A new bidding strategy for the Olympic Games

Sion: a potential host city for the Winter Olympic Games in 2026

In my previous blog, I said that the lack of a long-term strategy and vision has blinkered the IOC in its ability to anticipate the current dearth of viable host cities for the Olympic Games. We should have seen this crisis looming some 10 years ago…

It is not just an issue around the quantity of potential host cities, but also of the quality of these candidates. Although the IOC would not admit it publicly, we have seen a great many candidate cities where the Olympic Games governing body would very much prefer not to host its flagship event. These sorts of candidates should simply be avoided at all costs.

So what can we do to remedy the situation in the future?

There is one obvious element that needs rethinking: the current bidding system for cities vying to host the Olympic Games is totally outdated and must simply be torn up and discarded.

The bidding system possibly made sense during the latter half of last century, but it is simply no longer fit for purpose. With fewer and fewer cities prepared even to consider hosting sport’s flagship event, the IOC needs to find another selection system as quickly as possible.

So here is my view: there should no longer be an ‘open tender’ system, in which any country with an NOC can put forward a city as a potential Olympic host. Instead, the IOC should take the initiative itself and proactively contact suitable host cities, or countries. Once a shortlist is drawn up, the final selection of city should be based on pure rationale, instead of the existing voting system by the 115 Members whose choices are often ‘coloured’ by other (often political) motives.

I would recommend the following methodology for selecting future host cities:

  1. The IOC should approach a small number of carefully-selected countries to ask whether they would be open to organising the Olympic Games. It would then draw up a shortlist of two (or maximum three) countries, in order of preference, where it would like to see the Olympics held. The IOC would then negotiate with the first country on its list and, if agreement is not reached, only then open negotiations with the second country. To ensure success, the IOC must also be prepared to make the Host City Contract much, much less onerous. I must say that I have never seen any other contract that is so skewed towards one party (the IOC), something that also makes it a product of a bygone age.
  2. A fundamental condition of hosting must be that a country can organise the Games without making taxpayers fund the investment for additional infrastructure. The only infrastructure investments that would be allowed would be those which would be made anyway, irrespective of hosting the Olympics. The only costs taken on by a host country’s government, therefore, would be those relating to security (which could be kept to a minimum by using the army, as happened at London 2012).
  3. The new bidding system must also allow scope for an applicant country’s corporations to be far more involved in the delivery of the Games, both commercially as well as in the organisation process itself. This can easily be done without jeopardising or changing our TOP Sponsor programme.
  4. Because the IOC is integrally involved in the negotiations and final choice of host city, it must also assume greater responsibility for the organisation of the Games. Some tasks that are today blithely passed over to the OCOG would better be organised by the IOC itself. That is logical: the IOC is deeply involved in every Games and so can make the best use of its accumulated know-how.

The current bidding crisis is summed up for me by the case of Switzerland. This is the winter country par excellence: alpine tourism was born here. How is it possible that the country that is home to the IOC itself and which has every possible asset to organise a fantastic Winter Games has not played host since 1948? Proposals for a Swiss Winter Games have been made time and again, but most of the time they have prompted a negative reaction from the Swiss population, mainly because of the perceived high costs.

This week, the Swiss city of Sion has confirmed that it will bid for the Winter Games of 2026. In the bidding system I outline above, I would encourage the IOC to seize the initiative by approaching and negotiating with the Swiss government, the canton of Valais and the city itself – thereby reassuring the Swiss tax-payers – and this time I hope not letting the opportunity slip away yet again. A spectacular and successful Winter Games in Switzerland in 2026 would be both a huge boost for winter sports as well as for the IOC.

Lastly, I totally understand that my proposed new system would mean taking away from IOC members the privilege of choosing where to host the Games. But they can surely understand that if nothing is done to resolve the current crisis, then a time will come soon when they simply do not have any bids to choose from…

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