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  • Avoiding 2024 Olympic Bid Meltdown


    12/02/15

    (ATR) And now there are four.

    Budapest, Los Angeles, Paris and Rome are the cities left in the race for the 2024 Olympics now that voters in Hamburg have rejected a bid for the Games.

    The ominous question facing the IOC is which city is next?

    And then the next one to bail out after that?

    Could the 2024 race be afflicted by the same contagion that ravaged the field for the 2022 Winter Games?

    Plebiscites scuttled 2022 bids from Munich, Switzerland and Poland. Then the bid from Ukraine collapsed as the country devolved into a civil war. Oslo – the favorite to win the contest – called it quits when the government refused to back the bid.

    Almaty and Beijing -- two longshots, both decidedly underqualified -- nonetheless remained, with Beijing narrowly winning the race four months ago.

    To avoid such calamaties in the future, Bach and the IOC approved 40 reforms known as Olympic Agenda 2020 one year ago. The changes include steps to simplify the bidding process and lower the costs of staging the Olympics.

    But in the year since the reforms have been put into place, they appear to have had little impact overcoming public distrust for hosting the Olympics. The promise of Olympic Agenda 2020 meant nothing to the people of Boston, who did all they could to reject the idea of the 2024 Olympics as soon as the city was nominated by the U.S. Olympic Committee in January.

    Even support from boxer Wladimir Klitschko didn't pack the punch Hamburg needed.
    Now it is Hamburg giving the thumbs down to the Olympics. Blame for the defeat is being partially assigned to the FIFA scandal, which has its own twisted branch in Germany. There are new concerns over security following the November 13 attacks in Paris. The refugee crisis in may have been a factor too, perhaps touching the three remaining bids from the continent.

    But the rejection also shows the limited effect so far for the reforms that mean so much to the IOC president – an Olympic gold medalist and a German. It would seem that if there was any place in the world willing to give Bach and the IOC a chance to show how Olympic Agenda 2020 can work, Germany would be the place.

    If Germans seem to have little faith in the reforms of a native son, exactly where will Bach find a public that embraces what he and the IOC want to do?

    “The IOC is proud to have four strong candidate cities,” says the IOC president in a statement released after the vote in Hamburg, but he has reason to be nervous, despite the bravura.

    IOC President Thomas Bach may need a new stump speech.
    Luckily for the IOC, none of the four remaining cities face referendums. With nearly a 100% failure rate for bids tied to these votes, Budapest, Los Angeles, Paris and Rome seem safe from that fate.

    Do not be surprised however if politicians in those cities take note of the Hamburg rejection to raise questions about the viability about their own plans for the Olympics.

    Budapest organizers say they believe their city is the perfect match for the reforms of Olympic Agenda 2020. But with a population of 1.7 million, the city on the Danube is the smallest of the four 2024 bidders and will be put to the test trying to match the infrastructure of the bigger rivals. Bid leaders may have use their powers of persuasion to keep the bid alive when the costs of preparation for Olympics become more certain. Past efforts in Budapest to organize Olympic bid have not gotten far, with political concerns over costs quashing those plans.

    Italian bid leaders say they believe Rome is ready this time after two previous attempts. In 1997, Rome came in second to Athens for the 2004 Games. Two years ago, Rome’s failure to win support of the national government crashed a bid for 2020 the night before bid books were due at the IOC.

    While Rome bidders say they believe they will avoid disaster like that, an election for mayor is still ahead in the first half of 2016. So far the prospect of an Olympic bid has not generated much controversy in Rome, but with five months to go there is plenty of time for trouble to brew.

    Paris might have been a presumptive favorite for 2024, the 100th anniversary of the first Olympics in the city. A top-notch team is leading the bid, fortified with lessons learned from the series of failed French bids during the past 10 years.

    But the terrorist attacks of November 13 have cast a pall over the city that seems to make it difficult to talk much about an Olympic bid. Jitters remain across France about more incidents; so does a state of emergency expected to last for three months.

    Whether the appetite for an Olympics remains among key politicians -- and the public -- will be a key test for the bid in the months ahead. On the other hand, rebound from the tragedy could propel Paris as it seeks to prove terrorists cannot derail an Olympic bid.

    In Los Angeles, there is no talk of a referendum. And public opinion polling shows support for third Olympic Games in Southern California crests at 80 percent. A sure thing? Maybe.

    But taking Los Angeles - or any other bid city - for granted could be dangerous. In this world we know only too well how quickly and dramatically life can change.

    ATR Editor Ed Hula
    There are still plenty of details to work out in Los Angeles, such as a location for the Olympic Village. Even bigger than that could be the implementation of a memorandum of understanding that will determine the financial risk faced by the city and state of California if the bid is successful. And not to be a Cassandra, but this part of the world seems fraught with potential for natural disaster from a devilish trinity of fire, mud or earthquake.

    And then there were none?

    To avoid another meltdown of a field of candidates, the IOC would do well to take nothing for granted in Los Angeles, Paris, Rome or Budapest. In the first tests for Olympic Agenda 2020, the IOC has yet to be convincing as shown in Boston and Hamburg. Bach and colleagues need to get the IOC side of the story beyond politicians to the people of the city, regardless of whether there’s a referendum to win. With the first director of strategic communications about to come aboard for the IOC, it’s pretty obvious what’s number one on the to-do list.

    Written by Ed Hula.

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