Driving while dreaming

Terrence Burns, executive vice-president, Global Sports at Engine Shop, ponders on whatever happened to the IOC’s Candidate Cities process and its apparent replacement by a more pragmatic approach

Terrence Burns

The ever-evolving IOC Candidate City process reminds me a lot of driving while listening to Google Maps’ excellent guidance instructions; often, I just barely miss the turn because I am driving just a tad too fast. Admit it, it happens to you, too.

We’ve just witnessed the end of the 2026 Winter Games Candidate City campaign. A campaign that began with multiple hopeful cities, yet again dwindled down to only two: Milan-Cortina and Stockholm-Äre. Maybe the two most important parts of the 2026 campaign were the use of hyphens in the bid cities’ names (a no-go in the past), and the IOC’s encouragement and acceptance of it.

Both Candidates “bent over backwards” to devise new concepts that just a few years ago would have been rejected outright; not only by the IOC, but by the powerful International Federations as well. And, even for the 2026 campaign (disclaimer: I worked for the Stockholm-Äre bid) the continued power of the IFs was both apparent and real. But that’s another column for later.

Each city spent tremendous energy touting their “unique” adherence to Olympic Agenda 2020 as well as the “New Norm”. And in most instances, they were genuine. Each capitalised on extensive use of existing facilities, each proposed competition venues “spread out” in an unprecedented fashion, and each had super-minimal operating budgets (we will see…). And of course, each Candidate globed onto the hottest issue of the IOC’s “New Norm”, assuring the IOC and its local populations that taxpayers would not be on the hook for the cost of the Games – until one didn’t. “Game over” for the other one, pun intended.

What to do? Well, our Aussie friends may have a better idea, and one in fact that the IOC may gravitate towards because it may be inevitable.

The Summer Games of 2032 offer a unique opportunity. Australia is keen to host the Games again (the Sydney 2000 Games remain, far and away, my favorite Games of all time – well done, Australia), but this time in Queensland. In fact, a delegation from Queensland, led by Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, visited Lausanne a few days ago to lay out their case to IOC president Thomas Bach and his team.

What? Has the 2032 Candidate City “process” already begun, you might ask? Good question. And the answer is “no”, sort of, because the IOC’s Candidate City process as we knew it is no more.

In the immortal words of Monty Python, “the process has ceased to be…it’s expired and gone to meet its maker…it’s a stiff…bereft of life, it’s kicked the bucket and shuffled off its mortal coil and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!”

The King is dead, long live the King.

The Aussies may be onto something rather obvious and definitely important. Why shouldn’t a city/nation do some forward thinking about hosting the Games and approach the IOC with a “deal too good to ignore”? Well, it’s been done. Look no farther than LA 2028 (disclaimer, I worked on that bid, too).

Using that template, Queensland 2032, and note it is not a city but a region just like the hyphenated Candidates of 2026, has everything to win and nothing to lose by telling the IOC “we don’t care about the process or the timing, we want 2032 and here’s what we can offer you right now”.

Bold. Logical. Prudent. Everything the IOC needs to really, and this time I mean really, make Olympic Agenda 2020 (by 2032 it will be 12 years on) and the “New Norm” the transformative change the IOC set out to achieve.

Water finds its own level and the Candidate City process may have found its own level as well.

What if the “new” Candidate City process isn’t a process at all? What if word has gotten out that the IOC will entertain a bid from any city at any time if that city provides something bold, logical, prudent and a tangible lasting legacy to the Host City/Region/Nation. What if the IOC really does somehow evolve the “Games Guarantee”, not letting it revert to a financial one, as it did for 2026?

That may be exactly what is unfolding in front of our eyes. Or not.

But I am an optimist. I believe there are great cities and nations who do believe, as I do, in the power of the Olympic Games to positively change the world. By the way, most bid cities past and present do believe this – that’s not the issue – the issue is they generally had no idea how to do it efficiently, affordably, and in a way that mitigated risk for the IOC.

I also believe there is certainly more than one city/nation which is figuring out how to host the Games efficiently, affordably, and with the greatest of care and justice to the Olympic brand.

The key for the IOC to make this happen is to slow down, listen carefully, and take the turn.