Time to extinguish the Olympic flame before it’s blown out

The Olympics are a poisoned brand few cities want to touch – where do they go from here?

The International Olympic Committee is left with only two candidate cities for the 2024 Olympics – Paris and Los Angeles – after Budapest, Boston, Hamburg and Rome dropped out of the race. Photograph: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

There was always the suspicion Pat Hickey would have the last laugh, his arrest in Rio last August deftly concealing the now-obvious realisation the Olympic movement was about to hit an iceberg. Hickey was simply jumping ship.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is now in the eye of its own storm. It’s difficult to see Hickey returning to his seat on the IOC executive committee even if they wanted him. He may miss the fist-pumping with Vladimir Putin and the $900 Games per diem, but the Olympics are such a poisoned brand right now he probably feels he is better off on the outside of the circus looking in.

Now, the roughly 30-billion-dollar question for the IOC is where to go from here. There’s no turning back the clock on Rio, and the countdown to Tokyo 2020 is already too far gone for pausing. The problem is they’re left with only two candidate cities for the 2024 Olympics, Paris and Los Angeles, presuming they stay in the race up until September’s vote at the IOC Congress in Lima, Peru.


Paris and LA were always the two leading bids, and one of the most recent polls in LA put support for its Olympic candidacy at 88 per cent. In Europe, however, the Olympic brand is seen as toxic, Budapest this week withdrawing its candidacy for 2024, the city’s Mayor István Tarlós calmly stating, “there is no point dragging out this process like strudel dough.”


Opposition had reached crushing point: just like it had in Rome and Hamburg, also part of the five original candidates to take over the Olympic flame from Tokyo.

Let’s not forget Boston either, the US Olympic Committee’s original preferred choice to bid for the 2024 Games, only for all hell to break loose – Boston’s anti-Olympic sentiment becoming so strong that by July 2015 its bid was unceremoniously dumped, and LA was entered instead. Other potential bidders for 2024, including Toronto, also cited a fear of public rejection.

Hamburg, Germany’s second-largest city, voted a resounding “nein” when putting their 2024 bid to a public referendum in 2015. Then, last October, the Rome bid was also pulled after its new Mayor Virginia Raggi refused to support it.

The Winter Olympics brand has become equally contaminated, again especially in Europe. PyeongChang, South Korea, will light that flame next February, but all six European bids for the 2022 Winter Olympic dropped out. Krakow, Munich, and St Moritz/Davos rejected their bids by public referendum; Stockholm and Oslo dropped out through a combination of public/political apathy; Lviv, Ukraine dropped out because of war. Last Sunday, St Moritz/Davos voted again to say no to a 2026 bid.

Price tag

That ghastly €37 billion price tag of Sochi 2014 hasn’t helped matters and, in the end, the IOC was left to choose between Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan for 2022. Beijing won, even though the nearest ski resort is a two-hour drive away.

For IOC president Thomas Bach, the Hamburg vote was particularly telling, a brutal rejection not just by his own people, but also scaring off any further German bids for a long time.

Still, the IOC bury their heads deeper into the sand of their five-ringed circus, blaming Budapest’s withdrawal this week on “opposition party politics”. Indeed they’re happy to blame everyone but themselves: doping and bribery; taxpayer revolt; even the alt-right movement.

There is some truth to the argument those pictures of crumbling venues in Rio merely reflect a Brazilian economy that was already going to hell, and simply dragged the Olympics down with it. What they don’t disguise is the fact governments often use the Olympics as their own vanity projects masquerading as a sporting event, right down to those opening ceremonies of increasingly unconvincing gusto.

Here before

There is also the argument the IOC have been here before. LA, remember, was the only candidate for the 1984 Olympics, the brand then at its most toxic for financial reasons. Then LA brought in local businessman Peter Ueberroth, who delivered a $232.5 million profit and ended up


magazine’s man of the year. For the 2004 Olympics, the IOC had 10 bid cities, and could afford to eliminate five before the actual vote.

For now, at least, the Paris 2024 bid seems set in stone. And while it should hold up until the vote on September 13th, is there any guarantee Paris will still be open to staging the Games come 2024? There’s no guarantee there will still be an EU at that point. Factor in the unstable government, suburban unrest, terrorism etc, and that premature endgame could finally bring down the IOC.

The IOC could also split the award in September, giving Paris 2024 and LA 2028, or vice versa, but there’s no guarantee either city will buy that. It might merely be postponing the inevitable.

LA seems like the safer bet, a gentle extinguishing of the Olympic flame before it’s blown out. At least there’s the guarantee Donald Trump won’t still be US president in 2024, right?