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Bidding for Change

This month in Monaco, under President Thomas Bach’s sweeping Agenda 2020 reforms, the IOC (International Olympic Committee) will vote to change the rules around bidding for the Olympic Games. Elisha Chauhan asked industry experts how they believe this will affect the Olympic Movement.


Jon Tibbs
Chairman, Jon Tibbs Associates

Tibbs is one of the leading communications experts in the Olympic Movement and most recently helped mastermind Sochi’s bidding and hosting of the 2014 winter Olympic Games.


Michael Payne
Former Marketing Director, IOC

Payne was the IOC’s first marketing and broadcast rights director, from 1983 to 2004, and now works as a strategic advisor to numerous sports organisations.


Inge Andersen
Secretary General, Norwegian Olympic Committee

Andersen has been secretary general of his national Olympic committee since 2004 and this October analysed, with the IOC, why Oslo failed to get its bid for the 2022 Olympics up and running.


Thomas Bach recently revealed that the bidding process for hosting the Olympic Games will be “transformed” into an “invitation for discussions and a partnership”.

“What we did in the past was send out a paper at a certain point in time saying, ‘if you want to bid for the Games, here are the conditions you have to fulfil, so you better tick all the boxes in the questionnaire because otherwise you have no chance’,” the IOC president said after a two-day IOC Executive Board meeting at the end of October in Montreux, Switzerland.

The proposal for the IOC to work with cities in putting a bid together is a direct response to a perceived lack of cities willing to bid for the Olympics, with the current 2022 winter Games bidding process seeing Oslo (Norway) withdraw its bid to leave only Beijing (China) and Almaty (Kazakhstan) in the running.

Details of the proposed bidding reforms were revealed last month, and they include changes to the Olympic bidding process, sports programmes and a cost reduction for both bidding and hosting. They are expected to be ratified at the IOC Session this month. Bach, however, has already said there will not be changes to allow IOC members to visit bidding cities, outlawed since the Salt Lake City scandal to root out corruption.

Ahead of the IOC Session, we asked industry experts what their thoughts are on the changes and the possible impact on the Olympic Movement.

What do you think about the IOC working closer with cities in the bidding process?

Jon Tibbs (JT): It will only work if the people who are in discussion with potential hosts are absolutely top-of-the-field experts in Olympic Games requirements. This is so that questions about technical aspects – such as transport, accommodation and security – can be adequately answered. If these discussions are too informal, there’s a risk that the bidders will overpromise what they can deliver for the Games. You can’t get away from the need to create a blueprint. However, the fact that changes could see the Games better customised to bidding cities is only a good thing.

Michael Payne (MP): The devil will be in the detail of the proposals, however, it is clear that the bidding process needs significant updating because, arguably, it has become too bureaucratic and technical. There is also no sense of priority in the whole technical shopping list of best practice, and as a result, some cities have become intimidated by the process. Also, bid books used to be referred to as some of the world’s greatest works of fiction because host cities would put all sorts of promises in there and have no intention of keeping them. So changes will help the IOC make sure what a bidding city comes up with in its book is actually viable.

Inge Andersen (IP): If the proposals are approved at the IOC Session, they represent progressive change. The IOC will have a realistic perspective from each potential host, enabling it to better assess the various strengths and weaknesses of each bid. A collaborative approach would, in my opinion, better express the actual needs and wishes of potential host cities.



Will changes encourage more cities to bid for the Games?

JT: If the bid process changes are properly communicated to cities, there will be a lot more interest as there will be less burden on them. There’s a lot of discussion right now about whether smaller cities such as Boston in the United States or Glasgow in the UK can be Olympic Games hosts; or do hosts have to be more like Los Angeles and Washington? At what point does a city or country become too small to consider bidding to host the Games? The IOC needs to agree minimum requirements if these changes go ahead, and I think that will become clear in the coming months.

MP: The issue of cities withdrawing Olympic bids over the last 12 months is proof in the need to take significant surgery to the process – particularly coming after Sochi, where the media didn’t separate the cost of hosting the Games and absolutely transforming an entire region. This partnership proposal will help limit the number of bidders who just assume that the Olympics are too expensive to host.

IA: I strongly believe that more western democracies will bid for the Olympic Games if changes go ahead, because they carry the potential for bidders to tailor-make bids to suit their own developmental ambitions.

Should the IOC cut the cost of putting an Olympic bid together?

JT: Bidding had become a self-fulfilling industry in its own right, and I think it’s correct that there’s some rationalisation going on now in that regard. There is no need for a city to spend $75 million on an Olympic bid knowing that it won’t ever see that revenue again.

MP: If the IOC demands less technical detail in the bid books then cities would not need to hire an army of architects and transportation planners. However, Oslo blew $20 million – which is four or five times
more than any other bidding city – on technical consultants. It was actually the government that wanted to validate information, so it’s not just a case of the IOC adjusting the rules, it’s also a case of local politicians being a bit more intelligent.

IP: Bidding for the biggest and most complex sports events will always be costly. But by reducing the number of IOC demands, cities can adapt their bids to a greater extent and this could, potentially, reduce the cost of bidding.

Andersen urges IOC to modernise bid manuals

Is the IOC right to refuse a return of member visits to bidding cities?

JT: This is a tricky situation, because the IOC reiterating that it does not approve of member visits means is basically it saying members still can’t trust themselves to refuse a bribe. At some stage, the IOC has to allow its members to be treated like adults and be allowed to visit bidding cities in a controlled way.

MP: You could argue that if member visits had been in place recently, Sochi and Pyeongchang would have struggled to be elected as hosts. There was nothing there in Sochi, and it would have been a very high risk if the IOC had visited the area and still voted for it – however Sochi was a great Olympics.

IA: This rule and its rationale is easy for each bidding city to understand, and in my opinion it is built around respect for expertise and professionalism. It also secures a level playing field and fair play in the bidding process.

How would you personally like to see the bidding process improved?

JT: I really do like the notion that there is a core group of assets – such as transport, security and accommodation – that a bidder has to adhere to which basically safeguards the consistency and the integrity of the Olympic Games. If you pass that test, then there’s a whole raft of other factors where bidders can be flexible and incredibly creative. It’s that second part that will determine the future of the Olympics.

MP: The bidding process has to be simplified, but in doing so, the IOC cannot lose control of the fundamentals that are core to the success and at the heart of the Olympics. It has to find a balance and make sure all stakeholders fully understand what they are letting themselves in for.

IA: I would like to see the bidding process better reflect how potential host cities see the Olympic Games fit into their social, sporting, economic and ecological environments.

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