|This being a gap year in the Olympic cycle, in 2017 we have no Olympics to look forward to, either of the Summer or Winter variety. But, as always in these gap years, there’s an Olympic spectacle of a very different, but no less competitive, nature to observe: the contest for the right to host the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games, which will be decided when the IOC meets in Lima in September.|
When the IOC members gather, ostensibly their choice is simple - either Paris from the Old World or Los Angeles from the New, now that Budapest has joined Hamburg, Boston (LA’s forerunner) and Rome in opting out of the race owing to citizen activism. But paradoxically it will also be the most difficult hosting decision that the IOC has had to make for many years, because not since the latter days of the Cold War have the IOC and the Olympic Games faced so many existential threats: the spectre of the doping crisis and the continuing fallout from the IOC’s controversial decision not to ban Russia from Rio 2016; a flawed youth strategy resulting in an aged fan base worldwide; and the huge costs and questionable social and economic benefits of hosting the Games, vividly demonstrated by Rio’s many and continuing problems.
Against that forbidding background, what is now top of the IOC agenda ahead of Lima is not which city can best stage the Olympics, but which one can most effectively help combat the IOC’s two biggest existential threats: to make the Games and what they and the IOC stand for relevant to a new generation of consumers, in particular younger consumers; and at the same time to persuade a new generation of host cities to bid to stage the summer and winter Games, particularly in America and Europe, where disaffection in city halls and suburbs alike is strongest.
Both are key themes in the LA and Paris bid pitches.
LA is the most compelling, with its vision of Californian sunshine, West Coast tech innovation and Hollywood storytelling power combining to ‘regenerate the Games’ and ‘refresh the Olympic brand around the world’.
Paris is more traditional, a classic piece of Olympic realpolitik, invoking de Coubertin in a ‘new vision of Olympism in action’ in the grand old city, linked to those time-honoured Olympic bid promises of urban regeneration and increased national sports participation.
But the IOC’s dilemma runs much deeper than choosing one or the other: its problem is having to make a choice.
Saying no to LA would probably end America’s interest in bidding for the Games for a generation, the IOC having thus rejected bids from the three biggest American cities (following New York and Chicago, which bid for the 2012 and 2016 Games respectively) in succession.
Quite apart from ‘biting the hand that feeds’ in the shape of the country which is by far the biggest IOC investor, given NBC’s $12 billion Olympic broadcast contract and the IOC’s six US-headquartered global sponsors.
It would also mean that the IOC passes up the opportunity to use an LA Games to bring in new global sponsors from the world’s biggest economy – just as it has used Tokyo 2020 to sign Bridgestone and Toyota.
Saying no to Paris, again for the third time in succession, would also probably end France’s interest in bidding again for the Games in the foreseeable future, and run the risk of further emptying the dwindling pool of major European cities prepared to throw their hat into the ring.
So what will the IOC do?
There are clues in their recent behaviour.
First, a preference for long-term strategic deals – witness the NBC extension through 2032 (Thomas Bach’s first major deal as IOC President) and the recent Alibaba sponsorship through 2028 – rather than for playing the market.
And second, President Bach’s characteristically reformist statement back in December that the current bidding process “produces too many losers” and must be reviewed.
Now, making predictions in these interesting times in which we live is a risky business.
But assuming that the controversial Trump Presidency and the looming French Presidential election don’t derail the LA and Paris bids, I predict that when the IOC leaves Lima in September, they will do so having awarded the 2024 and 2028 Games simultaneously to Paris and LA.
And probably in that order, for three reasons.
One, because an LA 2028 Games will give President Bach the ideal timing to play the American market for the IOC’s next US broadcast deal beyond NBC’s current contract.
Two, because it will also give Bach significant leverage in his attempts to persuade his six US-based TOP sponsors to extend their current deals, all of which end into 2020, for eight years.
But most of all, because it will buy Bach and the IOC both time and two key partners in its battle to find a new relevance and credibility for a new era and a new generation.