With Budapest out of the equation, an agreement on 2024-2028 appears more straightforward
Jonathan RestDeputy editor, Sportcal Insight, writes on events, bidding and US major leagues.
The Olympic Games has an image problem.
International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach’s assertion in September 2015 that having a “diverse and creative field” of five cities in the running for the 2024 Olympics meant that “the goals of Agenda 2020 have been achieved” could not be further from the truth some 20 months on.
Politics has had a domino effect on this campaign:
• 22 February, 2017: Budapest out
They were, after all, the two favourites anyway, but this is the first bid race to be run under the rules of IOC president Thomas Bach’s much-heralded Agenda 2020: a roadmap designed to make the games friendlier, more flexible, and above all, affordable.
So far it’s failed.
If Budapest is out, then for sure five times in a row you will have a mega city as the host of the [summer] Olympic Games
Boston (remember them?) dropped out of the race in July 2015 before the US Olympic Committee quickly dusted itself off and teamed up with Los Angeles. Then the IOC’s hopes of a multi-city bid process were dented first by Hamburg residents in November 2015, and then by Rome’s new mayor Virginia Raggi almost a year later.
Budapest was its last hope. A mid-sized city that openly boasted it was only in the 2024 picture because of Agenda 2020.
As the Budapest 2024 bid book stated: “The goal of the [Agenda 2020] programme is to ensure that hosting the games is no longer the privilege of the 20 largest cities in the world...
“The Budapest bid is a response to Agenda 2020 and an attempt to bring the vision of a cost-effective Olympics to fruition and ensure that the guidelines go beyond a document on paper to become a reform that is genuinely realised.”
Budapest never quite made it to a referendum. A month-long campaign run by a youth political organisation garnered more than enough signatures for a public vote, but a complete breakdown of cross-party political support – once as high as 93 per cent for the Olympics – was the death knell.
The $51-billion cost associated - erroneously or not - with the Sochi 2014 winter Olympics is proving a tough legacy for the IOC to shift
As the lights were going out on Budapest’s campaign, bid chairman Balazs Furjes made one final assessment of the Olympic Games landscape: “If Budapest is out, then for sure five times in a row you will have a mega city as the host of the [summer] Olympic Games: Beijing, London, Rio, Tokyo, then Los Angeles or Paris.
“So maybe the problem is it’s not a good direction for the Olympics. The message would be that the Olympic Games is the privilege of the richest and the biggest cities in the world and, if it ends up that way, I think it will not be good for the movement. We should avoid that, otherwise the games will circulate in a smaller network of cities than it used to.”
The $51-billion cost associated - erroneously or not - with the Sochi 2014 winter Olympics is proving a tough legacy for the IOC to shift, while widely-publicised pictures of abandoned, derelict Rio 2016 venues are propaganda gold for opposition political parties.
The perception of cost overruns and white elephants put paid to 2022 winter Olympic bids from Oslo, Stockholm, Krakow, Munich and St Moritz-Davos. It has devastated the 2024 race and is already having an impact on the early stages of the 2026 process: political opposition could end Stockholm’s hopes once again, while voters in Graubünden, which contains the resorts of St Moritz and Davos, came out against the Swiss canton financing a bid in February (Sion, in the west of Switzerland, is still proceeding with a bid).
The IOC knows it has to stop the rot.
Bach, unprompted, admitted to there being “too many losers” in Olympic bid races in December, fuelling talk about the possibility of both the 2024 and 2028 Olympics being awarded at the same time.
Then at the Alpine Ski World Championships in St Moritz in February, Bach reignited a debate that he himself had started, saying: “I like it that people are talking in this way about the Olympic candidature procedure. It shows that people are caring. This we appreciate very much.”
Publicly, Los Angeles and Paris say it’s 2024 or nothing; that their plans and finances are in place for that edition only
Within weeks, the IOC president had established a working group formed of the four IOC vice-presidents, who have been asked by the executive board to “explore changes” in Olympic bidding and report back in July.
Publicly, Los Angeles and Paris say it’s 2024 or nothing; that their plans and finances are in place for that edition only. They’ll happily hand over the torch for 2028, but they don’t want to run with it.
Of course with Budapest out of the equation, an agreement on 2024-2028 appears more straightforward, albeit convincing the IOC members to forego one of the perks of membership, the host city vote, will take some doing.
Yet, such a deal would give the IOC both peace of mind - successive Olympics in two “outstanding cities” to cite Bach – and the time to ensure a competitive 2032 field that plays to its Agenda 2020 ideals.
And, crucially, that might just shine a better light on the games’ image.