Friday, December 29, 2006

The Stories of 2006

During the holiday season, the sports event bidding world seems to simmer down. There are less press releases - and less news.

Sitting on my desk to mark this lull is the annual holiday greeting card from Korea's Gangwon Province Governor Jin-sun KIM representing PyeongChang 2014, and another from the Salzburg 2014 Olympic bid team.

Our friends over at Around The Rings have been publishing their annual "Golden 25" to fill the seasonal gap in reporting and Time Magazine has just chosen me as "Person Of The Year" (well, me, you and everyone else using the Internet).

Even the media covering the Commonwealth Games bids from Abuja, Glasgow and Halifax seem to have taken off their boxing gloves and temporarily stopped the cheap shots at their respective bid competitors.

This is truly a magical season.

So, like every other niche publication out there - here is my attempt to fill the void by reflecting on the past year we've come to know as 2006.

To Bid Or Not To Bid - That's the USOC's Question

The top Summer Games bid story of 2006 is the United States Olympic Committee's ongoing attempt to choose a candidate to bid (or not to bid) for the 2016 Olympic Games.

Is it a publicity stunt? Is it a way to politically leverage favour with the IOC? Probably both.

The USOC has created a new whimsical method of determining whether to bid for the 2016 Games. First they'll go through the effort of working with and evaluating a group of applicants then they'll decide whether or not to bid.

After "deselecting" applications from Philadelphia and Houston the USOC decided to do a thorough examination of Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco requiring them to create detailed bid proposals and prepare for several meetings and inspection visits. The highly publicized process grabbed headlines throughout the world.

The biggest news came when San Francisco, considered by many as the leading candidate, was forced to withdraw from the contest when a proposed stadium deal fell through and the bid committee was left with no other viable option. San Francisco's collapse was hauntingly familiar to the disgrace experienced by New York's 2012 bid when it was forced to put together a last minute backup plan after its initial stadium deal fell through just days before the IOC host city election.

Only Chicago and Los Angeles remain.

Based on findings so far, the USOC said it will announce its decision to bid or not "by the end of the year". With two days left, we're still waiting. If the answer is yes, the nominated city will be announced by April 2007.

Will the USOC bid for 2016? My guess is "yes". The USOC took a lot of heat when their choice of New York for 2012 backfired after a controversial domestic selection process. The current process is intended to demonstrate to the public, and more importantly voting IOC members, that the decision-making process was not only fair but was designed to "create" a quality winning bid and to minimize the chances of a second consecutive United States bid failing.

The USOC recognizes that 2016 is an opportune window for a United States Olympic Games based on various Olympic geopolitics - and they want to bid. And the IOC needs a U.S. bid and a U.S. Summer Games to continue to fill their coffers. But the IOC and USOC haven't been on the best diplomatic terms recently and USOC Chair Peter Ueberroth is likely playing a poker hand with the 2016 bid being a bargaining chip to be played at some future time.

Blame It On Borat - Almaty Misses 2014 Winter Games Cut

The top Winter Olympic Games bid story of 2006 is Almaty, Kazakhstan's elimination from the 2014 Olympic bid race.

The unlikely bid entered the race at the last minute - but the bid committee worked hard to catch up and presented a very impressive proposal. The IOC evaluation commission agreed, but also recognized some risks and concluded in their report that Almaty "straddled the benchmark" used to qualify a bid. Three bids scored better, three bids scored worse and there was no clear conclusion as to whether Almaty would be accepted as a candidate.

Some sources close to the IOC told me that the inclusion of Almaty as a 2014 candidate came to a vote among 12 Executive Board members resulting in a 6-6 standoff. Then IOC member from Sweden, Gunilla Lindberg, urged the Board not to include a candidate that presented certain "risks" so the final decision was made to exclude Almaty and allow only PyeongChang, Salzburg and Sochi to bid for the games.

To me, this was a monumental decison that might demonstrate the Executive Board's lack of confidence in the entire group of IOC members who will eventually vote on the 2014 winner. It seems Lindberg feared that an inferior bid might be elected contrary to the best interests of the IOC - and the Executive Board needed to mitigate the risk.

The whole issue may have been prompted by the results of the bid for the 2010 Winter Games. Then PyeongChang, the fourth place borderline candidate accepted to bid, outscored two highly-ranked candidates on the first ballot coming just short of a huge upset victory. This was the result of a mish-mash of politics and mixed intentions among voting IOC members.


For 2007 we can look forward to the July election of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games host city in Guatemala followed by the deadline for applicants intending to bid for the 2016 Olympic Games.

In November the Commonwealth Games Federation will choose its 2014 Games host city and in the Spring the International Association of Athletics Federations will choose the host for its 2011 and 2013 Games.

Have a great New Year!