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Comment: December 2014

Kevin Roberts: What's not to like about the IOC's proposals for change?

The International Olympic Committee (IOC)’s 40 recommendations to shape and safeguard the future of the Games contain sound common sense. In fact, it makes so much sense that it makes you wonder why it wasn’t already hard-wired into standard procedure.

The recommendations – which were drawn up with the help and insight of athletes, IOC insiders and experts from a world beyond Lausanne – are expected to be ratified at a meeting in Monaco this month and will form the blueprint for the Games in a 21st-century world.

At the heart of the recommendations is a switch in the bidding procedure from being a box-ticking exercise against a set of IOC criteria into a ‘partnership’ that the IOC will invest time, as well as money, in. This is designed to make bidding more attractive for cities and nations, particularly in countries where the leadership is accountable to voters and public funds are there to be used for the public’s own good.

The IOC will work with potential candidates and provide them with the information and insight they need to see whether their bid is a realistic option in hosting the Olympics. There are many reasons for thinking this is a great idea – but one critical element that is not detailed in the recommendations is the help that the IOC can give to potential candidate cities to sell the idea to their own electorate.

Sure, there’s some important stuff about ensuring that the world understands how the operational Games budget splits from the cost of any new airports, ski resorts, stadia and hotels that a city may decide to invest in. But from the outside at least, there would appear to be more that the IOC could and should do to provide the data and arguments to help cities in democracies make a more compelling case for bidding to their voters.

Olympic bids evolve and the communications programmes that accompany them must be allowed to reflect that

Naturally, one element of the recommendations that made headlines was the idea that a more relaxed view would be taken to holding some events outside the host city, so long as the integrity of the Olympic Village is maintained. The report even went as far as to say that in some ‘exceptional’ cases some events could be hosted in another country.

The first part of this happens already. Yachting events routinely take place way outside a host city because, yes, they need an ocean and reliable winds. Under an unusual – and hopefully unique – set of circumstances, the equestrian events of the 2008 Beijing Olympics were held in Hong Kong.

But liberalising this notion opens up significant opportunities to spread the love of the Olympic Games. The world is full of mountain ranges that form borders between nations, and adjoining cities could feasibly share Alpine winter Olympic events.

The notion of sharing in this way may pose all kinds of practical difficulties, but it is an attractive proposition, particularly if it were to bring to the party nations that would otherwise never be able to contemplate their own piece of Olympic action.

The IOC is also, sensibly, focused on bringing down the cost of bidding, in part by reducing the number of opportunities for bid cities to present their cases and by meeting some core costs, including visits by its evaluation commission.

There is, however, a school of thought that limiting the opportunity for bids to communicate is a backward step. Bid campaigns run over a lengthy period and are often affected by events that are beyond the control of the bid committee, but nonetheless need to be addressed. Bids evolve and the communications programmes that accompany them must be allowed to reflect that.

More, rather than less, communication and the offer of guaranteed airtime on an Olympic TV channel – should it be launched – may not fill the vacuum. If bid cities can’t talk to their key audiences through formal presentations, they will find other, potentially more expensive, ways of doing so.

These recommendations are to be warmly welcomed because, while they don’t contain a single seismic project, they herald a change in attitude. The real achievement of IOC president Thomas Bach’s Agenda 2020 is that, in theory at least, it enables groups other than the IOC to shape the future of the Olympic Movement. These groups will be able to table their own vision of how the Olympics should be presented as an event that reflects the needs, aspirations and capabilities of individual host cities.

The process will generate new and fresh visions of an Olympic Games fit for its 21st-century purpose, because it will be partly driven from a broad base – a melting pot of potentially mould-breaking ideas – rather than applying a cookie-cutter, top-down approach.

The delivery of Agenda 2020 represents a personal achievement by president Thomas Bach who has delivered exactly what he promised in his election manifesto and campaign.

Encouragingly, it also addresses the concerns of the IOC members who ran against him for the presidency last year. In that respect, it is a document that suggests a level of unity and shared purpose across the IOC which will be critical to its future success.

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