening to their observations, would surely hear some number of them say perhaps the time has come to look anew at the way things work. A lot of time has passed. No one is going back to Salt Lake City anytime soon.

Pyeongchang was selected the 2018 Winter Games host in 2011. Intriguingly, Rogge saw the place with his own eyes for the very first time this week. Simply put, there is no substitute for seeing something yourself.

Rogge said of Pyeongchang, "I had of course seen it in the bid book," adding, "When you see it in reality, you have another view. It is state of the art."

Which is what the IOC, of course, aspires to be.