BUDAPEST, October 17, 2017 - Here is a multiple-choice quiz. When someone says, “No way, dude,” is he or she referring to the odds of success of:
a) That oiled-up guy from Tonga who walked in the opening ceremony at the Rio 2016 Summer Games, Pita Taufatofua, suddenly appearing in the same outfit at the top of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games halfpipe to announce, as he locks himself into snowboard boots, that he will now throw down — watch out, Shaun White — an unprecedented trick involving corks, flips and other head-spinning gyrations;
b) George McGovern running for president of the United States in 1972;
c) Any city in Europe winning a ballot referendum on the notion of staging the Summer or Winter Olympics;
d) All of the above.
As the classic Road Runner & Wile E. Coyote cartoons teach, the line between comedy and tragedy is thin, indeed. It’s funny as hell when the anvil drops on someone else.
When the anvil keeps dropping on the International Olympic Committee — you’d think the IOC would learn.
Truly, the issue now — in the aftermath of yet another voter beatdown, this time over the weekend in Austria, where voters said no to a 2026 Winter Games in Innsbruck — is not just when but, indeed, if the IOC will snap to.
Look, this is not complicated.
There are only two factors at work: cost and corruption.
If you prefer: cost and credibility.
Here is how the IOC believes voters frame it:
— Will the budgets of that potential bid be balanced?
— Is the IOC a credible partner?
For the IOC, clearly, cost is the No. 1 driver.
As opposed to credibility.
When the two are inextricably linked, obviously, and there’s so much more to credibility that could and should be addressed — because it is emotion talking — before voters ever get to the matter of cost, which means numbers, which means facts.
Any analyst can tell you that an election is typically won or lost on emotion, not facts. Why this repeatedly proves so confounding in the Olympic space is — perplexing.
The IOC spends a lot of time and attention dwelling on president Thomas Bach’s would-be 40-point reform plan, dubbed Agenda 2020, which the members approved in December 2014. Give or take, Agenda 2020 has had three years to sink in.
Here is an example of Agenda 2020-inspired IOC math:
The Tokyo 2020 operating budget, which the bid book projected at $3.8 billion, is now fixed at $5.6 billion.
By IOC reckoning, that’s a win, because Agenda 2020 has resulted in the use of a number of temporary structures, which means cost savings because permanent venues didn’t have to go up.
This sort of reckoning is forest-from-the-trees logic.
In the real world, $5.6 is $1.8 billion more than $3.8.
That is exactly the sort of $1.8 billion anvil that voters can, do and absolutely should drop when they vote no for a Games.
How much is $1.8 billion? A lot. You don’t have to know the first thing about high finance to know that $1.8 billion, emotionally, is a lot of money.
When you are a taxpayer, $1.8 billion has to come from somewhere. Like — your wallet. And that hurts. When you have to pay the government your money, you kinda-sorta like to feel that it’s going to something worthwhile. Not huge cost overruns for no credible reason.
Or, worse, corruption.
Which brings us to the crux of the matter.
Law enforcement authorities in France, Brazil, the United States, Switzerland and Japan are pursuing a number of threads that would suggest the 2016 Rio and 2020 Tokyo Games were bought — that is, the bidding process for both editions of those Games was significantly corrupted.
The focus of the inquiry is the former president of the international track and field federation, Lamine Diack, who was also an IOC member with extensive influence, especially in Africa. The head of the Rio 2016 Games, Carlos Nuzman, was arrested last week; authorities said they found 16 gold bars in a safe in Switzerland.
Let’s say you were seeking to promote a yes vote for an Olympic project in an Austrian village. Or, for that matter, anywhere in Europe. You say, this is a good idea. Sports are fun! Regular voter person says, OK, but the guy in Brazil had 16 gold bars in a safe in Switzerland. Why should I vote for a project with such a disconnect between me and a guy who has 16 gold bars in a secret vault? Explain, please?
The IOC had been particularly hopeful that things might go well in Innsbruck. It had staged the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics and the 2012 Winter Youth Games. The 1976 Games brought the world a great Olympic memory: Franz Klammer’s ohmigod on-the-edge race to gold in the men’s downhill.
As well, Innsbruck — here comes Agenda 2020 again — was touting a $1.3 billion budget, slim by Olympic standards, with sports being spread over existing venues to avoid new permanent infrastructure.
None of it mattered.
Why the IOC held such keen optimism for Austria remains entirely unclear: voters there in 2013 resoundingly turned down plans for a Vienna 2028 bid.
The timing of the Nuzman arrest probably didn’t help.
To be honest, though, that was just the icing on a cake already baked. In Europe, the IOC brand is — right now — problematic.
For 2024, Hamburg, Germany, went out in a referendum. Budapest went out amid the threat of a referendum. Rome pulled out after the mayor said the city had other fiscal priorities.
For 2022, six cities fell out. The scorecard:
Three went down in referendums: Munich; Krakow, Poland; and Davos/St. Moritz, Switzerland. (A footnote: Davos//St. Moritz went down not only in 2013 for 2022 but again earlier this year, in February, for 2026, in balloting held amid the FIS alpine world ski championships, when you’d think emotion would be high to support a winter sports festival.)
One went out because of war: Lviv, Ukraine.
One cited financial reasons: Stockholm.
One cited finance and IOC arrogance: Oslo.
A real question: when lawmakers and politicians cite "finance" alone, is that code for what the straight-talkers in Norway told the IOC?
When Norway — the soul of winter sports — turns you down, you have a real problem. When one of the lawmakers at the time says, “I fear for the future of the Winter Olympics, I really do,” you have a real problem.
When the IOC sensibly recognizes that it has a problem, and awards the 2024 and 2028 Summer Games at one stroke to Paris and Los Angeles to buy itself time — credit to the IOC.
Predictably, though, Paris is already the party this space has for the past year predicted it would be.
The Paris 2024 trip in September to Lima, Peru, where the bid was finalized, proved lavish. Then came press reports of proposed salaries in the hundreds of thousands of euros to top executives — hardly extravagant by C-suite standards but nonetheless discordant for taxpayers hardly making, say, 450,000 euros annually. Now comes word — we are barely a month out from Lima — that one of the proposed Paris 2024 venues, a basketball and wrestling hall, is, according to l’Equipe, “problematic.”
Proponents of Paris for 2024 insisted that going to the French capital was a way of showing solidarity with Europe — indeed, that with French president Emmanuel Macron (and German chancellor Angela Merkel at the head of a touted European Union renewal) leading the way, Paris for 2024 would inspire a new generation of European cities to come forward with Olympic bids.
The first returns — Innsbruck — would appear, ah, problematic.
When what people read in the press and watch on TV about the IOC and the Olympics are bad stories, of course they are against it.
There will now inevitably be a lot of speculation about whether the IOC will come back to the United States — meaning Salt Lake City — for 2026. Denver also gets 2026 mentions but there is no bobsled run in Colorado; bobsled runs are super-expensive; back we go to Salt Lake City.
An organizing committee meets its budget — after a significant contribution from the IOC — by, in large measure, selling sponsorships. There’s very likely going to be a men’s soccer World Cup in North America (read: key matches in the United States) in 2026. Selling against a 2026 World Cup and a 2026 Winter Olympics would all but irreparably damage the 2028 LA organizing committee. Given its brand problems, that is the very last thing the IOC wants or needs.
As Casey Wasserman, the LA28 chairman, put it late last month in diplomatic terms, a 2026 U.S. bid would be “complicated.”
As a 2002 déjà vu, it makes perfect sense for Salt Lake City to stage the Winter Games. With little, maybe zero, permanent infrastructure to build, Salt Lake — like Los Angeles — fits the rhetoric of Agenda 2020.
But not until 2030. Unless of course, the IOC wants to 100 percent — for emphasis, completely — fund Salt Lake for 2026. (Likelihood: halfpipe, oiled Tonga guy, etc.)
If the IOC wants to pull a 2026-2030 dual award along the lines of the 2024-2028 double, that’s certainly worth real talk. First, though, the IOC would have to find a 2026 city. The likeliest candidate might well be Almaty, Kazakhstan, the almost-winner for 2022.
Would the IOC want to go back to Asia for 2026 after 2018, 2020 and 2022?
Or — you know — here’s an idea: maybe confront directly its culture and communication issues?
Whoa, dude. No way?