Editor's Note: Ryan Gauthier
is Assistant Professor at Thompson Rivers University in Canada. Ryan’s
research addresses the governance of sports organisations, with a
particular focus on international sports organisations. His PhD research
examined the accountability of the International Olympic Committee for
human rights violations caused by the organisation of the Olympic Games.
Big June 2019 for Olympic Hosting
On June 24, 2019, the International
Olympic Committee (IOC) selected Milano-Cortina to host the 2026 Winter Olympic
Games. Milano-Cortina’s victory came despite a declaration that the bid was “dead”
just months prior when the Italian government refused
to support the bid. Things looked even more dire for the Italians when 2006 Winter Games
host Turin balked at a three-city host proposal. But, when the bid was presented to
the members of the IOC Session, it was selected over Stockholm-Åre by 47 votes to 34.
Just two days later, the IOC killed
the host selection process as we know it. The IOC did this by amending two
sections of the Olympic Charter in two key ways. First, the IOC amended Rule 33.2, eliminating the
requirement that the Games be selected by an election seven years prior to the
Games. While an election by the IOC Session is still required, the
seven-years-out requirement is gone.
Second, the IOC amended Rule 32.2 to
allow for a broader scope of hosts to be selected for the Olympic Games. Prior
to the amendment, only cities could host the Games, with the odd event being
held in another location. Now, while cities are the hosts “in principle”, the
IOC had made it so: “where deemed appropriate, the IOC may elect several
cities, or other entities, such as regions, states or countries, as host of the
The change to rule 33.2 risks
undoing the public host selection process. The prior process included bids
(generally publicly available), evaluation committee reports, and other
mechanisms to make the bidding process transparent. Now, it is entirely
possible that the IOC may pre-select a host, and present just that host to the
IOC for an up-or-down vote. This vote may be seven years out from the Games,
ten years out, or two years out.
Why the Changes?
To hear IOC President Thomas Bach
put it, these changes were necessary to prevent “too many losers”. Bach voiced
this concern in December 2016, and again in May 2019. The essence of Bach’s concern seems
to be that a city will put time and effort into a bid, only for it to not be selected
by the IOC.
However, the harm caused by losing a
bid is unclear. Is the fear that a losing city’s bid will be a one-and-done
affair? To be fair, most are. The cities that bid multiple times before
winning, such as PyeongChang (2010, 2014, 2018), and Paris (2012, 2024), are
rare. But it is difficult to see how the changes will affect this.
Losing an Olympic bid certainly does
not make a city a “loser”. While feelings may be hurt in the short run, cities
keep on running. Toronto has lost five bids to host the Olympics, with the most
recent loss in 2001 for the 2008 Games. But no one seriously thinks of Toronto
as a “loser” city – particularly after the Raptors’ NBA championship victory. Legacies can still be created from losing bids. Developing a bid
allows the city to re-imagine itself, and market itself to the world. It might even
be in a city’s best interest to bid for the Olympics, but not win, to get the benefits without having
to invest the billions of dollars to host the Games.
The IOC may be changing the process
to eliminate this “winner’s
curse”. Currently, bidding cities try to out-promise each other, driving up
complexity and costs. Under the new system, the IOC could work more closely
with a potential city or region from the outset, organizing and delivering an
Olympics that truly fits. The IOC has stated that it would work less like franchisors, and more like
with future Games hosts, and has formalised this approach in their “New Norm” modifications to Olympic Games
Finally, the IOC may be hoping that
this new approach will encourage cities that might see themselves as “long-shots”
to come forward and host the Games. But the last “long-shot” selected as host
of the Olympic Games, Rio de Janeiro, was plagued with allegations of corruption, displacement of vulnerable people
from the favelas, and poor legacy outcomes.
Back to Salt Lake City?
This new process, with the IOC
possibly presenting only one possible city to the IOC Session for an
up-and-down vote has the possibility to undermine transparency in the host
selection process. If the IOC is unwilling to announce possible candidates
until a deal is already done, the promises made by a city or region may not
even be known by its own public until the IOC Session votes on it.
Robert Livingstone, who runs the
website GamesBids.com, worries that these changes will lead to “a devolution back to the 1980s and
1990s when a translucent bid process eventually led to the Salt Lake City
bribery scandal.” I share that same fear. With Salt Lake City looking to host the
2030 Games, history is rhyming a little to closely.
Even if the return to lavish visits,
gift-giving, influence-buying, and outright corruption don’t come to pass, this
is a reversal of the general direction since the IOC published Agenda 2020 in
2014. Agenda 2020 called for more transparency, such as publishing Host City
To their credit, the IOC has followed through on many of the Agenda 2020
A reduction in transparency will
likely lead to less public participation. And that may be the IOC’s goal. The
IOC is sensitive to referendums. The general public is more
critical of the Games than it was in the past. In recent years, hosting the
Games has been subject to more referendums than ever, with almost all of those referendums
saying ‘no’ to the Games.
IOC Member Dick Pound stated that he
has “no hesitation in allowing a [future
host] commission to have discussions that are out of the public eye that
perhaps occur with sports authorities or interested groups even before the
governments had been engaged in this, and can be done on a very confidential
type of process, without even government knowledge, effectively undercuts
public consultation and participation in any bid process.
This new bid process has not
happened, yet. It is possible that IOC’s approach will continue to be ever-more
transparent, and to allow for public input into the bid process. Naturally,
until the IOC shares more of its thoughts about the process, and until we see a
host selection process in action, which may be years away (under the old
process, the selection process for the 2030 Games would take place between 2021–2023), any commentary about the process is admittedly speculative.
Is the IOC Afraid of Losing?
The IOC is facing a crisis of
legitimacy. This crisis is no more apparent than when no city seems to want to
host the Olympic Games. Of course, there are many reasons that cities are wary
of the Games. High costs, poor legacies, perceptions of corruption, and other
problems regularly plague the Games.
The IOC’s Agenda 2020 reforms were
positive steps forward in addressing some of these issues. Instead, the IOC has
seemingly decided that it would rather take the process out of the public eye
under the guide of the cities being afraid of being “losers”. But it seems that
the IOC is the one afraid of “losing”. Afraid of hearing that “Nobody Wants to Host the Olympics
Afraid of the Games coming out on the losing end
Afraid of having to choose between a bad and worse option to host the
only loser here might be the Olympic Games.