Kevin Roberts on the conclusion of the race to stage the 2024 and 2028 Olympic Games…
Sometimes things work out for the best even when they don’t go entirely according to plan.
And while that may sound like the base plot outline for a hundred Hollywood movies it just about sums up the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) experiences in selecting the host for the 2024 Games.
They set out with a specific objective, ran into some choppy waters and not only survived the journey but ended up with a blue-chip host for the 2028 Games as well. It is, as IOC Evaluation Commission head Patrick Baumann tweeted at the time of Los Angeles announcing its candidature for 2028, a “win-win-win”.
More or less from the moment that Budapest decided to drop its bid because of internal political pressure, there was an expectation that the IOC would seek a deal with Paris and Los Angeles, its two remaining candidates, to cover 2028.
Now that is in place the immediate future of the Summer Olympic Games is sorted. Two of the world’s greatest, most filmed and storied cities are lined-up to ensure the smooth transition from one games to another, providing breathing space to fine-tune the process of encouraging other cities to enter the race for 2032.
Hosting major sports events and the process of negotiating processes and winning bidding contests has become a significant business in the last three decades or so.
After Barcelona – which celebrated the 25th anniversary of its Games last month – demonstrated how hosting the Olympics could help transform a city and the way it is seen by the world, metropolises across the planet became more willing to put their hands up as potential hosts.
But things change and the 2024 race reflected a new reality in which doubts over the cost/benefit ratio saw three of the five original candidates pull out. In each case the underlying reason was cost and the decisions of Hamburg, Rome and Budapest to throw in the bidding towel simply reflected a mood which had seen a raft of other cities either withdraw or not proceed with planned bids for various major events.
Politicians are generally not stupid and they understand there are no votes in spending public money on any project which can’t deliver specific and measurable benefit, something demonstrated by the people of Brazil who took to the streets in protest at the cost of the 2014 Fifa World Cup seen through the lens of lack of investment in transport, health and other services.
The background issues were recognised by the IOC and president Thomas Bach in his Agenda 2020 report and recommendations which set out to bring down the costs and enhance the local benefits of being a host city. But so far as the 2024 race is concerned it seems that, while the IOC may have been nimble in producing and adopting Agenda 2020, turning around external perceptions was going to take a little longer.
The bidding hiatus between now and 2025 when the 2032 hosts should be announced provides the time needed to change those perceptions, if necessary by more actively helping prospective hosts to make a compelling case to their citizens.
That we have reached the current win-win of ’24 and ’28 is not simply a happy accident. While the bids were very different they were both excellently conceived and presented with a degree of fluency and professionalism which reflects the current state of the bidding art, and most entirely unbiased observers found it difficult to find a significant reason to prefer one over the other.
Critically, both bids respected the Olympic Movement and its principles and LA’s consistent emphasis on acting in the best interests of the Games always made it seem likely that it would be happier to take the 2028 slot. In fact, the city always had a strong hand in its negotiations which resulted in an appropriate and significant financial agreement.
One of the key points of difference between the two bids was LA’s focus on the private sector. In 1984 the city hosted a Games which didn’t trouble the public purse and came out making money. Casey Wasserman and his team were focused on doing the same again.
The lack of reliance on public funds and political support gave the LA bid a degree of independence and resilience that, it might be argued, Paris could not promise over the longer run toward ’28. A change of local or national government and shift in public sentiment could potentially have changed the picture significantly.
But with the new hosts in place the future looks bright. Already reports are suggesting that Los Angles 2028 is likely to be a huge encouragement to current commercial partners to renew as well as raising the financial expectations on new ones. Furthermore, US broadcasters love nothing more than a Games in their own time zone.
Perhaps more importantly the Paris / Los Angeles one-two makes a timely statement about the place of the Olympic Games in a changing world. Each is an iconic city and each will deliver an iconic Games which will strengthen the Olympic brand, driving its value and helping turn the page to a new chapter on bidding to encourage the next generation of hosts.
It’s often said that you’re judged by the company you keep and, in Paris and Los Angeles, the Olympic Games would appear to be in the best of hands.