2022 Bid Cities

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.


The kabuki theater of the 2022 evaluation commission


The kabuki theater that marked the two-stop International Olympic Committee’s evaluation commission for the 2022 Winter Games wrapped up Saturday in Beijing. In this and a prior trip to Almaty, Kazakhstan, it can be said to have accomplished practically nothing of consequence. Here is why. The technical merits of these two bids are practically irrelevant, even if one might like to argue back and forth about whether the ski jump in Almaty is so close you can touch it or the ski run is so far away from Beijing it might as well be in Mongolia.

This 2022 race is the worst the IOC has conducted in its modern history.

Worse, by far, even than the 1984 Games “race,” when Los Angeles was the only entry.

The IOC evaluation commission at the Beijing closing ceremony // photo courtesy Beijing 2022

Then at least you knew what was going to happen.

IOC elections can be unpredictable. Even so, this one would seem to be showing a lot of clarity already.

First and foremost, the 2008 Summer Games were in Beijing.

That means that some significant number of the IOC members have actually been to Beijing.

Moreover, the Nanjing Youth Games were just last summer. That means some number of members have been to China who knows how many times over the past several years and seen for themselves just how incredibly good the Chinese are at organizing Olympic events.

It’s true. The Chinese do grand Olympic scale stuff exceptionally well. Of course they do. This is not difficult: money plus resource plus the ability to tell people what to do equals prime-time showtime.

That gives Beijing a huge — and unfair  — advantage over Almaty.

The dumb IOC rule that says the members are not allowed to visit candidate cities means that in this context they can’t visit either Beijing or Almaty. But most have already been to Beijing. So when the time comes this July 31 to make a 2022 choice at the IOC assembly in Kuala Lumpur, and the members know from just seven years ago, or even just last summer, that the Chinese are hugely capable, what button are they most likely instinctively to push?

This dumb rule, meanwhile, cuts both ways. It’s currently three hours from Beijing to what would be the ski venues in 2022. If the members were able to sit on a bus for three long hours and think about that — even though the Chinese say they’re going to build a high-speed rail to cut the travel time to under an hour — would they still want Beijing?

How does such an expensive high-speed rail fit into Agenda 2020, the IOC’s purported reform agenda? Let’s be real. The Chinese say the rail line to the ski resort is unrelated to the Games. Who believes that? Without the Olympics, is there all of a sudden this drive to get 300 million Chinese — about the population of the entire United States — to embrace winter sports, which has abruptly, indeed over just the past few weeks, become one of the drivers of the Beijing 2022 campaign?

The Chinese are masters of propaganda. Nothing in and of itself wrong with that. All countries engage in the stuff. But the opportunity has been dropped into their laps for Beijing to become the first city in the history of the modern Olympics to stage both the Summer and Winter Games -- and this from a country that didn't even come back to the Summer Games until 1984. Incredible.

More straight talk, meanwhile: when the Chinese government promises its full resource, that’s a huge guarantee. Especially for the IOC, and its Winter Games.

The IOC’s winter franchise is wobbly. Think about this 2022 race. Stockholm, Lviv, Krakow and Oslo all pulled out. Munich, the 2018 runner-up, was going to get in but didn’t after a 2013 no-vote referendum and just a few days ago, the head of the German Olympic confederation, Alfons Hörmann, said what everybody in Olympic circles knows all too well:

“It is bitter that Almaty and Beijing are the only ones left. It is now clear that Munich would have been served the Games on a silver platter.”

With Thomas Bach, from Germany, as the IOC president — Munich would have won not just a silver platter, but one piled high with turkey and cranberries and all the fixings. Or German sausage. Or whatever.

The resource of the Chinese government is important, indeed, because the federal Kazakh authorities have been, for some reason, slow in coming to the table with their full faith and credit.

In so doing, the Kazakh government may have squandered some very valuable backstage relationships — key one-to-one ties that within senior IOC circles are well-known, indeed.

Take, for instance, this seemingly unremarkable picture, captured by Xinhua in mid-January:0023ae9885da1620a97c08

It shows Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah of Kuwait, one of the most influential personalities within the Olympic movement, with Chinese president Xi Jinping.

The sheikh is, among other things, head of the Assn. of National Olympic Committees. He is also head of the Olympic Council of Asia. He seemingly has a proven capacity to move dozens of votes.

Just to be obvious, both Kazakhstan and China are in Asia.

How should this simple picture be interpreted?

Until a picture shows up just like this that features the sheikh with Nursultan Nazarbayev, the president of Kazakhstan, it’s pretty easy to understand exactly what this photo says.

Especially when you add in these remarks from the Xinhua story accompanying the sheikh’s visit to Beijing, which on their face would seem completely benign but are actually anything but, you can begin to parse certain key elements of the 2022 dynamic.

“Calling China an important cooperation partner of the ANOC, Sheikh Ahmad said the country had demonstrated its capability to hold large-scale international sport events.

“The Beijing Olympics and the Nanjing Youth Olympics were the pride of China and Asia, he said.”

This is not to say that Almaty is totally foregone. The bid has a great spirit that perhaps is just what the IOC needs. It also speaks far more to Agenda 2020, if indeed that package is real instead of aspirational, than does the Beijing proposition.

There’s little to no snow up in the mountains three hours from Beijing. No worries, IOC executive director Christophe Dubi told reporters this week: the Chinese would store water in reservoirs to make artificial snow. As opposed to Almaty, where every winter there is, like, real snow, and lots of it.

“Basically,” the chairman of the evaluation commission, Russia’s Alexander Zhukov said in Beijing at the wrap-up news conference there, referring to the China plan, “it is cold enough and everywhere there is sufficient water.”

As an environmental proposition, which wins? Moreover, which fits better with Agenda 2020?

Speaking of the environment:

How the IOC can even begin to entertain more jibber-jabber about the unfathomably bad air quality in Beijing when the same noise came forth in 2001 about 2008? This week, while the IOC team was on the ground there, readings for a benchmark pollutant in the air were more than six times what the World Health Organization considers safe.

Politically, as well: imagine seven more years of local and global protests against Tibet and human rights?

Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter, which requires host cities to secure the “rights and freedoms” set out in the charter “without discrimination of any kind,” was revised in December, at the IOC session in Monaco, in line with recommendation 14 of the 40-point Agenda 2020.

Yet, as Human Rights Watch asserted last week, “discrimination — on the basis of sex, gender, ethnicity, disability and sexuality, among others — remains rampant throughout China.”

Sophie Richardson, the advocacy group’s China director, said, “Host selections can no longer be made on promises of flashy infrastructure or glitzy opening ceremonies but now must require respect for fundamental human rights. Will the IOC enforce its own standards?”

In that same spirit, International Tibet Network member groups last week issued a position paper that called on the IOC “to reject [the Beijing bid] and in the context of events in China after the 2001 decision to consider with extreme caution the bid of Kazakhstan.”

This, then, is the dilemma the IOC finds itself in — one entirely of its own making — in the aftermath of the 2022 evaluation visits, full of show and short on meaning.

It could have reopened the 2022 race when there was a window to do so. But no.

Now, having a few months ago enacted the Agenda 2020 package, it remains to be seen whether — aside from the implementation of the Olympic TV channel, which assuredly is real — the rest of it is so much talk or, like many other well-meaning IOC vehicles over the years, just so many words.

A picture, they say, is worth a thousand.


A four-nation re-think of the IOC bid process


A city campaigning for the 2010 Winter Games spent, on average, $9.5 million. That would have been in 2003. A city bidding for the 2018 Games averaged $34 million. That was in 2011, just eight years later. Yet approaching four times more. That’s just one of the many illuminating facts about the Olympic bid process in a far-reaching report released Tuesday as a project linking four prominent western European national Olympic committees. In recent months each — Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Sweden — saw Winter Games bids die before they ever really got started.

Chinese shoppers walk by a 3D mural outside a Beijing mall -- the Beijing capital, which staged the 2008 Summer Games, now one of three 2022 Winter bid cities // photo Getty Images

The simple reason why, of course, is Sochi, and the $51 billion figure associated with the 2014 Winter Olympics. That number has freaked out voters and governments alike. Layered on to that is public mistrust of the International Olympic Committee itself.

But as the report says, to assign blame to that number and to that element of mistrust alone would be an “oversimplification.”

Things, especially Olympic bids, can sometimes be complex. And so the impetus for the report, it says, is to try to do something constructive after would-be bids from Vienna (for 2028) and then Munich, the St. Moritz/Davos region and Stockholm (all 2022) died.

Then, of course, as it notes, in May the bid from Krakow, Poland, got shot down (also 2022). Beyond which, too, the bid from Oslo, which just last week got passed through to the 2022 finalist stage, may be barely hanging on — the IOC noting in a working group report that its own polling numbers found only 36 percent support in Norway for the project.

The IOC also put Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan, through as 2022 finalists. It will select the 2022 city in July, 2015.

The four-nation review got underway in February amid those Sochi Olympics, with two meetings there; another meeting took place May 13 in Frankfurt, Germany.

The “crucial” intent, the report released Tuesday says, is “to strengthen the confidence of the public in the Olympic movement.” The “overall aim” is to “rethink the bidding procedure in order to reduce complexity and increase transparency and flexibility for potential bid cities.”

The document, entitled "The Bid Experience," is punctuated not only with intriguing facts about the bid process but with a series of recommendations aimed at informing IOC president Thomas Bach’s “Olympic Agenda 2020” review and potential reform process, now underway and working toward an all-members session in Monaco in December.

It is an open question, of course, whether the IOC will adopt any or all of the recommendations.

One does not, however, have to search far and wide to understand the significance of this report. It was  produced in part by the current IOC president’s former national Olympic committee. It comes loaded with interesting and intriguing proposals and recommendations. It is written in English for easy downloading around the world. And it is timed, even if coincidentally, so it can be read for the Agenda 2020 “summit” meeting of key stakeholders in just a few days at IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.

In sum, the report asks for four things: “more support in bidding”; “more certainty in process”; “more partnership in risk”; “more flexibility in scale.”

What that means:

First and foremost, as Bach himself made plain amid last week’s meeting of the IOC’s policy-making executive board in Lausanne, the IOC faces an extraordinary communications challenge in explaining the “budget structure of the Olympic Games.”

The report says such explaining that structure has seemingly proven “utterly impossible.”

Frankly, it’s not.

It can be done in two easy paragraphs.

First, there is the operational budget of the Games. This budget is what it costs to put on the Games. For the Winter edition, this usually runs to roughly $1.5 to $2 billion.

Second, there is everything else. This is variously called the capital or infrastructure costs. This includes needed sports venues, support infrastructure and, moreover, what a city, state, region or nation decides it wants to build — for public policy reasons — using the Olympics as catalyst.

This second element is at the root of the wide-ranging perception of the Games as a bottomless money pit.

Addressing the communications aspect of the operational budget first because, honestly, it’s easier:

What is so perplexing, indeed confounding, is that the IOC itself now puts up a sum approaching half that $2 billion. It doled out $750 million to the organizing committee in Sochi; that sum will be $850 million in Pyeongchang, South Korea, host of the 2018 Winter Games. How is it that message isn’t getting out?

Seriously: who wouldn’t want — by the time 2022 comes around — nearly $1 billion? Another interesting, can’t-be-denied fact is that the IOC traditionally likes repeat bidders. Pyeongchang, for instance, won for 2018 after coming up short in 2010 and 2014. But, as the report observes, for 2022, for the first time since the campaign for the 2006 Games, won by Torino, Italy, there is not even one repeat bidder from the prior cycle. Not one.

Clearly, the IOC has not done a sufficient job in recent years of explaining the benefits of a Games to taxpayers and governments, and particularly throughout its traditional base, western Europe.

Indeed, given a nearly $1-billion head start and the economics of a modern Winter Games, it would seem almost impossible for an organizing committee not to make — this is the preferred term of art in the Olympic sphere — a “surplus” (not a “profit,” though they are exactly the same).

And yet that message is — obviously — not getting across.

