The International Olympic Committee will today consider changes aimed at attracting more bids for future events after public rejection and ballooning costs reduced the race for the 2022 Winter Games to two cities.
Alterations to the bid process are part of a 40-point plan by IOC president Thomas Bach to modernize the world’s biggest sports event and make it less expensive. Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan, are vying for the 2022 event after six cities abandoned their bids amid a lack of support and concern over its soaring price tag. This year’s games in Sochi, Russia, cost a record $51 billion, up from a pledge of $12 billion in 2007.
“The thrust of the reforms is to make the possibility of hosting the games potentially less expensive,” said Ian Henry, professor and director of the Centre for Olympic Studies & Research at Loughborough University in the U.K. “But if a nation decides to go down the expensive route, it can’t do much about that.”
Former German fencer Bach, who took over from Belgian Jacques Rogge last year, wants to make the bid process cheaper and more accessible by making it an “invitation” instead of “an application for tender,” he said last month on a conference call. That includes promoting the use of existing facilities and temporary venues and allowing joint bids by cities, neighboring countries or possibly even regions “for reasons of geography and sustainability.”
Other key points include making public the host city contracts — which will include clauses on labor and environmental protection as well as non-discrimination on sexual orientation. The IOC is also considering the creation of an Olympic television channel and a more flexible sports program that will allow host cities to add events that are popular with young fans.
The reforms, which will be put to a vote by all IOC members at a special session in Monaco today and tomorrow, will go into effect for the 2024 Summer Games.
The vote comes two months after Oslo angered the IOC by withdrawing from the 2022 race because there wasn’t enough local support to spend 35 billion kroner ($4.9 billion) on staging the Winter Olympics for a third time in Norway.
Earlier this year, Stockholm, Krakow in Poland and Lviv in Ukraine dropped out of the 2022 race, while St. Moritz in Switzerland and Munich didn’t pursue formal bids after failing to gain support in referendums.
‘Full of Protest’
“Europe seems to me to be full of protest,” IOC Vice President Craig Reedie told a sports conference in London in October. “There are people protesting against everything. Countries seem to be reluctant to undertake long-term big capital projects.”
Although Reedie said the IOC bid process is still “the gold standard” in world sport, he said change is needed. “If it is not attracting sufficient interest, then it is entirely proper for the IOC to sit down and look at it.”
Oslo pulling the plug has been a lesson for the IOC, Loughborough’s Henry said.
“It became very difficult to persuade a cynical political elite, let alone a general population, that the games might bring benefits,” Henry said. “The IOC recognize they have a communications issue to address.”
Although Norway hosted the 1952 and 1994 Winter Games, the public had become skeptical because of concerns over soaring costs and the perception of an “undemocratic” IOC full of unelected members, according to Harry Arne Solberg, a professor of sports economics at Trondheim Business School.
The Lillehammer Olympics cost 277 percent more than initially forecast, according to a 2012 Oxford University study reported in the Norwegian press, Solberg said. Norwegians were also put off by cost overruns in Sochi and London, which spent 9.3 billion pounds ($14.6 billion) on the 2012 games, or three times more than forecast.
“People were afraid of that, even though we are a rich country,” Solberg said. “Where does the money to stage the games come from? It doesn’t come from the IOC, it doesn’t come from commercial revenues that the Olympics generate. It’s the government that pays 80 to 90 percent of the costs.”
Bach’s proposals are “a step in the right direction,” Solberg said. “It shouldn’t be the city that applies, it should be the country,” he said, adding economic, social and infrastructural benefits can be more evenly spread out.
The reforms don’t go far enough for Wolfgang Zaengl of NOlympia, which spearheaded a campaign against the proposed Munich bid.
“If I was in charge of the IOC, I would stop it,” Zaengl said a telephone interview. “The Olympic Games are much too expensive, the cost of Sochi was ridiculous and it is now full of white elephants. The IOC recognizes it is getting more and more expensive so they try to adapt the framework of the whole thing to still bigger and larger Olympic Games.”
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