Written by Michael Pirrie
Before she recommended that the Blair Government support the bid for the London 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, the UK Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Tessa Jowell, made a low key visit to IOC headquarters in Lausanne for a candid meeting with then IOC President Jacques Rogge, that would prove pivotal to the future of the British capital, the Olympic Movement and world sport.
Jowell, careful, committed and passionate in her enthusiasm for the London Olympic Games, wanted to know whether a view had settled within the IOC and wider Olympic Movement that the Games should go to Paris in 2012, prompting the meeting with Rogge, who confirmed that the location for the Olympic Games was not pre-ordained, and would be an open competition that the IOC would be pleased to see London participate in.
The meeting with Rogge dispelled all doubts and gave Jowell the confidence to inform Cabinet that London’s Olympic bid was winnable.
More than a decade after losing the 2012 Olympics to London, Paris will host the 2024 Games following a remarkable historic juxtaposition at the IOC Session in Lima, where for the first time the bid outcome was preordained.
The new dual Games approach led and developed by IOC President Thomas Bach and IOC Vice Presidents including John Coates, is designed to give the Olympic Movement time to stabilize and reform the host city selection process that has pushed the Olympics close to the brink.
The formal awarding of the 2024 and 2028 Games consecutively to Paris and Los Angeles recognizes that the traditional bid model is no longer fit for purpose in the current era of prolonged global uncertainty and changing conditions, priorities and tight finances of potential bid cities, and is vulnerable to potential manipulation.
The dual Games announcement in Lima heralds the most profound change in decades to the bidding process, which has been central to the evolution of the Olympics as the world’s premier and most popular and sought after global event.
Designed originally to select locations with the necessary facilities to stage Olympic sporting competitions and protect the welfare of athletes, the bidding process has also come to showcase the sporting culture and wider capabilities and features of bid cities on a global scale.
As the Games has grown and globalized, the host city selection process morphed into a beauty pageant for cities queuing to stage the Olympics, placing the culture, heritage, architecture, civil achievements, tourist attractions and sporting fields of the cities in the global spotlight of the Games.
The 2012 Olympic Games cycle was the high point of this bidding process, producing a bid campaign that engaged the world like never before as London, New York, Paris, Madrid and Moscow promoted Games blueprints for sport in iconic city landscapes and locations.
Never before had such a galaxy of leading world cities competed against each other for Olympic Games, creating global headlines in a series of spectacular presentations that featured national and international leaders, including the British and French Prime Ministers, global sports superstars such as David Beckham, and internationally admired and respected figures such as the late Nobel Peace Prize recipient Nelson Mandela, along with stunning city skylines, landmarks and sports settings as bid teams crisscrossed the continents to make their case.
Driven by sport, under the direction of Bid chairman Seb Coe and British Olympic Association President Craig Reedie, and supported by Jowell and former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, London’s bid provided the vision and foundations for Games that would unite the nation and the world through spectacular sport, inspire a generation of young people and deliver positive life changing community benefits and legacies, exactly as London promised.
The 2012 Games process proved that good Games develop from well managed bids and cities with strong political and public support.
Subsequent Olympic controversies have hit the bid process with the force of Hurricane Irma.
London’s come-from-behind victory was too close to call, in contrast to Rio’s surprise comfortable victory four years later in Copenhagen, which is now the subject of vote buying allegations and investigations involving former Rio bid and organizing committee leader, Carlos Nuzman, who denies all allegations of impropriety or wrongdoing.
The scandals, which also include investigations into possible bribery in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games bid along with expanding Games venue, construction, accommodation, transport, and infrastructure costs, have alarmed cities.
The dwindling number of bid cities reached a crisis point in the current bid cycle as Boston, Hamburg, Rome and Budapest were all forced to withdraw due to a lack of community and political support, and the 2024 Olympic Bid cycle became less of a race and competition than game of survival.
The new double Games plan formalized in Lima shows the IOC executive taking greater control of the bidding process, which has produced a number of host cities that have failed to deliver Games conditions and experiences promised in Candidature files and manifestos, threatening the aura and values of the Olympic Games and reducing the pool of potential host cities.
Following the Games in Sochi, corrupted by systematic doping programs and record high Games and infrastructure costs, and the problem plagued planning of the Rio Games which included delayed, polluted and often empty venues, the new dual Games approach is designed to reduce the risk of staging the Games in volatile and unstable regions and cities.
With conditions on the Korean Peninsula continuing to deteriorate, threatening the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games - and even the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games - as North Korea continues to rapidly develop a growing arsenal of nuclear missiles, the allocation of the Olympic Games to Paris in 2024 and Los Angeles in 2028 will see the Games return to former host cities in Europe and the United States, providing shelter for the Games in uncertain times.
The parallel planning of the 2024-2028 Games also provides the Olympic Movement with the potential to swap and reverse the two Games sites in unforeseen circumstances.
The dual awarding of the Games in Paris and Los Angeles will also provide athletes, international sports federations, National Olympic Committees, sponsors, and broadcasters with greater planning certainty as the body of nations and cities with the interest and capability to host the Olympics shrinks in the current global environment.
The new and more conservative attitude in the Olympic Movement towards Games cities after the disappointments of Sochi and Rio is likely to steer the Games away from potential new territories in the short term at least, and back to cities and nations with more stable social and political environments and proven expertise, experience and infrastructure for major events, including North America, Australasia, and western Europe.
This will help to protect the integrity of the Olympic Games experience and brand until global conditions improve and become more stable and predictable for planning and delivering international major events.
In addition to the affordability of the Games, the cost of bidding has become too much for certain cities, and an expense that many cities can’t justify amid a mounting list of new services and facilities as funding priorities for local communities ahead of mega events.
The IOC will need to form closer relationships with potential bid cities to help address concerns about Games costs and requirements and help to offset and subsidize costs where possible.
Staging the Olympic Games, the biggest event on the planet, is more difficult than ever in these troubled times, and moving forward the IOC will need to develop more detailed and independent systems of knowledge across all key areas of potential host cities and nations relevant to the Games. The list runs the gamut from traditional areas like sports spectator profiles and preferences, city power supplies, construction costs and timelines to key new functional areas for Games success including public support, robust and reliable economic development, international trade and security relations, internal and external defense systems and alliances.
This will help to ensure that future Games cities are not selected on incomplete, inaccurate or misleading information or promises that cannot be met.
The IOC is hoping the new dual Games plan will restore confidence in the delivery of the Games in two of the world’s great cities in Paris and LA, an outcome, which, unlike the dual 2024-2028 Olympic rescue plan itself, cannot be preordained.
Michael Pirrie is an international communications and media relations adviser and commentator on the Olympic Games and major events. He led London’s international media communications program for the 2012 Olympic Games against Paris, New York, Moscow and Madrid, and was international communications adviser to the Budapest 2024 Olympic Games Bid.
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