2024: The IOC at a Crossroads -- OpEd

Olympics specialist Kevin Bernardi makes the case for Paris as the choice to host the 2024 Games.

TOPSHOT - The campaign's official logo of the Paris bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games is seen on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on February 9, 2016.  AFP PHOTO / LIONEL BONAVENTURE / AFP / LIONEL BONAVENTURE        (Photo credit should read LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - The campaign's official logo of the Paris bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games is seen on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on February 9, 2016. AFP PHOTO / LIONEL BONAVENTURE / AFP / LIONEL BONAVENTURE (Photo credit should read LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images)

On December 15, 2014, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi declared in the presence of Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI) leaders that Rome 2024 was the bid of "all of Italy."

Less than two years later, that bid has already been consigned to history. CONI were forced to reluctantly suspend the candidature last month, following the Mayor of Rome’s decision not to support the project.

Rome had already been forced to withdraw an Olympic Games candidature four years earlier, in spring 2012. The context then was different, but also had a strong political and economic dimension.

So Rome 2024 went the same way as Rome 2020 but‎ the significance of this latest departure is probably much greater given recent bidding races.

Between the two withdrawals we saw numerous other setbacks for European bidders for both the Summer and Winter Games. The most notable of these enforced withdrawals included St. Moritz 2022, Krakow 2022, Munich 2022, Lviv 2022 and also, more recently, Hamburg 2024.

If we add to this list the number of unsuccessful European bids from recent IOC Host City elections, the Old Continent, once the bedrock of the Olympic world, looks like in danger of being slightly estranged from the very‎ Movement it helped create.

Certainly it is clear that the pool of potential candidates is not as deep as it was in the past. These days, with the exceptions of London, which hosted the 2012 Games, and of Paris, what other western European city has the unity and desire – and above all the capacity – to stage the Summer Games without major infrastructure investment?

Following its three failures in a row, Madrid has clearly rejected any possibility of another bid in the medium term. Istanbul likewise has no intention of re-entering a process which has spurned its interest five times since 2000. Rome is still smarting from its two enforced withdrawals and as for Hamburg, and perhaps also other German cities, they will certainly think twice before jumping back into a bidding campaign.

There appears to be a real issue of a political and public desire to host, and this, combined with the consolidation of a more global outlook, presents the IOC with an important question of conscience: can it really do without a Summer Games in Europe for the foreseeable future. This in a continent which remains the birthplace of both the ancient and modern Games and still an economic powerhouse for Olympic sport and a key driver of Olympic values.

Of the three bids competing for 2024, two come from Europe.‎ In fact, in light of the bids’ respective experience and given the current European context, Paris can prove itself to be the Old Continent’s strongest candidate in the 2024 race. For me Budapest is still at the stage of gaining valuable experience that may prove beneficial in future years and also for other major events.

Above all, it’s clear that the IOC will need to reflect on the recent experience of the Rio 2016 Games and go back to a bid – and consequent organizing committee – capable of offering it stability, experience and economic certainty. Paris 2024 offers all of those and more.

The bid has developed its project around a Games concept based on 95 percent existing or temporary venues. These include a number the City of Light’s iconic monuments: the Grand Palais, the Chateau de Versailles, the Champs-Elysees, the Champ de Mars and its spectacular backdrop of the Eiffel Tower and, behind it, the Trocadero.

It is a very compact, sustainable, city-centre based Games plan and with a real promise of an amazing athlete and fans experience – all in tune with the IOC’s Agenda 2020.

And Paris 2024 will deliver a significant social legacy dimension, with a planned commitment to make Seine-Saint-Denis, home to France’s youngest population, a major part of the project. The department’s venues will include the Stade de France and other existing facilities, but also a new Aquatics Centre and the construction of the Olympic and Media Villages, improving access to sport and housing in an area that is seeking to define a new future for its people.

Finally, it is very clear that Paris 2024 is truly being led by the sports movement, in stark contrast with previous French campaigns.

In this respect, the failure of Paris 2012 has served as a valuable lesson, with the political establishment now positioned in a support role to a sports movement embodied by a highly experienced dual leadership of Bernard Lapasset, former President of World Rugby and the architect of Rugby Sevens’ return to the Olympic Program for Rio 2016; and Tony Estanguet, three-time Olympic Champion in Canoe Slalom and a French IOC member.

It is a well led bid but it is also likely to be the last French bid for generations if it is not successful. ‎Another defeat would make it very difficult to come back to the table for the foreseeable future - the political and public willingness to bid would be lost.

Given these factors, and the technical strengths of each bid, IOC members will be faced with a defining decision to make in September 2017: whether to give the Games to the U.S. and risk clear uncertainty as to the next compelling European candidate; or whether to go with Paris in the year of the centenary of the 1924 Games and perhaps then to the U.S. in 2028.

There is a logic to this‎ which will deliver two great editions of the Summer Games, including an edition in Europe, and provide a message to other cities - that bidding and hosting can deliver great value and give your city amazing opportunities. It's the stimulus that the bidding race needs if it is open up and bring new entrants into the race. That, I believe, is in the best interests of the whole Olympic Movement.

Kevin Bernardi is a specialist on Olympic issues. He covers the Olympic Movement as the designer and chief editor of the French language website Sport et Societe. Bernardi holds a Master's degree in Administration and Law of Public Action from the University of Perpignan. His university studies included a research report on the impact and legacy of the modern Olympic Games and a thesis on the governance of the International Olympic Committee and the Games.