As the report says, the IOC “should better explain and clearly show the financial contributions it makes to the organizing committees of the Olympic Games,” because that would “ease the national public discussion about the cost of the Games and at the same time help to promote a better image of the IOC.”

As for infrastructure:

The communications challenge is that for years the IOC has done virtually nothing in addressing, much less helping, its purported partners — from bid stage to franchisees actually putting on the successive editions of the Games — explain why or how various infrastructure or capital projects might or might not be worthwhile in the near- or long-term.

To that end, the report suggests the IOC might think about co-funding a communication campaign — perhaps with funds from the Olympic Solidarity program, which come from on-the-rise IOC broadcast rights  — as soon as a city plunges in. That, though, the report stresses, would mean a huge paradigm shift — all involved, perhaps including the IOC itself, would have to see the IOC “not as a counterpart but as a partner for interested cities.”

Fascinatingly, the report shows that just 54 percent of all necessary venues actually exist when a city decides to bid. What that means is that bid cities planned to spend an average of about $400 million for Winter Games sports venues. The venues mostly missing? Ice halls. The problem? Who needs big ice arenas after a Games?

The dilemma? It’s a “lesser of two evils” game, the report says. Temporary venues are simply not cost-efficient, at $1,000 per seat; then again, building and dismantling runs even higher. The answer? More flexibility from the IOC, the report suggests. Soccer games at the Summer Olympics are scattered about a host nation. Why not the same for ice hockey at the Winter Olympics?

As for the delicate subject of the IOC voting itself, the report notes, as everyone involved with the process has long understood, the IOC’s so-called “technical evaluations” — that is, its reviews of a city’s facilities and operational capabilities — can sometimes mean little if nothing when it comes to balloting itself.

Cities with low technical grades have not infrequently emerged as winners — see Sochi 2014 and Rio 2016. Dryly, the report says, “This may, however, be related to the strict prohibition for IOC members to visit bid cities during the bid process,” a subject that may be revisited during the Monaco meeting.

The report says it may be “necessary” to “reconsider” how bid cities are selected. It asks:

What if the IOC split the candidate city vote into two equally weighted parts?

One — representing the technical evaluation, with a ranking of all bid cities?

Two — the vote of the IOC members?

That, while surely provocative, is not the most striking set of observations and recommendations in the report.

This is:

“Sustainability,” the report says, is now a buzzword. The IOC talks a lot about it. It even has its own get-together, the IOC World Conference on Sport and the Environment, and gives awards for sustainable initiatives. But, the report says, those awards focus mainly on environmental impact.

That’s not enough, the report says.

Most businesses now have a corporate social responsibility department. The IOC?

Point: the IOC has reached out to the United Nations in multiple ways over the past year. Counterpoint: as the UN’s Environmental Program wrote, according to the report, the Sochi 2014 project marked a “general economic development in which environmental aspects [played] only a minor role.”

It is “very important,” the report says, that “sustainability is understood in the broadest sense possible, including not only environmental but also social, ethical and economical sustainability and thereby also human rights.

“The IOC has to clearly define not only its understanding of sustainability but also its values and goals in this context.”

Further, the report says, the IOC should implement a “comprehensive and transparent” monitoring process — to make sure its defined sustainability, those values and goals, are being maintained during “all phases of bidding, planning and staging” of an Olympics.

It is “crucial” — that word again — that there be “sanction possibilities” for the monitoring body to wield. Again, the report makes plain, this is a credibility issue: “The criterion sustainability, already a critical fact in the public perception, needs to become a ‘hard fact’ within the bidding procedure,” not only part of the bid documents but of the host city contract as well.

Finally, a big-picture point:

Of course, national Olympic committees agree to the Olympic charter. Within the Olympic world, that’s a given. It’s also the case that the IOC can not force country X or Y to “obtain the charter and to value ethical standards and human rights,” for it has no such authority.

But, the report adds in a thought-provoking notion, it is “responsible that the Olympic Games do so.”


Whole lotta love for Oslo in IOC report


LAUSANNE, Switzerland — International Olympic Committee evaluation and working group documents are, it is said, strenuously neutral. The IOC purportedly doesn’t rate or rank cities in campaigns for the Summer or Winter Games. Yet the 2022 working group report that was issued Monday as the IOC passed the three remaining cities — Oslo, Beijing, Almaty — on to the finalist phase is so transparently obvious. It unequivocally favors Oslo, perhaps merely in a bid to keep it in the race, or maybe more. It is relatively positive about Beijing though it makes plain that distances are profound and a sense of why the Games ought to go there ought to be refined. And it is curiously skeptical about Almaty.

Perhaps this more direct tone is in keeping with other facets of this first year of the Thomas Bach presidency. In a striking change from the Jacques Rogge years, for instance, there were no Olympic bid consultants on hand at IOC headquarters here at the Chateau de Vidy, by the shores of Lake Geneva; Bach has made it plain that he finds such consultants unnecessary if not distasteful.

Gilbert Felli, the outgoing Games executive director, delivered a remarkable soliloquy Monday evening at a news conference that referred obliquely to such consultants, and also to the fact that three other cities -- Stockholm, Munich and Lviv, Ukraine -- dropped out along the way to Monday's decision by the executive board to pass Oslo, Beijing and Almaty through. If it is rare to hear the IOC refer to blame, much less to itself, consider:

"In every situation you should never blame the others. And probably the IOC is the first one to be blamed.

"It may not be able to explain what you are telling now about different models. Not be able to explain the different budgets. Not be able to explain to some people that if you want to have for your own city, your own region a new train, a new road, new investments — it’s going to cost you more money …

"So what we tried to do here — first of all, the IOC needs to communicate beforehand. Second, the IOC should be open. As you know, until now, the IOC never discussed with bidding cities before we got the report of the first phase," meaning what it calls the "applicant" phase, which for 2022 ended Monday, the race turning now to the "candidate" phase.

"And even between the two phases, we don’t discuss much. The idea was developed in the 2020 Working Group -- to say the IOC probably should have an office or a place where people can come or propose a concept or try and see. Because who is advising the cities? Outside advisers. People who are saying to the cities, you know if you don’t do that, the IOC member will not support you. If you don’t do that, then you’ve got the perception of the IOC given by outsiders and not by the IOC itself.

