In­fer­nal flame Can’t af­ford to be an Olympic host? The IOC is here to help

The Guardian Weekly - - Spotlight - By Andy Bull

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

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Not for us Groups in Cal­gary have been sup­port­ing a ri­val city’s 2026 bid

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