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  • Money or Talent Behind Sochi Victory?


    Complaints from the also-rans in the race for the 2014 Olympics that Sochi spent its way to victory may be misplaced. While Salzburg (proudly, it seems) spent a fraction on the bid compared to Sochi, the South Koreans more than kept pace with the Russian bid.

    From our extensive on the scene, in-person coverage of the race for the Games during the past two years, it would appear that money is not the issue. Sochi offered a more talented team that carried the bid to victory.

    Salzburg moans that small countries won't ever be able to win a bid for the Games. But a look at the bid's bumpy history suggests other factors may have doomed it for the second time in a row. This was a bid that couldn't keep a CEO, was unable to deliver a compelling story, and was dragged down in the last weeks of the campaign by the Austrian Olympic Committee's involvement in blood doping scandal from Turin.

    PyeongChang, despite the improvements made to its bid from the 2010 campaign and access to as much cash as the Russians, failed to put a winning team on the field. While an office of hard-working bureaucrats in the capital city of Gangwon province filled a bid book with all the right answers to win high marks from the IOC Evaluation Commission, PyeongChang never had the right combination of people who could sell the bid to the rest of the world.

    PyeongChang 2014 had an array of knowledgeable, internationally-known Korean sports experts who traveled the world in support of the bid for the past two years. But when it came time to present the PyeongChang bid to the IOC Session this week, these experts were replaced by newcomers in crisp white suits. Their value was skillful reading of scripts to IOC members, many of whom had never laid eyes on them before. It was a soul-less, automated presentation.

    Russia's three IOC members actively campaigned for the bid among their colleagues. Korea's two members were hardly effective: legal problems kept one member on the sidelines until early this year, while the country's influential senior member kept a low-key presence until the last stages of the bid. Austria had but one member to lead Salzburg's case inside the IOC, and he was out-manned by the Russians. The Russian National Olympic Committee was a key player for the Sochi bid, trading on its international contacts to build relationships, acting like a full partner in the campaign.

    The Korean Olympic Committee based in Seoul was treated like a dispensable fifth wheel by the bid leadership in the provincial capital. Nothing was more telling than to see the KOC president wandering alone through the crowd at a reception in Guatemala on the eve of the vote, while the president of Korea was at the other end of the room trying to meet and greet IOC members.

    Meanwhile, a few meters away, Russian President Vladimir Putin held court, greeting a stream of IOC members eager to shake hands with him. The president of the Russian NOC was nearby to make sure his friends from around the world had a chance to say hello.

    And regardless of the brave denials that the problems of the Austrian Olympic Committee over the Turin blood doping scandal were not problems for the bid, more than one IOC member has indicated that Salzburg was not served well by the scandal. Austrian leaders said the Olympic committee had acted decisively in response to the scandal. Instead, appearances indicated the AOC was shamed into action by the IOC only weeks ago for overlooking years of systematic blood doping by Austrian athletes.

    Since Sochi launched its bid two years ago, an agile and expressive team of men and women, from business, sport and government, as well as a select group of non-Russian bid experts, presented a consistent and unified face for Sochi 2014. Its public relations efforts to the world media were the best, excelling at outreach, not waiting for the phone to ring in the bid office with press inquiries.

    Future Olympic cities, take note.

    Op Ed is a weekly column of opinion and ideas from Around the Rings founder and editor-in-chief Ed Hula. Comments, as well as guest columns are welcomed: