Olympic Committee to accept bids from ‘multiple cities, regions and/or countries’
Old timetable of a host city being announced seven years before a games will be scrapped and potential hosts will be actively sought
International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach during the 134th session of the IOC in Lausanne, Switzerland. Photograph: , EPA/Jean-Christophe Bott
Olympic Games could become more like World Cups in the future after the International Olympic Committee’s members approved a plan to accept bids from “multiple cities, regions and/or countries”.
The decision was one of several taken on the last day of the IOC’s 134th session in Lausanne that will radically change how the hosts of summer and winter games are chosen.
The changes, which were recommended by the IOC’s executive board last month, are designed to avoid what the organisation’s president Thomas Bach has identified as the main problem with Olympic bidding contests: there are “too many losers”. The German has been making this claim ever since the number of bidders for games started to dry up.
The 2022 and 2026 winter games came down to two-horse races after several candidates pulled out because of local opposition to the event’s costs and impact, while the IOC was forced to make an unprecedented double award in 2017 when it gave Paris the 2024 games and Los Angeles, its only rival, the 2028 games.
That was seen as a one-off at the time but it could become another of Bach’s favourite sayings, “the new norm”, as the IOC tries to make sure only cast-iron bids reach the decision stage and nobody is left disappointed.
Among the proposals agreed on Wednesday is a plan to create two “future host commissions” – one for the summer games, the other for the winter games – which will “establish a permanent, ongoing dialogue to explore and create interest” among candidate hosts.
This, the IOC says, will be done more flexibly, openly and proactively than in the past, which means the old timetable of a host city being announced seven years before a games will be scrapped and potential hosts will be actively sought.
However, the biggest reform is clearly the change to article 32.2 of the Olympic Charter, which used to state “Olympic Games are entrusted . . . to a city”.
That now becomes “entrusted to a city in principle – the executive board can determine that ‘host’ can also refer to other entities, eg multiple cities, regions and/or countries”.
This puts in writing what was already allowed in practice with the contest for the 2026 winter games, which saw a Milan-based, northern Italian bid beat a bid from Stockholm that would have seen some of the events held in Latvia.
That decision was made on Monday and the organisation claims the two bids spent 75 per cent less on their campaigns than Almaty and Beijing shelled out on their bids in 2015. It also said Milan-Cortina’s operational budget should be 20 per cent less than the budgets for the 2018 and 2022 games because the Italians will use more existing and temporary venues.
“Flexibility is a necessity to ensure good governance and to have sustainable Olympic Games in the future,” Bach said. “We will do that while maintaining the magic of the Games, the fundamental principle of universality and our commitment to having athletes at the centre of everything we do.”
An example of this “flexibility” is that hosts will no longer have to guarantee they will hold all of the sport “in the host city” or even “provide an Olympic Village”. The wording of the charter will be changed to let hosts “maximise use of existing sports or other infrastructure”.
While these changes do go a long way to addressing concerns about the high cost of bidding, they deprive the IOC of one of the key ways of keeping its brand in the spotlight between games: competitive bidding contests.
Some critics have also suggested the changes mean bids will no longer face long periods of public scrutiny, which might backfire with western democracies who already seem the most reluctant to bid, and they ignore the benefits that many bidding cities have enjoyed from simply taking part in such an international and high-profile examination.