"So in the communication — and that’s the lesson from this [2022] campaign here — we lost good cities because of the bad perception of the IOC, the bad perception of how the concept could be done. We have to learn our lesson. The one to be blamed is the IOC. But we have to work in a different way of the bidding process."

The report issued Monday, as Felli noted, might highlight that Almaty holds "excellent raw materials" though "you could see that maybe they are a bit behind on understanding the concept."

Then again, big-picture, perhaps there is the legitimate belief Almaty might win, and it may well be that there are those in certain IOC circles who are honestly not sure about that. Almaty staged the 2011 Asian Winter Games. It’s going to stage the 2017 Winter University Games. It has resource and ambition and a ski jump in the middle of town. If Sochi was too warm, not to worry. Almaty will be plenty cold.

Beijing, of course, put on the 2008 Summer Games and is seeking to become the first city to stage both the Summer and Winter Games. There is, though, the matter of geography. The Winter Games will be in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018, the Summer Olympics in Tokyo in 2020. Will the IOC pull a three-peat and go back to eastern Asia, to China, in 2022?

From its first words, it’s clear how much the report loves Oslo: “With winter sport as part of the country’s national identity, Oslo’s vision is to share its passion, expertise and experience by delivering an outstanding celebration of sport and solidarity in a fast growing, young and ethnically diverse city whilst promoting Oslo as a winter sports capital.”


That’s like advertising copy.

The report runs through 14 separate categories, ranging from weather to Games concept to finance. Oslo ranks first in eight of the 14 and ties with Beijing in three more. Almaty is not first even once; it does, however, sit last in 11 of 14.

The report even treats Oslo gently in the category in which Oslo is unequivocally not good, public support. An IOC poll in Oslo and the surrounding area shows only 36 percent support for the Games with 50 percent against. On a one-to-10 scale, the report ranks that as a minimum 5/maximum 7.

It does make one wonder what one has to do to get a 2 or 3 when a 36 gets you a 5.

To compare:

At this stage, the Tokyo 2020 bid got a minimum 6/maximum 9 from the IOC when its poll ratings were 47 percent — with 30 percent offering no opinion and 23 percent opposed to the Games.

Glossed over in one brief sentence in section eight of the Oslo profile is that it’s two hours and 20 minutes by bus or two hours and 10 minutes by train from Oslo to Lillehammer. And then you’ve got to get to the venues.

Beijing’s plan involves one city and two mountain clusters. From Beijing itself to one of the mountain clusters, the report says, travel time would be two hours and 44 minutes. Anyone who was in China for the 2008 Games — the report notes that 2:44 would be “long.”

Almaty, by contrast, offers a compact venue plan. The longest travel time, the report says, would be an hour, to the alpine ski venue.

Where Almaty does rank first, by the way, is in the size of its construction budget: $3.78 billion.

Beijing proposes $2.24 billion, Oslo $2.75 billion.

Bach, speaking earlier Monday, said, “The IOC is very happy to see three very different approaches with regard to the organization of the Games. This gives the IOC a choice among three diverse bids with different legacy plans with different approaches, with different budgets.”

Referring to his far-reaching review and potential reform plan, which the members will consider at an assembly in Monaco in December, Bach continued, “This is exactly in line with the discussions we are having with ‘Olympic Agenda [2020],’ where we want to encourage just this diversity, where we want to encourage sustainability and the feasibility of the organization of the Olympic Games.”

The report, meanwhile, lays out Almaty’s commercial estimates revenues of $1.055 billion. It immediately notes, “Sponsorship may be optimistic given the scale of the economy,” which it helpfully points out is the 46th largest in the world.

In case anyone could possibly have missed the point, the report also says, on the same page, “Given the size of the economy and its reliance on oil, there may be challenges in supporting the significant investments in competition and non-competition venues necessary for the Games, unless there is extraordinary government support and the economy is strong.”

In Kazakhstan, there is still “some way to go” to bring the security apparatus “up to international standard.”

There appears to be “limited accommodation options for spectators, mainly in alternative and university accommodation.”

Anything else? Oh, just this: “Almaty lies on a fault line and is prone to earthquakes.”

The report does say, “While there are many environmental challenges facing the city and country, the opportunity of the Games could be a catalyst for significant improvements.”

For Almaty supporters: it’s not clear if many, even any, IOC members read these reports. Also, Rio got dinged in the working group report for 2016; it would eventually win going away.

As Almaty 2022 executive board member Andrey Kryukov said here Monday, referring to the three cities, “I think now three are favorites.”




$51 billion, and now these three


LAUSANNE, Switzerland — As the Rolling Stones so memorably put it, you can’t always get what you want, and that’s worth keeping in mind as the International Olympic Committee announced Monday that it was passing the only three cities remaining through as finalists for the 2022 Winter Games — Oslo, Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan. The Stones also said you get what you need. Is this, really, what the IOC needs? Just three cities in the entire world want the Winter Games, and only one in western Europe, the IOC’s traditional home — and that one, Oslo, is not yet a solid bet to even make it to the finish line next July?

This much is entirely clear: this situation is entirely of the IOC’s making.

It ought to offer cause for deep reflection and much soul-searching.

IOC President Thomas Bach announcing the three 2022 candidate cities

There are two central challenges confronting the IOC.

One: the perception of how much the Games cost. The other: the way the IOC itself is too often seen.

It's also the case that Thomas Bach, the IOC president, understands these matters, and acutely. It's clear from his language and his signals over the past weeks and months that he knows three things: one, that perception has become reality; two, that in confronting perception, he is also confronting the realities of a communication challenge; and, three, that it may well take time to turn things around.

At issue, first and foremost, is the $51 billion figure associated with the 2014 Sochi Games. That figure has severely affected potential Winter Games hosts in established economies and markets. Whether that figure is real or not, whether it is misinformation or misinterpreted or not — it does not matter. For now, for all the amazing performances on the ice and snow, a primacy legacy of Sochi is $51 billion.

