This is a busy time for the leadership and staff of the International Olympic Committee, even though there is no Olympic Games – winter or summer – in 2019.
The IOC and especially the Executive Board have a long list of issues to be dealt with, including the continuing saga of Russia and its standing with the World Anti-Doping Agency, what to do about International Federations in boxing and weightlifting whose future is under scrutiny, management of an expanding sports betting market and the always-present problems of doping and athlete abuse.
On Thursday, a new organization called “Global Athlete” was announced, with its objective to “give a voice” to Olympic and Paralympic athletes.
Everywhere you look, there is turmoil.
But the long-term outlook for the Olympic Games as an event is looking better and better. It’s kind of amazing.
This especially so when one considers the dismal situation in the collapse of bids for the 2026 Olympic Winter Games, where cities or regions in Austria, Canada and Switzerland all rejected the event in referenda or in political situations where the event was not supported.
And just last week, Federation Internationale de Ski president Gian-Franco Kasper (SUI) told the Tages Anzieger newspaper that ““From the business side [of the Olympic Games], I say: I just want to go to dictatorships, I do not want to argue with environmentalists.”
But when one looks at the actual landscape, the picture is pretty good, even by Kasper standards:
● 2020 Olympic Games: Tokyo (JPN), a vibrant democracy.
● 2022 Winter Games: Beijing (CHN), an authoritarian state.
● 2024 Olympic Games: Paris (FRA), a pretty wild democracy.
● 2026 Winter Games: Milan-Cortina (ITA) or Stockholm-Are (SWE), both democracies.
● 2028 Olympic Games: Los Angeles (USA), another democracy.
That’s four of the next five Games being held in democracies and, contrary to Kasper’s view, two of the five will be in Europe.
But the really positive outlook for the Games is on the horizon, with candidates starting to line up for bids for the future. Among those mentioned:
2030 Winter Games:
● Lillehammer (NOR), a European democracy.
● Sapporo (JPN), an Asian democracy.
● Salt Lake City (USA), another democracy.
2032 Olympic Games:
● Argentina, thanks to the success of the 2018 Youth Olympic Games (democracy)
● Australia, after the success of the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast (democracy)
● China, perhaps in Shanghai (can’t call China a democracy, sorry)
● Egypt, as a way to develop sports in the country (authoritarian government)
● India, to be the world’s most populated country by 2022 (democracy)
● Indonesia, off the success of the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta-Palembang (fragile democracy)
● Koreas as a joint Games, with the main focus in Seoul, but jointly staged with the Communist North (South is democratic, the North is very much not).
● Russia, with the sports minister expressing interest, but no city named (not a democracy).
That’s three potential candidates for the 2030 Winter Games – all democracies – and eight potential candidates for 2032, with 4 1/2 bids grounded in democracies and 3 1/2 in authoritarian countries. It’s hard to see how Egypt could put on an Olympic Games at its current size, but they are talking about it.
The IOC will tell you that its Agenda 2020 reforms are the reason for this, but the impact of the change in attitude among these cities is what can be called the Burger King Effect.
Remember its 40-year slogan: “Have it your way”? The chain made that catchphrase a centerpiece of its approach to consumers before discarding it in 2014. And that’s what cities and countries see now in a future Olympic Games, based on the IOC’s assurance that it can organize a Games as it sees fit and the success of recent regional Games.
The Youth Olympic Games is a far cry from the real thing, but the energetic 2018 edition put on in Buenos Aires – with free admission for spectators – has the country thinking about 2032. Same for the Commonwealth Games in Australia in 2018 (4,426 athletes) and the Asian Games in Indonesia last year, which had 11,720 athletes, about the same size as an Olympic Games.
If the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima is successful, with about 6,690 athletes anticipated to compete, expect an announcement at the final news conference that Peru will consider a bid for the 2032 Games.
Many, if not most of these bidders will fall away before the bidding for 2032 – especially – but the underlying feeling about hosting the Games in National Olympic Committees and sports ministries around the world is getting better.
The IOC, notably through President Thomas Bach (GER) and its peripatetic Executive Director Christophe Dubi (SUI), should get credit for this, thanks in no small part to their repetition in interviews and speeches that future Games must be adapted to their city/region/country it will be held in and not vice versa.
This is all the more believable now because the Olympic Games is a television event and only incidentally an event for the on-site audience. Poor attendance in Rio dampened the atmosphere in some sports, but not the ear-to-ear grins of the medal winners on the victory stand, whose every twitch and tear was carried back to their home-country audiences.
The decision on the 2030 Winter Games host will come in 2023 and will be impacted by the performance of the 2022 Beijing organizing committee. Given the Chinese government’s commitment to the event, it is expected to be competently organized.
But the IOC will be under pressure to assure that the 2024 Games in Paris are not just properly delivered, but that the construction programs, costs and cooperation between the French government and the organizing committee are well controlled. The last time the Olympic Games was held in a Francophone country was 1976: the infamous Montreal (CAN) Games that realized a deficit of more than C$1 billion that was not paid off until 2006.
Another Games like that in Paris in five years and the IOC will find out – as Burger King has – that if it does not deliver on its promises, its potential future host cities could make the choice to go elsewhere.