David Herdson looks at the battle to host the Games of the XXXIII Olympiad?
So, farewell then Rio – or perhaps, goodbye. It’s not been a vintage Games. Some problems, such as the Zika virus, couldn’t have been anticipated or prevented but others – the three-quarter empty stadia, the unsporting crowds, the polluted water, dangerous cycle courses and the impending shambles of the Paralympics – most certainly could. The City of Fiesta never showed up and it will be a very long time before the interlocking rings fly again under the statue of Christ the Redeemer.
Tokyo should do better. Japan has an excellent record in delivering on both the organisation absent in Rio and the public enthusiasm. Whether it can also create the atmosphere that makes for a true festival of sport, as Sydney and London managed, remains to be seen. I’m optimistic that it can.
But then where? Four cities are bidding for the 2024 Games: Budapest, Los Angeles, Paris and Rome, with the gold medal to be awarded next September.
Second-guessing selections is always a tough task but one made a lot easier if we can understand the thinking of those doing the selecting. That, though, is a lot easier said than done. One factor that shouldn’t be relevant is the gift-culture of the past. The IOC is not FIFA and has genuinely cleaned up its act. To my mind, there will be three main considerations in the delegates’ minds:
– Who can put on the Games in a way that will add to the IOC’s prestige?
– Whose turn is it?
– Where would I like to spend five weeks or so in summer?
As ever, form is also important and the evidence is that big cities and big countries do disproportionately well in winning. Well over half the Summer Olympics held since de Coubertin recreated them have been staged in what are now G7/UNSC countries and all bar two Games since 1952 have taken place in G20 countries (and those two were the home city of the then IOC president and the capital of the Olympics’ spiritual home, so very much exceptional).
All of which points to ruling out Budapest. It might well be able to host a good Games but with a seven-year lead-in time, there’s plenty that could go wrong and a small country that struggled seriously in the last recession (even if it’s recovered strongly since), might just be too big a risk. Besides which, Hungary will for many IOC delegates be a bit nondescript even if Budapest itself is lovely. Likewise, while Eastern Europe is due a Games, others are due one more.
We can probably also rule out Rome. Indeed, when the betting exchanges get round to putting up markets, this is probably the one to lay as it’ll have the shorter odds (Corals make Rome 3/1, to Budapest’s 10/1). The city withdrew as a 2020 applicant at the last minute which won’t have endeared them to the IOC and political support for the bid remains divided within the city.
That leaves two: Paris and Los Angeles. Both can say they represent areas long overdue a Summer Games. By 2024, it will be 28 years since North America last played host and exactly 100 years since France did. Both are global premier league cities in big countries and both are internationally attractive destinations, fit to follow in the footsteps of Beijing, London, Rio and Tokyo.
Paris, however, is by some way the bookies’ favourite, at 10/11, against LA’s 3/1. I’m not sure that disparity is right, though the cautious might prefer to look at the combined odds, albeit that the heavily odds-on price won’t return much.
The French capital has run before and ought to know the pitfalls to avoid and the strengths to play to (not insulting Finnish cooking, for example). By contrast, Los Angeles wasn’t even the USOC’s first choice bid city for 2024: Boston was selected but withdrew under local opposition.
Will that matter? Maybe not all that much. Paris also bid before for the 2008 Games and lost to London four years later, despite the latter not having bid recently (though the UK had), and despite the IOC technical team rating Paris the best of all the candidates. Were I marking up the book, I’d just have it the other side of evens and with LA a lot closer. The IOC will certainly want to return to the US at some point soon, the question is whether this is the bid and the time to do it. It’s a close call but my gut feeling is that centenary sentiment will win out and they’ll make the US wait another four years.