Beijing 2008 cost $40 billion, it is believed. London 2012 cost $14 billion. Rio 2016 is now on track to cost at least $17 billion, and climbing.

To put it in a context that’s easily understandable, the collection of these numbers have voters and governments freaked out.

The very first warning sign surfaced in the 2020 Summer Games campaign. In February, 2012, Rome withdrew, the then-premier, Mario Monti, saying that a projected $12.5 billion budget was too much.

Then, though, came London. Those Games rocked. You’d think that would spur massive interest across western Europe, right?

Instead, in March, 2013, voters in Switzerland ended a 2022 bid for St. Moritz and Davos. It’s not as if they don’t love the Games there, either: St. Moritz staged the Winter Games in 1928 and 1948.

A few days later, voters in Austria rejected a 2028 plan. Innsbruck put on the 2012 Winter Youth Games; it staged the 1976 and 1964 Winter Games. And Salzburg bid for the 2014 and 2010 Winter Games.

Last November, German voters killed a Munich 2022 bid. Munich probably would have won for 2022 easily. The city played host to the 1972 Summer Games. It had bid for and lost (to Pyeongchang, South Korea) for 2018; Garmisch-Partenkirchen, about an hour south, had staged the 1936 Winter Games.

This January, Stockholm pulled out of the 2022 campaign, the City Council saying it was too expensive. Stockholm staged the 1912 Summer Games.

In May, voters in Krakow, Poland, voted no on 2022. Too expensive, they said by a whopping margin.

Oslo put on the 1952 Winter Games. Lillehammer staged the 1994 Winter Games; the IOC will go back to Lillehammer for the 2016 Winter Youth Games.

The Oslo bid is hanging on, if barely, waiting to see if the Norwegian government will — later this year — put up certain financial guarantees.

An opinion poll commission by the Oslo 2022 bid committee at the beginning of 2014 showed 36 percent support in all of Norway for the idea of hosting the Games. That is, in a word, dreadful. The IOC likes to see 70 percent or better.

An IOC poll in Oslo and the surrounding municipal areas, released Monday as part of its 2022 working group report, again came back with 36 percent support. A full 50 percent were against the Games.

Compare and contrast: 65 percent support in Almaty (not fantastic but edging toward tolerable) and 77 percent in Beijing.

The reason for the 36 percent figure in Oslo is easy: $51 billion.

In the abstract, it makes perfect sense that Russia, in the aftermath of the breakup of the Soviet Union, had to create new winter sports facilities. Seriously: it had to to go other countries just to hold its own national championships.

This was one of the primary reasons why the Russians, in 2007, bid for 2014.

The disconnect is why $51 billion.

The Russians didn’t just build sports facilities. They built two new cities from scratch — Adler, for the ice venues, and Krasnaya Polyana, up in the mountains. All that took massive infrastructure.

Whether or not there was corruption that went with all that construction is of course a question open for potentially considerable discussion. The books in Russia are not open in the same way they might be in, say, the United States.

The 2014 Games — that is, the operating budget — cost nowhere near $51 billion. It was roughly $2 billion.  The Sochi 2014 committee two weeks ago put out a news release touting a $261 million profit — though government subsidies given to the committee totaled at least $420 million.

If you’re counting, that “profit” amounted to roughly 0.5 percent of $51 billion.

This leads into the next challenge.

Basic math.

Any Olympics features two separate budgets.

The IOC has, seemingly forever, not been able to explain the difference between operational and capital budgets.

This, though, is the conundrum, and the IOC kinda sorta wants to have it both ways. It is absolutely the case that one of the reasons so many mayors, governors and prime ministers want an Olympics is elemental public policy. A Games imposes a fixed deadline: you can get done in seven years what would otherwise take 20, 30 or more.

It’s most helpful to the IOC for it to focus on the “operational” side, so that if Country X wants to spend like mad on metro lines, roads, airports and more, that is a matter for the people and government of Country X.

The problem here is the tipping point of $51 billion. If $40 billion in 2008 didn’t do it, $51 billion in 2014 for sure did. That creates a perception problem worldwide for — the IOC.

Which leads directly more broadly to the next challenge.

The IOC has long dealt in crisis communication. Think, for instance: are the Games in Rio going to happen?

One of the reasons the IOC is in the fix it is in now is plain: its communication strategy, day-to-day, is almost non-existent.

The IOC, over the past 15-plus years, has launched winning campaigns such as “celebrate humanity.” It has touted the Olympic values: “friendship, excellence, respect.” But if I were to walk out of the classroom where I teach at the University of Southern California and cross Exposition Boulevard to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, center of the 1932 and 1984 Games, and ask 10 people what the IOC stands for, the bet here is I would get a blank stare.

That has to change.

The more than 100 IOC members frequently get rapped for being fat cats who care only about five-star hotels and limousines. Maybe. Or maybe they are, for the most part, exceptionally smart people who are hugely qualified, volunteering of their time and energy, giving up weekends, holidays and family time to try, little by little, to make the world a better place through sport. Why isn’t that story being told?

In their countries, the IOC members can and should be incredible resources. Yet for the most part they aren’t being used. Why not?

It’s not like they are lacking for ideas. When they got together for their meeting in February in Sochi, they flooded the president, Thomas Bach, with 211 “interventions,” as comments and questions from the floor are called in IOC lingo.

In the public perception, though, the members are seen as distant and remote. And you wonder why the IOC has an image problem?

Bjorn Daehlie, the Norwegian cross-country ski champion who is now a businessman, in Lausanne Monday as part of the Oslo 2022 team, said of the talks underway now in his country relating to the bid and, ultimately, the financial guarantees, “I’m confident these discussions which are taking place now are important discussions. We needed these discussions. They thought all this money went into a big sack in Lausanne and these guys were driving in these black cars spending this money. So this is, I think — this is, huge, positive.”

He added, “I think a lot of other countries need to learn more about the work the IOC does for sport in general.”

Bach visited Norway a few weeks back, ostensibly to review Lillehammer's 2016 preparations.

"If you listen to Mr. Bach between the lines, he wants all countries to be able to host the Olympic Games," Daehlie said Monday.

