Race for the Rings: Where did Chicago go wrong?

October 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Olympic Games 

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 16, 2009 – In the aftermath of the elimination of Chicago on the first ballot in the run for the 2016 Olympic Games, there has been plenty of hand-wringing about what went wrong.

What did Chicago do or not do to deserve this result?

Nothing, really.

Chicago put forth an excellent bid and broke new ground for American bid cities. The venue and village concepts were sound, if expensive, and the plan for the Games – conceived by the talented Doug Arnot – was very well done. The bid was strongly financed and the Chicagoans matched their counterparts from Rio, Madrid and Tokyo in showing up at international meeting after international meeting.

So, shouldn’t that be enough? Unfortunately, no.

Chicago did not lose the Games as much as Rio won them. Despite substantial problems with crime and a projected infrastructure cost of more than $11 billion U.S., Rio’s clear advantage was that the Games have never been held in South America. And they played that card strongly and unashamedly. They won because of it.

Madrid made it through to the finals thanks to three strong elements: (1) it was the only bidder from Europe, which has a plurality of I.O.C. members; (2) former I.O.C. president Juan Antonio Samaranch called it personal favors from the dozens of members that were appointed during his 20 years in office, and (3) the Spanish got high marks for the brilliant Games held in Barcelona in 1992 and there was no doubt that Madrid would do as well or better.

Against this, there was little chance for Chicago or Tokyo, despite the pre-event hoopla. This was fairly obvious to outside observers, but the excitement generated by the Chicago bid committee – another sign of their competence – created an expectation that its bid would fare better.

If there is criticism to be leveled at the Chicago bid, it’s in some small things that could have helped move votes in areas which the I.O.C. members – many of whom have day jobs as officers or directors of National Olympic Committees or International Federations – actually care about:

• A constant thorn in the side of international sports officials (and other visitors) is the difficulty in obtaining visas for travel to meetings and events in the United States. This could have been answered directly by an initiative by the Obama Administration, which had a close tie with the Chicago organizing committee in Valerie Jarrett, who worked for the Chicago bid prior to moving to the White House. Because the Executive branch controls our immigration and customs control, an offer to have visas issued by embassies and consulates working directly with N.O.C.s and I.F.s in their own countries would have shown the requisite outreach needed to impress I.O.C. members.

• Chicago did not have a clear selling proposition to the I.O.C. Rio had geography, Madrid cast itself as the “safe and sane” Games that would work without problems, and Tokyo pushed its 21st Century sustainability credentials and a “carbon-neutral” Games. Chicago’s promotion of a compact Games and a friendly city wasn’t in the same league as these clear, overarching propositions.

So Chicago lost. However, the impact of its bid will be felt for some time to come, as it set new standards in several areas. Of greatest import to future bid cities will be Chicago’s willingness – in a 49-0 vote by the City Council – to sign the I.O.C.’s standard host-city contract and accept unlimited liability for the financing of the Games. That’s a hard one to swallow for any U.S. city, but Chicago agreed to it. Further, former AON Corporation chairman Patrick Ryan was near-magical in bringing Chicago’s corporate community together to fund the bid and contributed several million dollars of his own money to help. Any future U.S. bidder is going to have to deal with both of those Chicago realities in putting together any new bid.

Where the U.S. Olympic Committee goes from here with a future Olympic bid is anyone’s guess. In this century, it has put up New York and Chicago and lost twice and pushed aside two bid efforts from Los Angeles and well-presented bids from cities such as Dallas, Houston, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Only Los Angeles offers a near-ready set of facilities, including an Olympic Village, that would eliminate nearly all construction costs.

But it’s wrong to berate Chicago and wonder if they could have done better. They did as well as they could and in a close race among four contenders, they should be saluted for an excellent effort despite the disappointing results.

Race for the Rings: What did Paris do wrong?

July 11, 2005 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Olympic Games 

LOS ANGELES, Jul. 11, 2005 – In the aftermath of London’s upset of Paris in the race to host the Games of the XXX Olympiad in 2012, the hand-wringing in France and the sharp comments of observers point to the question: What did Paris do wrong?

The answer?


Paris didn’t lose as much as London won. And here’s how:

>> Paris’s bid was near-perfect and won near-unanimous praise from the Evaluation Commission. But London was close and the Evaluation Commission’s view of its bid left it only slightly behind the French. So there wasn’t much ground to make up on the technical end.

>> Both cities were competing to host the Games for the third time, and with a comfortable distance between their bids and the remaining three from Madrid, Moscow and New York according to the Evaluation Commission, the race became focused.

>> Members of the International Olympic Committee are world travelers in sport and for many of them, Paris was already familiar. The French hosted – with considerable distinction – the FIFA World Cup in soccer in 1998 and the IAAF World Championships in Athletics in 2003 in the same stadium that was proposed for 2012. London, on the other hand, hadn’t hosted a major international sporting competition since the 1966 FIFA World Cup, so it was due.

>> The British bid was led by a magical personality in Sebastian Coe, the two-time Olympic gold medalist in 1980 (800 m) and 1974 (1500 m). Although the London bid had been considered in a shambles in 2003, Coe’s leadership not only brought the bid together, but made him the face of the bid to the IOC, a group which revered him not only as a great athlete, but as a great sportsman. None of the other bids had an equivalent star who shined as brightly in front of the IOC at the very center of their bid, rather than as a member of the supporting cast.

>> Finally, the British showed that they – as a country – wanted the Games more. This was evident from their approach to the IOC Session in Singapore, as they were the first to arrive, nearly a week before the first meetings began. Moreover, the lobbying effort by Prime Minster Tony Blair for a full three days prior to the vote, in the midst of his hosting duties for the annual Summit of Industrialized Nations (the G-8), on a one-on-one basis with nearly three dozen IOC members was likely decisive.

Blair and French President Jacques Chirac, as leaders of G-8 nations, are major world leaders. In an IOC which is now made up primarily of sports figures and business personalities, rather than royalty and heads of government, such visits from leading governmental figures are impressive and important.

London won by just four votes out of 104 cast on the final ballot, so it was hardly a rout. And while Chirac’s dismissal of London because British food is the worst in Europe other than Finland was silly, it was probably not a factor. But shaking Blair’s hand and listening to his level of commitment on behalf of the government was undoubtedly memorable.

It’s a great lesson for bid cities. In the race to host the Olympic Winter Games in 2010, Vancouver was considered troubled, having been ranked (more or less) third in the Evaluation Commission’s technical analysis. But they persevered, lobbied enthusiastically and ended up winning on the second ballot over Pyeongchang, South Korea. Same for London.

Now the hard work begins. After the vote, the IOC and London are partners and after seven years together in 2012, the IOC will know if British food is good or bad. More importantly, they will know if they made the right choice.