LANE ONE: Bach’s Olympic vision takes shape: City-center spectacle and fewer venues

The famed Obelisco in Buenos Aires : site of the Opening Ceremony of the 2018 Youth Olympic Games

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach of Germany has plenty of critics, but say this for him: he has a vision.

Since being elected to head the IOC in 2013, he immediately set out to reform the way that Olympic and Winter Games are bid for and organized, with his “Agenda 2020″ and “The New Norm” programs. Many say these don’t go far enough, but they are certainly moving in the right direction of more flexibility for organizers and relief from some costs imposed previously.

In his wrap-up news conference at the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires last week, Bach was asked about the impact of this Games as a “laboratory” for the IOC and the Olympic Movement. His answer – for those paying attention – outlined with clarity his vision of future Games:

• “We have to evaluate and study. This starts with the format of the Opening Ceremony. I think for Tokyo, this is too late, but imagine such an Opening Ceremony in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris on the Champ de Mars, with hundreds of thousands of people being part of his Opening Ceremony. Not just watching, but being part of this Opening Ceremony, could be a real vision, but there are many, many questions to answer, but I don’t need to elaborate on each and every, but security and logistics and so on.

“But this is what we now have to take from this Games. We have to evaluate them carefully and then learn the lessons and then draw our conclusions from this, so we can take as much as possible of these innovations, which have proven to be successful, then also to the Olympic Games.”

• “We don’t want the [Olympic] Games to grow beyond where they are. This is why we have already taken the decision for Paris that if there would be any addition of new sports or disciplines, that this has to remain in the quota of the 10,500 athletes.

“And there, what will play a role, also, and has played a role in the composition of the program, but will play an even more important role in the future is, that when it comes to new sports, that we will not only encourage as we do to use existing facilities or temporary facilities or then move even out of the city or out of the country. We will also look very carefully whether we can optimize the venue sharing between different sports or whether before we take new sports on board, which effect this has on venues and potential venues cost.”

• “What we can do and what we are encouraging is, already to candidate or potential candidate cities, to interested cities, is to advise them of these trends we are seeing … that sport has to go to the city centers, and that you see the overall, the mega-trend in this world [is] that more and more people are moving into urban centers, so that in order to reach these people, an urban park is an excellent tool.”

These comments seem like common sense, but they are far from what Olympic bidders and organizers have faced in prior years. Bach has now outlined, rather concretely, what he sees as the right way to stage future Games:

1. Stage the largest, greatest spectacle possible for the Opening Ceremony, preferably bringing hundreds of thousands of people into contact with the signature event of the Games. More than 200,000 saw the YOG opening – for free – at the famed Obelisco in downtown Buenos Aires.

The same for the Closing Ceremony would be good, too.

2. Put the Games, as much as possible, in facilities in the middle of the host city, with auxiliary (free) programming so that as many people as possible “have sport brought to them.”

Bach also extended this idea to auxiliary cities which could/would host aspects of a Games.

3. Organizing committees can and should ask the IOC to limit the number of days of athletes, competition and training days for sports so that existing venues can share sports and fewer will be needed, reducing costs. This is a major turn for the better for most bid cities.

These are the core concepts of a Bach-style Olympic Games; now we know.

What Paris might do for 2024 is hard to forecast, but Bach makes Los Angeles 2028 look like the paradigm, with the Opening Ceremony planned for two stadiums at the same time, seven sports in the Convention Center/Staples Center complex, four major sports at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and USC area (with Exposition Park in the middle) and two more multi-sport parks identified.

With this outline, the IOC is also in position to do something to help potential bid cities, and to help its own standing. Using Bach’s program, the IOC could create an in-house consulting team that would visit interested cities for future Games – Olympic or regional – and provide a detailed report on the potential for hosting major Games in that city or region.

The review and the report would be free; a service that the IOC would provide to cities for a direct, detailed view of its real possibilities as a candidate. After all, he’s committed to bringing sport to where the people are, so now he can bring the IOC anywhere and everywhere that someone wants to talk about a future Games.

Rich Perelman

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