It's Frustrating.

Terrence Burns ©2014

With only 30% voter turnout, 70% of the Polish voters say “no” to the 2022 Winter Games. Krakow 2022 withdraws from the race.

Frantisek Chmelar, chair of the Slovak Olympic Committee blamed the costs involved in staging this year’s Games in Sochi and problems with preparations to host the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, saying: “In people's minds, there probably was the negative role of the widely broadcast huge expenditures in Sochi, as well as the known difficulties accompanying the preparations for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.”


Why is this “news” to anyone? In my blog post from January of this year, “The Olympic Brand Challenge”, written before the Sochi Games I (along with many, many others) cautioned that the ongoing problems (both real and perceived) surrounding the build up to Sochi and Rio were spreading rock salt on the Olympic bidding landscape, killing the seedlings of the Olympic forest.

President Bach’s new “Agenda 2020” has a working group pertaining to Olympic bidding. For sure, one item that will be discussed is the cost of bidding. I understand that and it seems an obvious place to begin, but the cost of bidding is not what is keeping cities away; it is the perceived cost of the Games, dubious legacy planning and the image of the IOC itself.

Recently (while in Norway), President Bach started to punch back with a few key messages about Sochi’s actual cost as it pertains to the Games budget, not the overall cost for everything else. It was a good start to begin framing the argument, but the problem is that opponents of the Games have years of examples of waste (again, some real, some not) to use as fodder, whereas the Movement has very little solid data on the positive impact, economic or otherwise, of hosting an Olympic Games.

As we think about “fixing” the problem we need to understand exactly what it is we are trying to “fix”. I would humbly suggest the following as starting points for the Bidding Study Group:

1.  “Where do we want the Games to be and why?” I believe that the IOC has entered a new era of brand stewardship and the bid process can no longer just be a “game of chance.” In the past prior to the global economic meltdown, there were plenty of potential Bid Cities; now, not so much (in the 2022 campaign alone, Munich, Stockholm, Krakow have backed out –possibly Oslo soon and Lviv, Ukraine is a non-starter for obvious reasons).

I think the IOC should revise the bid process but not only on cost parameters. I believe that they must review and identify where and when they believe the Games should be held over the next four bid cycles. They should be reviewing a) where in the world the Games can help develop sport (such as emerging economies), b) where do the Games have to be every ten years or so to keep the brand relevant in the first-world economies and c) what is the true risk basis for each city and its bid.

They should then make a list of the cities/nations “most likely and most desirable for the Olympic brand to succeed”, and implement a long-term plan to assist those cities and nations to be prepared to bid when the time comes.

  • This means fully engaging the public and private sectors early on in the process
  • Teams of IOC experts, IOC members and former OCOG executives should visit the potential bid cities with advice, encouragement and above all, facts about bidding for and hosting the Games
  • This means laying the groundwork by helping create a rational, long-term venue development (use of existing facilities, more temporary facilities, only new facilities as a last resort) plan tied to their city’s long-term municipal or regional planning.
  • This means implementing a communications plan foundation around the potential bid to illustrate the “what’s in it for me” rationale to the general population and local, regional and federal governments.
  • This means engaging the National Olympic Committees to be part of this process and every National Federation.
  • This means making International Federations a working partner in the process. To be honest, and I’ve been there, in the past many IFs placed inordinate demands and expectations on Bid Cities. And Bid Cities being Bid Cities have no choice but to try and comply in order to attempt to obtain votes. This process is upside down and it leads to ever-increasing and often illogical venue commitments. I understand that many IFs want gleaming new, state-of-the-art venues at every Games, but that is just not sustainable and in the end, it is not good for sport because it inevitably leads to White Elephants, which scares away future potential Bid Cities.

2.  The IOC has to take control of the image and reputation of the Olympic brand. The Games are too complex, too expensive and too subject to geo-political machinations for the brand to be left in the hands of amateurs (Organizing Committees) every two years. As a current example, PyeongChang 2018 won the Winter Games in Durban three years ago this coming July – since that time, they’ve all but disappeared.

To-date, they have no discernable international communications plan; they have a logo that appeals more to the domestic – not the international – audience; they have no new brand positioning platform (Bid Cities and Organizing Committees have two distinct and different missions, and each entity needs distinct and different messages to the world yet PyeongChang is still clinging to the “New Horizons” positioning of the bid) and most importantly, they have no sponsors yet. If PyeongChang had sponsors, this would send a clear and positive financial message to future potential bid cities. Everything communicates. Someone should help them, and it should be the IOC because it is their franchise that is at stake.

The IOC should consider sending in an emergency response team of experts in Games Operations, Communications and Sponsorship to help resuscitate the PyeongChang 2018 Games and brand (not the Coordination Commission; they need a real Olympic Games SWAT team on the ground 24/7 until it is working). The IOC cannot leave “success” up to a group of people who have never done it before – and only in seven short years. And, I mean “success” in a context that is far beyond the 17-day hosting of the Games.

3.  The IOC can no longer afford to say “sport was great, so the Games were a success”. It’s more complex than that. Many more variables are now at play. Look at Sochi, for example. The venues were perfect and sport on the field of play was successful by virtually any measure. But in the end, what did the negative reports cost the Olympic brand? Well for starters, we know negative media reports around Sochi & Rio (again, real or imagined) have cost us two, possibly three European first-world capitals as bid cities. We cannot hide behind the shield of sports success as the sole arbiter of an Olympic Games’ effectiveness. The Games have to make sense for local communities.

A thriving and healthy Organizing Committee preparing for the Games creates a positive media environment and help stimulate interest in hosting the Games instead of fear of hosting the Games.

Today I read that there are seven potential US cities now ”interested” in bidding on the 2024 Olympic Games. If that is true, it is great news. But I am mindful of President Bach’s statements from November 2013, only six months ago – he was "delighted" that twice as many cities submitted initial bids for 2022 than the 2018 Winter Games – and he was correct to be delighted. He stated, "These cities and their supporters clearly understand the benefits that hosting the Games can have and the long lasting legacy that a Games can bring to a region”.

Well, apparently a few changed their minds about the benefits but they sure understood the perceived risks.

 What difference six months can make.