Which, as the IOC moved the three cities on to become 2022 finalists, should lead in a straight line to the next issue.

The IOC must reinstate bid visits by the members.

As a reaction to the late 1990s Salt Lake City scandal, the IOC banned such visits. That was understandable then. The time has come now to allow the members to see the cities.

For one, it’s patently absurd that reporters — who are allowed to follow the IOC evaluation commission around — can know more about the cities than the members. The stakes are too high.

For another, now that NBC and the IOC have struck a $7.75 billion deal through 2032, it’s not as if there isn’t money available for the IOC to fund such visits. Take the financial incentive away from the cities.

Most importantly, however, there is no way that Bach can travel the world and hold out the IOC as a paragon of good governance and credibility if his own members can not be trusted to visit the cities bidding for the right to stage the Games.

It’s that simple -- though whether the members themselves will, ultimately, see it that way is entirely uncertain.

The bid-city issue is part of Bach's far-reaching “Agenda 2020” program, which is working its way toward an all-members review in December in Monaco.

In his comments Monday, the president said the IOC’s policy-making executive board was “impressed by the legacy plans” of each of the cities and noted that “it is good to see” that, at the outset, each understood the key difference between operating and capital budgets.

He also said the IOC sought to "encourage sustainability and the feasibility of the organization of the Olympic Games."

He said, “So we have a very good choice.”


The Oslo 2022 conundrum

The International Olympic Committee finds itself early this week in Oslo in a conundrum of its own making. On the one hand, it is assuredly the IOC’s responsibility to encourage strong bids to come forward. Thus Oslo 2022. On the other, in politics – even, perhaps especially, sports politics – perceptions can matter as much as reality. Thus, again, Oslo 2022.

A high-powered IOC delegation, led by the president himself, Thomas Bach, visits Norway Monday and Tuesday for a series of meetings revolving primarily – there are other sessions – around preparations for the 2016 Winter Youth Games in Lillehammer.

Norway's Anette Sagen during a 2013 FIS World Cup ski jump event at the famed Holmenkollen venue // photo Getty Images

The timing comes at a fraught juncture for the Oslo 2022 bid, which all involved are keenly aware.

Thus the dilemma:

Is this good for the IOC? For Oslo 2022? Or, owing to layers of complexities, is this trip ultimately not likely to prove helpful for an Oslo 2022 campaign?

To set the stage:

The IOC agreed to these series of meetings in Norway weeks if not months ago.

As the longtime Olympic British journalist David Miller spelled out in the newsletter Sport Intern in a column published Saturday, the two-day itinerary begins Monday with meetings at the Olympic Sports Center and the Norwegian School of Sports Science.

The IOC president is due thereafter to take lunch with Norway’s King Harald at the Royal Castle along with Norway IOC member, Gerhard Heiberg. After that, Miller reports, the IOC delegation – which includes the likes of senior IOC member Ser Miang Ng, who is the new finance commission chair as well as Singapore’s ambassador to Norway for many years, and Angela Ruggiero, chair of the Lillehammer 2016 coordination commission – is due to “exchange ideas” with Norway’s culture minister, Thorhild Wedvey, and Oslo’s mayor, Stian Berger Rosland.

More meetings Monday are due to follow, with three NGOs, with four labor groups and, finally, with members of parliament.

On Tuesday, the scene shifts to Lillehammer itself, Miller reports, for a series of meetings, including with Ottavio Cinquanta (head of the skating federation), Rene Fasel (hockey federation chief) and Gian-Franco Kasper (ski and snowboard federation No. 1).

Also due to be on-hand from the IOC side, according to Miller: the outgoing Olympic Games executive director, Gilbert Felli, and the IOC director general, Christophe de Kepper.


Assuming, indeed, that everyone shows up -- that is some serious IOC star power.

A bit more background:

There are five applicant cities in the 2022 bid race: Oslo; Almaty, Kazakhstan; Beijing; Lviv, Ukraine; and Krakow, Poland.

It’s not clear Krakow will make it past a May 25 referendum.

Lviv, of course, is struggling with enormous turbulence in the eastern part of the country. The IOC last week gave Ukraine’s national Olympic committee $300,000 just so its athletes could make it to training camps and meets this year.

The IOC’s policy-making executive board is due in early July to decide which of the five “applicants” will become “candidate” finalists. The IOC will pick the 2022 winner in July, 2015.

Almaty and Beijing would seem to be shoo-ins. They are both, of course, from Asia.

So who is going to make it from Europe?

It’s not exactly a secret that Norwegians love winter sports, indeed the Winter Games. The 1994 Lillehammer Games are often cited as the “best-ever.” Norway leads the overall Winter Games medal count, with 329, and the gold count, too, with 118 (the U.S. is second in both categories, 282 and 96).

The athlete who has won the most Winter Games medals? Biathlon king Ole Einar Bjorndalen of Norway, the new IOC member, with 13. He won two gold medals in Sochi in February -- just a couple weeks after turning 40.

Next? Cross-country ski god Bjorn Daehlie of Norway, with 12, eight gold.

Next, three athletes, one of whom is female Norwegian cross-country ski legend Marit Bjorgen, with 10 Olympic medals, six gold. In Sochi, age 33, she won three gold medals, among them the grueling 30-kilometer event.

Look, any Oslo bid for the Games would understandably be taken very seriously. For obvious reasons.

Two weeks ago, however, one of two Norwegian government parties voted against supporting Oslo’s 2022 bid. At issue now is whether the government will offer the needed financial guarantees.

The imperative – at least for now – is that the IOC would seem to need Oslo for the 2022 race more than Oslo needs the Winter Games. That is the box. And everyone in Olympic circles knows it.

At the same time, while Norwegians may love the Winter Games, it’s pretty clear there are some strong feelings about the bid, and they may be directly tied to the IOC. And those feelings may not be so positive.

A new poll conducted by the research firm Norstat for NRK, the Norwegian Broadcast Corporation, suggests that 60 percent of the Norwegian public is against an Oslo 2022 bid – with only 35 percent in favor.

“No, it is a considerable skepticism, and I think a lot of the information that has been around the IOC has increased that skepticism,” Christian Democratic Party leader Knut Arild Hareide said.

