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The 131st IOC Session in Lima: What we learned

Looking at some of the issues behind the IOC Session in Lima (Photo: IOC)
by Sonja Nikcevic, AIPS Media

LIMA, September 15, 2017 – The International Olympic Committee wrapped up what will no doubt be considered a highly successful 131st Session in Lima on Friday. Modern Olympic history was made as two editions of the Games were awarded in one swoop, Agenda 2020 was confirmed as a hands down triumph, and the movement was assured that geopolitical tensions and stray North Korean missiles would not affect the hosting of the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang.

IOC Sessions were established to ensure that the international boundaries of dialogue and comradery opened during Olympic Games stayed open, and became a point of reference for faster, higher, stronger progress among the great and good of sports leadership.

More than a century later, the hope is that relevant dialogue and knowledge-sharing is still on the Agenda (auto-insert 2020) and that it hasn’t been swallowed up by self-preservation, self-interest and self-delusion. There is always something to be learned, passed on, made better. So what are some of the things we learn this time?

Why win once when you can do it three times?

Months before, Lima’s headline act – the awarding of the 2024 Olympic Games – was diluted into a double allocation with no losers, but technically no winners either. The reality though, is that the IOC has achieved a level of stability that’s been badly needed. The last two editions of the Games in Sochi 2014 and Rio 2016 brought with them image crises that the 2022 bid race (ultimately gone to Beijing after a lonely two-horse race with Almaty), and the tense lead up to PyeongChang 2018 have done little to mend.

The IOC and the movement needed a win – a glitzy bid race and a tried and tested Olympic partner rather than an unruly unpredictable experiment. Paris and Los Angeles fit the bill perfectly, both offering their own glamourous Olympic scripts and little to no risk. Choosing just one ran the risk of permanently disillusioning the other. Paris had bid – and lost – three times, for the 1992, 2008 and 2012 Games. Chicago losing out to Rio was still an open wound for the USOC – and the Games’ multi-million broadcast partner NBC. Thus a double allocation idea snapped up by Bach ensures that good, stable Paris, (security concerns aside) doesn’t lose, and the equally assuring privately funded LA bid bid (contentious nation leader aside) pegged back either. Giving the 2028 Games to LA before anyone had the time to bid for them, would also easily, victoriously hide the fact that not many might have wanted to bid at all. Final score: Paris 2024 1 – LA 2028 1 – IOC 11 years of Summer stability.

2026 –What next?

With those two bud races nicely wrapped up and scripts prewritten, minds wandered to Winter Games between them. Who would bid for 2026, and would they, in the back of their minds wonder if it meant bidding for the automatic possibility of 2030? The IOC’s change in the bidding process confirmed in July included lengthening the invitation phase that put pressure on potential cities to make up their minds and their conceptions quickly and shortening the candidature phase that put financial pressure on bids. The extended hand from the IOC hoped for more candidates than two and less cities pulling out (five having done so in the race for 2022).

So far, interest for 2026 has been shown from Sion (Switzerland), Calgary (Canada), Stockholm (Sweden), and a tentative Milan (Italy). The question is, how many will be able to convince its citizens and its governments that the Winter Games are something worth paying for – and safely make it to the official candidature phase in October 2018? And if there are only two will Thomas Bach re-use the double allocation template?

The IOC President insisted it was early stages yet.

“[The double allocation] is not a perfect model, but a very good one. However, we have not had an opportunity to learn from the process yet in order to repeat it for 2026,” Bach said in the IOC Session’s closing press conference.

“By experience, good intention does not mean candidature,” said, adding that it was about waiting to see if the 24/28 model worked as it was seeing who would make it towards the finish line for 2026.

Next up – PyeongChang 2018, hopefully

“There is no Plan B. The Games will go ahead”, PyeongChang 2018 Organizing Committee President Lee Hee-beom said after presenting an update on the Games to the IOC Executive Board. Much of the update report would have been centered around convincing the Board that tensions in the region with North Korea would not affect the staging of the Games set to start in less than five months’ time. Five days later, North Korea launched its sixth nuclear missile test over northern Japan.

Asked on whether the IOC had plans of speaking to leaders in the region, and using the Olympic Games to calm geopolitical waters, Bach was clear:

“The last thing the IOC wants is to be involved in discussions about nuclear arms.” It might soon have to be involved though, as the tensions in the region become more of an active threat to the hosts of the next three editions of the Games – not just PyeongChang but Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022 as well.

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