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  • Let`s Call the Whole Thing Off -- ATR Crystal Ball


    05/05/15

    (ATR) It’s a cool, star-filled night for the opening ceremony of the Boston Olympics. The temporary stadium in the center of the city is jammed with 60,000 spectators and a worldwide audience watches as the Summer Games return to the U.S. after 32 years.

    IOC president Anita DeFrantz is poised to deliver her speech, elected in 2025 as the first female to lead the committee in its 130-year history.

    ATR editor Ed Hula (ATR)
    “It’s been an interesting journey to reach Boston,” DeFrantz proclaimed with a tone of amazement still in her voice about the politics and practicalities that unfolded more than a dozen years prior that led to this night in Boston.

    As everyone remembers, Boston was one of the original group of contenders for the 2024 Olympics along with a brace of European competitors: Budapest, Hamburg, Paris and Rome.

    But that race was turned upside down by a dramatic decision in June 2015 when the IOC did something it had never done before: reopen the bidding for the 2022 Winter Olympics, just weeks before the members were due to vote between Almaty and Beijing as the host city. Upsetting the applecart for 2022 ended up affecting not just that race, but those to follow.

    The 2022 upheaval arose from the technical briefing delivered by the two cities to the members meeting in Lausanne in June 2015. The wheels came off for both bids during intensive questioning by the members, conducted in camera.

    Gripped by the spirit of Olympic Agenda 2020, a retinue of junior members, a number of them from the Athletes Commission, kept pressing the cities on sustainability issues, pollution and the athlete experience.

    Beijing was called out for its reliance on artificial snow and the possible impact on water supplies. Questions were raised about transport times, air pollution. Assurances were made about compliance with the Olympic Charter anti-discrimination provision.

    Almaty hit the skids when it gave unclear answers about moving athletes to mountain venues and what would be done to improve air quality. The difficulty of reaching Almaty was underscored in answers about international arrivals. As with China, members also appeared to have doubts about whether Kazakhstan was able to deal with IOC anti-discrimination policy.

    Neither bid was fronted by an engaging leader who could adroitly handle the challenging questions; members grew more restive as a result.

    IOC president Thomas Bach, the father of Olympic Agenda 2020, found himself in the midst of an uprising that was now being joined by senior members. Several of those veterans wondered whether the IOC was ready for what one called “seven years of explanation” that would follow the selection of either city.

    Could the Olympics return to the mountains of Salt Lake City sooner than expected? (Getty Images)
    “We pushed the reset button with Olympic Agenda, but with either city we have to say we’ll overlook the shortcomings because these two are the only ones left to choose from,” said one member to the media after the briefing.

    Indeed, at the start of the 2022 race in 2014, the field included six candidates, with Bejing and Almaty as outsiders. But one by one, the cities flamed out over lack of public support, leaving just these two cities in the sprint to the finish line.

    Bach summoned a meeting of the ruling Executive Board to assess a response to the concerns of the rank-and-file. Much to his surprise, he encountered a majority that was apparently willing to set aside the 2022 race despite the risk, with the room bubbling with suggestions for alternatives.

    He fended off a motion to table the IOC election for 2022, tossing any decision of that magnitude to the will of the IOC Session. Weeks later, the IOC took that step and voted to re-open the candidature for 2022, directing the EB to launch a transparent and expedited search for another host.

    This uncharacteristically dramatic move by the IOC turned an innocuous contest for the Winter Olympics into months of intrigue, attracting a slew of media coverage worldwide.

    China and Kazakhstan were quite public with their dismay over being jilted by the IOC on the eve of the vote (application fees refunded, by the way).

    Despite the failure of the IOC to come up with a solid field in its first try for 2022, the ensuing weeks evoked interest from Austria, Norway and the U.S., in particular Salt Lake City, host of the 2002 Winter Games. With every venue from 2002 still ready for action and public support high for a return to the Utah capital, Salt Lake City emerged as a clear favorite to stand in for 2022.

    But there was this delicate matter of the bid from Boston for the 2024 Summer Olympics, a bid likely to hit the scrap heap if Salt Lake City jumped the queue. But at the time, the bid from Boston was still seeking traction with the public – as well as facing a referendum that could end the bid.

    Ed Hula imagines a circuitous rout by which Boston could land the Olympics. (Getty Images)
    The politics that followed have become the stuff of IOC legend, recounted time and again in the lead-up to these 2028 Games in Boston.

    Sensing a win-win might be possible, U.S. Olympic Committee leaders went to Boston with a proposal to drop out of the 2024 race and aim for 2028. The move allowed Boston ample time to prepare a bid that won the support of the city – and cruised to an overwhelming victory in a statewide referendum in favor of a 2028 Olympics.

    With the U.S. magnanimously stepping aside for 2024, the contest among the European cities was the closest ever, with the IOC president breaking the tie between the two finalists at the 2017 session in Peru.

    Almaty and Beijing did not hold a grudge after being dumped by the IOC in 2015. Both came back better prepared for the 2026 race as was evident in a much different outcome for one of those cities.

    Nothing was certain for Boston 2028 when the IOC voted in 2021 – after all, it faced challenges from Australia, India and Africa. DeFrantz feels her head swim a bit as she remembers the twists and turns taken to bring the Games to Boston.

    “Like all journeys there are surprises and opportunities along the way,” she continues.

    “Athletes of the world, may you find them in Boston,” said DeFrantz.

    Glimpse of the future provided by Ed Hula

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