Bach has been in office for about nine months. He has shown an inclination to lead in a style that evokes some of the ways of Juan Antonio Samaranch, the IOC president from 1980-2001, who understood – appropriately – that the IOC is not just a sports institution but one that moves with nation-states and with influential political leaders.

Thus, for instance, the lunch with the Norwegian king as well as the exchanges with, for instance, the culture minister.

Too, Bach is possessed – this is meant to be a compliment – of first-rate confidence. You have to have such confidence to direct the IOC, a global institution with a multibillion-dollar budget. By definition, the position lends itself to high-pressure decision making. Bach took a decision to have this two-day meeting, and it is on.

He is also riding a wave of can-do. Sochi is in the rear-view mirror. The IOC and NBC just struck a $7.75 billion deal through 2032.

Even so, does the IOC president himself need to assess what’s going on in Lillehammer with regard to the 2016 Youth Games, when those Games are nearly two years away -- Feb. 12-21, 2016 -- and, besides, it’s well-known the Youth Games are way down the IOC priority list?

For this purpose, doesn’t he already have a coordination commission? And the chair of that commission is, you know, in Norway for this trip?

If this trip were just about Lillehammer, why meet with the mayor of Oslo?

It is also the case that the Norwegians doubtlessly would have some interesting – perhaps even some constructively provocative – ideas to offer regarding Olympic Agenda 2020, the far-reaching IOC study program the IOC president has launched that is now working its way toward the all-members session in Monaco in December. That would explain the sessions with the NGOs and the other Monday afternoon meetings, for instance.

But are the Norwegians the only ones in the entire world with suggestions so potentially clever that the president has to hear them in person?

And, this, coincidentally enough, before the July meeting at which the 2022 applicants are going to be passed through?

Earlier this year – the deadline was April 15 – the IOC took email submissions from anyone, anywhere who wanted to weigh in relating to Olympic Agenda 2020. Yet the Norwegians get an in-person audience with the IOC president himself?

Over the years, the IOC has gone to great – some would say extraordinary – lengths, particularly in the aftermath of the late 1990s Salt Lake City scandal, to keep its distance from anything that sniffed of even the hint of the appearance of conflict of interest in the bid cycle.

For instance, the IOC would not entertain sponsorship discussions from the Russian concern Gazprom while Sochi was bidding for the 2014 Games. Similarly, when Doha was trying, it would not entertain an approach from Qatar Airways even between bid cycles.

No one has suggested misconduct or wrongdoing in the slightest by either the Norwegians or the IOC. To repeat: nobody has said anybody is doing anything wrong.

And nobody is likely to.

The only people who would be likely to complain would be rival bid teams, in this instance most likely Almaty or Beijing.

How do you think it is going to go over when they read that the IOC president is in Oslo, and before the July executive board pass-through meeting?

If you were them, how would you react?

In private?

Now – what would you do about it?


Isn’t this, too, the dilemma?


The IOC's big bid problem

One of two Norwegian government parties voted Sunday against supporting Oslo’s bid for the 2022 Winter Games, Associated Press reported, in a three-paragraph story likely to be buried in the back pages of newspapers and de-emphasized by analytics monkeys at websites around the world. It’s 2014. It’s eight years until 2022. The International Olympic Committee isn’t even going to vote for the 2022 city until next year. Who could possibly care?

Everyone should care.

IOC president Thomas Bach leading the session in Sochi two days before the start of the 2014 Games // photo Getty Images

To put it another way — if you have even the most remote interest in the ongoing vitality of the Olympic movement, you should care.

To put it yet another way — the IOC has an enormous problem on its hands.

One notion here is to use the connotatively more neutral word “challenge” — as in,  the IOC has had a huge challenge for the last few bid cycles, and in particular Winter Games bid cycles, attracting enough interested and qualified cities.

Let’s be real, and the language has to reflect that reality.

The IOC has an enormous problem.

This big problem is of its doing, and is many, many years in the making.

The problem is complex.

It is various parts finance, governance, perception and (lack of, by the IOC) communication — with cities, states and nations saying the Games have become way, way, way too expensive; or they don’t like or don’t trust the IOC; or both.

Indeed, a 2008 survey by the British think tank One World Trust found that when looking at 30 corporations, inter-governmental agencies and non-governmental organizations, the IOC ranked 30th in what it called “accountability indicators,” suggesting it was the least accountable and transparent.

Ahead of the IOC on this ranking were such institutions as the International Atomic Energy Agency (29), NATO (28), Halliburton (26), Goldman Sachs (20) and Royal Dutch Shell (12).

In South Korea last Monday, at a good governance forum sponsored by the International Sport Cooperation Center, a Seoul National University professor, Min-Gyo Koo, reminded the audience of that survey, which in Olympic circles strangely has gotten little attention.

One of the panelists at the conference, Anita DeFrantz of the United States, now on the IOC executive board, a member since 1986, told the audience, “I cannot accept that we were behind Halliburton and Shell. That is not acceptable.”

Another panelist, Ivan Dibos of Peru, an IOC member since 1982, said, “”That No. 30 ranking could be looked at positively or negatively,” adding a moment later, “I take it as something positive and I rather prefer it that way.”

In the IOC’s defense, Koo said, at least the IOC made the top 30. Soccer governing body FIFA, he observed, didn’t.

This, then, is what it has come to — at least the IOC is on the list.

What it should be is this, as Koo also pointed out, the new IOC president, Thomas Bach, reminding one and all last December, albeit in the context of a dispute involving India’s national Olympic committee, “It’s about the principles … good governance for the IOC is a key issue. We need to be strict and to make sure the rules of good governance are applied.”

Governance is not sexy. But it is essential. And this should be a key focus of the IOC’s “Olympic Agenda 2020” process now working its way toward Monaco and the extraordinary session in December.

So should PR. The members of the IOC know it is a pass-through that keeps some percent of the money it takes in. Can they all say immediately what percent, to refute the perception the IOC is not some avaricious money-sucking beast? (It keeps roughly 10 percent, perhaps a touch less.) How many know the quadrennial Solidarity budget, which sends dollars back to developing countries for athlete development? (It’s $438 million for 2013-16.)

