LIMA, September 10, 2017 – Starting Monday, Lima will be the focus of the Olympic world for the 131st Session of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Executive Board meeting that precedes it – or that was the plan anyway.
President Thomas Bach, his 94 IOC members, and representatives of the press will all be descending on the Peruvian capital together with the bid teams of Paris and Los Angeles knowing that the Session’s prime accolade - the awarding of the Olympic Games of 2024 (and 2028) – has already been decided. This wasn’t the initial plan either, but rather a turn of events that saw Thomas Bach without much of a choice.
The Sochi impact
The first tremors for what then-freshly elected IOC President saw as an unshakable Olympic movement came after the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The $51 billion price tag of the Games sparked discussion on an Olympic budget versus a private developmental budget, but the number became a symbol of what many perspective bids and their citizens had already been fearing - that hosting the Games had become too expensive, too risky and left too much opportunity for overblown budgets and opportunistic corruption.
Previously spoiled for candidate city choice, the IOC were met with a different picture for the 2022 Winter Games – initial candidatures of Munich, Lviv, Krakow, Stockholm and Oslo were all pulled after either referendums or governmental intervention, leaving only two – Almaty and the eventual winner Beijing.
Beforehand, the IOC itself had confirmed that cost-cutting solutions would be needed for the ‘new era’ of international sport, and Agenda 2020 was born – offering more room for flexibility, and tailored, economical Games. Agenda 2020 was the solution to the $51 billion image problems and all would be well for the 2024 Summer Games. Everyone wanted to bid on a Summer Games. That was the plan anyway.
Paris and LA
Much like the 2022 race though, the IOC saw itself left with just two candidates early on. Hamburg pulled out after a public referendum, Rome pulled out after Mayor Virginia Raggi refused to back the ‘irresponsible’ bid, and Budapest, which had proclaimed itself the bid embodiment of Agenda 2020 – a compact, sustainable Games – pulled out not long after.
Pan over to Paris and Los Angeles. Both cities were international symbols, heavyweights, both had hosted the Games twice before – LA in 1932 and 1984, Paris in 1900 and 1924. Paris had since lost out on hosting the Games on three other, more recent and very painful occasions - in 1992, 2008 and 2012.
Bach’s evaluation commission confirmed that both cities would be ideal hosts for the 2024. It would be a win-win so to speak, whoever was chosen at the IOC Session in Lima.
This summer though, the IOC decided to go for a win-win-win. In June, the Executive Board suggested a first in Olympic history – a double allocation that would see the Session in Lima award the host cities of the 2024 and 2028 Summer Olympic Games at the same time. This would push the IOC’s agenda of scrapping ‘losers’ from bid city races and easing host candidate woes.
“There is no risk of defeat and the reward is stability,” Thomas Bach said, confirming the difficulties the IOC has faced in projecting a positive image of hosting the Games. Both LA and Paris would be awarded a Games, and the IOC would be awarded an entire bid cycle with no headaches and fears of no candidates. In July, the extraordinary IOC session voted for what became known as tripartite agreement – between LA, Paris and the IOC. The Session in Lima would decide who got which Games.
That was the plan anyway – until LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and the bid committee confirmed their city would be hosting the 2028 Games, ‘for the good of the Olympic movement’.
All of this brings us to a Session in Lima where everyone knows result of the race before it even starts, or where there isn’t even a race at all.
“I have never experienced anything like this before,” Paris 2024 bid chief Tony Estanguet said. “With knowing in advance, the good part is that you can anticipate emotion.”
What there is instead of a race though, is Olympic stability - more there than there was anyway in 2014. On Wednesday, the IOC will hear one more presentation from the two cities before rubber stamping Paris as 2024 hosts and Los Angeles as 2028 hosts– the first city to be awarded a Games 11 years in advance.
Paris will hold a celebratory centenary Games – 100 after they last did so in 1924. Los Angeles, who had boasted a more stable bid, based entirely on private funding will host the Games in 2028, in a way, paying the price for its long-term stability by having to wait four more years.
Nuzman and Hickey
And during the week of the Session in Lima, not many will be taking about the actual session in Lima. Instead, eyes and ears will be turned a couple of thousand miles past the border to Brazil, where a move of almost clockwork timing, Carlos Nuzman, President of the Brazilian Olympic Committee and the man largely seen as having secured the 2016 Games in Rio, was arrested by Brazilian police on grounds of vote rigging and corruption, in a joint investigation with French prosecutors.
The investigation is centered around claims that Nuzman, an honorary member of the IOC, was the central figure in buying votes for Rio’s Olympic bid in 2009.
Nuzman has denied all wrongdoing, and, while the IOC have refused to comment beyond a press release saying they are following the situation, it will be the Nuzman situation and what Brazilian police have dubbed ‘Operation Unfair Play’ that will dominate the Executive Board meetings scheduled for Monday and Tuesday.
As will the consequences of another arrest and another peg in the Rio 2016 scandal – that of Patrick Hickey. Hickey, an IOC Executive Board member who was arrested in Rio amid claims of ticket-touting, tax evasion and yet more corruption, had sent his resignation letter from the EB in a bid to save the IOC from his own tarnished reputation. Also like clockwork, the resignation letter was confirmed by the IOC on Saturday, just ahead of the EB meetings.
The Hickey situation will be made even more obvious given that the last day of the IOC session, after the non-vote for 2024 and 2028, and an evaluation of Agenda 2020 (top marks, presumably), will include an actual vote – for what was supposed to be two seats on the Executive Board and one vice president. Hickey’s departure means that the two EC seats have been stretched to three. It also means that whatever the Agenda 2020 halftime report may say, and however much the words win-win-win may be repeated, there is no papering over the fact that IOC still has its work cut out in projecting a corruption-free, untarnished image.