Infernal flame Can’t afford to be an Olympic host? The IOC is here to help
Lord but the IOC makes it hard to love the Olympics, and the last month has been especially punishing for all us unlucky suckers who still do. It has just held its 133rd session in Buenos Aires, where it launched a project called the New Norm, which is “a set of 118 reforms that reimagines how the Olympics are presented”. The International Olympic Committee says these changes will save Olympic cities as much as $1bn in hosting costs during the summer Games, and around half that amount for the winter version.
This is why its marketing firm has been busy lobbying journalists to make sure the story gets some coverage. The IOC’s last set of tax filings shows that it spent just under $6m on advertising, and another $25.4m on “promoting the Olympic movement”. Which pays for a lot of insistent mail-outs from its PR firm. Especially, I would guess, if you happen to be a journalist working in Calgary, Alberta, where they are about to have a plebiscite on whether to press ahead with their bid for the Winter Olympics in 2026.
There have been a lot of these public votes lately, in Budapest, Davos, Hamburg, Innsbruck, Krakow and Munich. And the Olympic campaign lost every one. They did win in Oslo, but then the Norwegian government scrapped that bid anyway. It did not help that a local tabloid published a leaked copy of the IOC’s Olympic rider, which stipulated that IOC members get a cocktail reception with the Norwegian royal family, exclusive use of special road lanes and priority treatment at airports and hotels, but stopped just short of Van Halen’s famous request for a bowl of M&Ms with all the brown ones picked out.
Oslo’s withdrawal meant that the IOC was left to choose between holding the 2022 Winter Games in Kazakhstan or China. Almaty was such an appealing choice that it chose to go for Beijing, which has an average of four snowy days a year and where a lot of trains and buses stopped running and several roads were closed because a dusting of 0.1mm of the stuff fell last January.
Three years on from that messy process, the IOC has just announced the list of three bids for the 2026 Games. Stockholm is one. Only a new coalition has just taken over the city government and they say they want to junk the bid. Which at least means they are in a better place than the rival bid by Milan and Cortina, which was recently described as “dead” by the Italian government. It has been revived even though it is still not entirely clear where any of the money is going to come from.
That leaves Calgary, where two recent polls show that support is teetering around 50%. There, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has actually been out campaigning for the Swedish bid on the grounds that if it wins it “would save Calgarian taxpayers billions of dollars”. Happily for Calgary’s Olympics boosters, the IOC is on hand to help. “We are very importantly supporting them with their local press,” IOC vice-president Juan Antonio Samaranch Salisachs said this year. “We are very wellequipped to help them explain why this is good to them.”
The IOC’s help has gone down so well that one local councillor described it as “alarming”, “troubling” and said it made him feel “like we’re actually losing our independence in terms of who is actually making the decisions”.
The Board of Audit of Japan reported that they expect Tokyo 2020 to come in at just under $25bn, four times over budget. It’s also more than double the $12bn estimate put about by the Organising Committee. Which, the auditors explained, is because the OC’s estimate excluded “main budget items like security, athletes’ transport, anti-doping measures and stadium communication systems”. The IOC president, Thomas Bach, says there are three reasons why the Olympic movement keeps losing these referendums. “The first one was money, the second was money and the third was money.” And yet the calculations provided in the New Norm don’t seem to list details of any proposed cuts to the $900 per diem the IOC pays its “volunteer” board members. Odd, that.
ANDY BULL IS A SENIOR SPORTS WRITER FOR THE GUARDIAN
The IOC won a public vote in Oslo – then Norway scrapped the bid anyway
Not for us Groups in Calgary have been supporting a rival city’s 2026 bid