The same goes for finance — and the issue of how much the Games should cost.

The Sochi Games were, in hindsight, a success — but.

The $51 billion price tag for those Games is, in significant measure, its primary legacy, at least when it comes to the next couple bid cycles.

It does not matter — again and for emphasis, it does not matter one bit — whether that figure is true or not.

That is the number that is out there, and so that is the number everyone around the world believes.

It also does not matter — again, it simply does not matter — that the Games’ organizing budget was roughly a couple billion dollars and the rest went toward infrastructure.

The general public does not understand the difference between operating and infrastructure budgets. They don’t want to hear it. It’s all just money.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia had no winter sports facilities. Russia bid for the Games, and won. To get the job done, the Russians had to start from nothing. The short story of Sochi 2014 is that the Russians built two new cities, Adler and Krasnaya Polyana, from scratch.

That cost $51 billion.

The $51 billion question: who besides Russia has that kind of money?

China does. The 2008 Summer Games in Beijing purportedly cost roughly $40 billion.

This, then, is the problem.

Who in the world besides Russia or China has $40 or $51 billion just lying around? For a sports event that lasts 17 days -- even if, as the IOC consistently says, and virtually no one hears, most of that money is going toward roads, airports, metro lines, that kind of thing?

Big money. Big issues. Big problem.

It for sure does not help that Rio for 2016 is a hot mess.

Rio, too, is way, way, way over the initial infrastructure projections.

And despite the backtracking that IOC vice president John Coates engaged in after his initial comments last week — he’s now saying that, sure, Rio can “indeed deliver excellent Games” — it’s worth noting that in law school, they teach you in evidence class to pay attention to what people say when their message isn’t at risk for being shaped.

Coates, being an excellent lawyer, would surely know this.

What he said initially, of course, was that preparations for Rio — which he has visited six times as part of the IOC’s inspection team — were the “worst I have ever experienced.”

Sochi and Rio are the triggers.

The big problem facing the IOC, however, has been simmering for a long, long time. It is now finding increasing expression not just in Oslo but across western Europe, the IOC’s once and forever soul, which makes it all the more problematic.

In February, 2012, Rome withdrew from the 2020 campaign, the then-premier, Mario Monti, saying that a projected $12.5 billion was too much. Rome put on the 1960 Games.

In the afterglow of a European Summer Games in 2012, in London, arguably the best-ever Summer Olympics, voters in four -- and, now, maybe five -- separate countries have shot down Games bids:

In March, 2013, voters in Switzerland ended a 2022 bid for St. Moritz and Davos. St. Moritz staged the Winter Games in 1928 and 1948.

A few days later, voters in Austria rejected a Vienna 2028 plan. Innsbruck put on the 2012 Winter Youth Games; it staged the 1976 and 1964 Winter Games. And Salzburg bid for the 2014 and 2010 Winter Games.

Last November, balloting in Germany killed a Munich 2022 bid.

Munich would have been the presumptive 2022 favorite. The city played host to the 1972 Summer Games; it had bid for and lost (to Pyeongchang) for 2018; Garmisch-Partenkirchen, about an hour south, had staged the 1936 Winter Games.

Ludwig Hartmann, a Greens Party lawmaker and a leader of the movement, called “NOlympia,” that led the opposition to the plan, said, “The vote is not a signal against the sport but against the non-transparency and the greed for profit of the IOC.”

Meanwhile, a leading German newspaper, Süddeutschen Zeitung, had run a column comparing the IOC to the mafia and the “North Korean regime.”

This past January, Stockholm pulled the plug on a 2022 bid, the City Council saying the project was too expensive. Stockholm staged the 1912 Summer Games.

Now, Oslo.

Nearby Lillehammer staged the 1994 Winter Games, lauded by many as the best-ever. And Oslo itself put on the 1952 Winter Games.

The global economic situation has already affected the 2024 Summer Games race, too: Mexico City, Toronto and two Russian cities, Kazan and St. Petersburg, have already pulled back for a variety of finance-related reasons.

This is not just an Olympic Games problem. This is an Olympic movement problem. Last month, Hanoi dropped out of staging the 2019 Asian Games, the once-every-four-years event attracting thousands of athletes, citing financial concerns.

In theory, there are five applicants still in the 2022 Winter Games contest: Oslo; Beijing; Almaty, Kazakhstan; Lviv, Ukraine; and Krakow, Poland.

Polish voters are due to vote later this month about the Krakow bid. Polls suggest a difficult situation.

Lviv is in western Ukraine; the eastern sector of that country is being ripped by armed conflict and the fate of the bid is highly uncertain.

That might leaves only three for 2022. Or would it be two?

AP reported the Progress Party vote Sunday against supporting Oslo’s bid is “likely” to put the city out of the race. In Norway, the Conservative and Progress parties rule in a coalition government; Progress Party members said the Games would affect the government’s ability to fund infrastructure projects, education, health care and tax cuts.

For 2018, the IOC managed only three Winter Games candidates: Pyeongchang, Munich and Annecy, France. And in the end, Annecy managed only seven votes.

For 2014, the IOC deemed only three bids worthwhile enough to pass along for a vote: Sochi, Pyeongchang and Salzburg, Austria.

The Oslo bid’s immediate future depends perhaps on whether it can still get the government to underwrite the needed financial guarantees, and whether those guarantees can be offered before the IOC’s July 8-9 executive board meeting. That’s when the 2022 list will be cut to the finalists — the cities that will actually go to a vote in July, 2015.

The IOC — and let’s also be clear about this — has a huge interest in seeing Oslo stay in the race. If the Polish referendum goes badly and if the situation in Ukraine continues to deteriorate, Oslo would be it for Europe for 2022.

For now, though, there’s this, from Atle Simonsen, the head of the youth wing of the Progress Party, speaking to Norwegian public broadcaster NRK: “Believing that the Oslo Olympics would cost under 50 billion kroner,” about $8.4 billion, ”is like believing in Santa Claus, when the Sochi Olympics cost 500 billion.”