If the US Olympic Committee is being unusually secretive about which cities — including Boston — still are in the domestic chase for the 2024 Summer Games, it’s because the committee still is months away from knowing whether it wants to be in the chase at all. Until the International Olympic Committee decides in December what the future bidding process will be, the USOC figures that there’s no point in holding a star-spangled beauty pageant.
“We clearly want to see the output from that working group and what changes are adopted before we push the ‘Go’ button on formalizing a bid for 2024,” said chairman (and IOC member) Larry Probst after Tuesday afternoon’s board meeting at MIT. “We talked about that timing today and, yes, that work’s going to be important to our ultimate decision.”
The Olympic Agenda 2020, which is being fast-tracked by IOC president Thomas Bach, will be a “strategic road map” covering everything from host cities to the sports on the program to sponsorship to doping. At the top of the list, though, is finding ways to keep potential cities from dropping out of the running before they’ve even gotten in and to make the bid process “more appealing and flexible.”
Little of the news this year about Olympic cities has been positive. Sochi spent a blinding $50 billion on its subtropical Winter Games, even more than Beijing poured into its lavish summer edition in 2008. Rio de Janeiro, the 2016 summer host, has fallen so far behind that the IOC essentially has taken over preparations. Tokyo, which will stage the 2020 event, announced Tuesday that it’s reviewing its venue plan with an eye to cutting costs.
The list of potential cities for the 2022 Winter Games is dwindling by the week. Munich, the 2018 runner-up to Pyeongchang, wasn’t interested in another shot. Stockholm and Krakow have dropped out. Oslo, the most attractive option, is dealing with significant public opposition. L’viv, the unofficial capital of western Ukraine, faces enormous political and financial uncertainty.
That leaves Almaty (Kazakhstan) and Beijing, which would combine with the mountain city of Zhangjiakou as cohosts.
“I don’t foresee any new cities being added to the mix for 2022,” said Probst. “It’s highly, highly, highly unlikely that that process would be reopened.”
The Lords of the Rings finally have come to understand that their current bidding model, which basically asks cash-challenged cities to write blank checks for a 17-day carnival, is busted. The new process would balance the IOC’s risk analysis of sites with the overall return on investment for the city so that future Games can be successful without bankrupting their hosts.
Among the changes being pondered by the committee’s working group are reducing the costs of bidding, which run into the tens of millions of dollars, and allowing several cities in one or more countries to share the Games. So the USOC concluded that its “informal, quiet approach” to sorting out potential bidders makes sense until the IOC has mapped its way forward.
“When we’ve had domestic processes in the past, the cities really haven’t been able to engage in exploratory conversations with us without becoming very committed in a public way,” said chief executive officer Scott Blackmun. “And that had political risks for the people that we were talking to.”
Especially with NBC Universal plunking down nearly $8 billion for US broadcast rights through 2032, the IOC is lobbying hard for an American bid for 2024. But after the first-round beatdown of Chicago’s rock-solid bid for 2016 on the heels of New York’s 2012 failure, the Colorado Springs brass understandably is wary of another quixotic quest.
“We don’t want to submit a bid that we don’t think can win,” said Blackmun, “and we don’t want to burden a city with a legacy that might be negative.”
So the next few months will be about the USOC “doing deeper due diligence” to make sure that the remaining contenders (New York and Philadelphia opted out last week) have more than blueprints and blazers going for them (mayoral commitment is a must) and about the cities deciding whether or not they want to spend two years wooing five-ringed voters who will snub them for Paris.
“It’s not only us that’s deciding, ‘do we want to bid for 2024?’ ” observed Blackmun. “Every one of these cities is looking at that same question and I don’t think any of the cities that we’re going to be talking to in the next six months has made an unequivocal decision that they want to stay in.”
Sometime in the next 10 days, the USOC will reveal which of the reported contenders — Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Dallas, Washington, and the Hub — still are in the conversation. Depending on what the IOC decides in December, San Diego could mount a joint winter bid for 2026 with St. Moritz.
John Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.