POSTED: November 22nd 2017

NEIL WILSON: Why is Olympic bidding still so expensive?

Calgary was home to the 1988 Olympics © Bigstock
Calgary was home to the 1988 Olympics © Bigstock

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) Calgary city council decided this week to spend a further CAD$2 million on exploring whether to bid to host the Winter Olympic Games for a second time in 2026. 

Yes, that's right. Exploring a bid. Not bidding. That, the council reckons, will cost anything up to CAD$30 million. 

That CAD$2 million is on top of  CAD$5 million already committed by the council to exploring whether to bid. So that will be CAD$7 million on exploration. Up to CAD$30 million on a bid.

That in a nutshell is why the International Olympic Committee is not flooded with applications from the world's cities to host its winter version of the Games.

Only recently the good folk of Innsbruck where the Olympics has been hosted twice voted not to ask for a third chance. Possible bids by Stockholm and the Swiss town of Sion are also thought to be in doubt because of local opposition to the expense.

The expense of hosting, by Calgary's calculations, would be CAD$4.6 billion (USD$3.6billion) for a little more than two weeks of sport. Benefit to the community in economic terms, according to two independent reports from respected universities, which were given to the council, would be at best zero. 

Now at the same time as the council 'explores' a bid for the Olympics, it is bidding to become the home city of Amazon's second headquarters. Value to the community would be USD$3.9billion and 50,000 new, permanent jobs.

What is so instructive is the cost of its bid to Amazon. Not exploring a bid but the equivalent of four months work on putting it together. According to the city's development department, it was USD$470,000. 

The IOC proclaimed that it had brought the cost and complexity of bidding under control with its president Thomas Bach's Agenda 2020. 

The Calgary experience suggests otherwise. It has not won its bid for Amazon at present but nor has it won the Olympic bid. And not to win one will be a whole lot less painful than the other.

How does the IOC reduce those costs? Only those who bid know exactly what those costs are but sending teams to numerous IOC occasions to lobby and employing expensive lobbyists must form a hefty part. 

Hosting a vast team of IOC officials for a three-day evaluation visit is another part, and no voting IOC member ultimately takes notice of.  The vote on the 2016 host city proved that. 

The evaluators invariably swallow hook, line and sinker the fictions they are told. The 2018 Games in PyeongChang, next February, promised a rail connection from Incheon to the Olympic zone to reduce the journey time to 57 minutes. Now those visiting discover it will take 1 hour 50 minutes.

Not for a minute can I imagine Amazon allowing the city it chooses to renege on its contract to that extent.

Somehow the IOC has to simplify its bidding process, cut the costs and force bidders to make good on promises. 

Only that way will it encourage a queue of serious applicants to its doors in Lausanne.

** NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books.

****The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sports Features Communications. 

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