Nick Butler
David OwenOn November 4 in Paris, on the aptly-named Avenue Pierre de Coubertin, results from a feasibility study into a possible Olympic and Paralympic bid will be presented by some of the great and the good of the French sports establishment.

The event, which I am content to report will be followed by a cocktail party, should give us a better sense of whether the French capital will throw its chapeau into the ring in the 2024 race for which the starting-pistol will be fired next year.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) had better hope that the study has a favourable outcome.

With the recent withdrawal of Oslo meaning that the lacklustre 2022 contest is down to just two runners, Almaty and Beijing, the Olympic Movement badly needs a competitive field for 2024, which presumably will be the first race to take account of IOC President Thomas Bach's Agenda 2020 changes.

Unfortunately, as time passes, it is looking less and less clear where that competitive field is likely to come from.

It is important to say, though it would not cut much ice with mainstream media, that if the eventual 2024 line-up does once again have an underpowered look, it will be for very different reasons than those which have decimated the potential 2022 field. The Summer Games remains, in my opinion, a far stronger property than its Winter counterpart simply because it offers the country hosting it a genuinely global - and pretty much all-consuming - platform.

Oslo, along with Stockholm, Kraków and Lviv, have all withdrawn from a lacklustre 2022 Olympic race, but 2024 has more potential ©AFP/Getty ImagesOslo, along with Stockholm, Kraków and Lviv, have all withdrawn from a lacklustre 2022 Olympic race, but 2024 has more potential ©AFP/Getty Images

The incipient problem regarding 2024 is that one probable runner - the United States - is seen as so strong that other top-calibre candidates, chiefly in Europe and the Middle East, might opt to keep their powder dry until next time.

This is potentially a big deal for the IOC since not only does it risk producing another boring race, which it can ill afford, but it would almost certainly reduce Lausanne's bargaining power on commercial and organisational matters with the Games organisers.

So who, as it stands today, are the most likely runners?

No final decision has been taken, but I would think something serious would have to go awry at December's Extraordinary Session of the IOC in Monaco for the United States not now to give it another crack.

That means either Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco or Washington D.C. looks set to be on the starting-line, probably as favourite.

Whenever I have discussed this, the assumption seems to be that Los Angeles, Olympic host in 1932 and 1984, is most likely to emerge as the US candidate; while I have no inside knowledge of the selection process, I see little reason to dispute this.

Toronto and Mexico have both pulled the plug on the idea of making a bid.

With the Peruvian capital Lima bidding to stage the 2017 Session at which the 2024 host will be announced, the US candidate is likely to have a free run as far as the Americas are concerned - a far from negligible consideration; part of what torpedoed Chicago's bid for the 2016 Games at such an embarrassingly early stage of the voting process was the presence on the four-strong shortlist of another Western Hemisphere candidate, Rio de Janeiro, the eventual winner.

Only the United sates is likely to bid from the Americas, with 1984 host Los Angeles seen as the most likely contender ©Getty ImagesOnly the United sates is likely to bid from the Americas, with 1984 host Los Angeles seen as the most likely contender ©Getty Images

With Tokyo set to stage the 2020 Games, there seems little point in Asian cities entering the 2024 race, unless as a dry run for future Olympiads.

And while significant Agenda 2020-inspired changes to the bidding process might help to encourage one or more African cities to present themselves, I have detected little sign of detailed plans being laid at this stage.

Durban, one of the likelier African candidates under normal circumstances, will have its hands full with its Commonwealth Games bid until at least next September, which is also when expressions of interest for 2024 are supposed to reach the IOC.

That leaves Europe and the Middle East.

Recent history suggests one should never discount them, but I would not be surprised to see Doha sit this one out, in light of tensions in the region and, more particularly, the 2022 World Cup project, which it will be under pressure to get absolutely right.

Dubai, the region's other main potential candidate, appeared to rule itself out of the running last year; and it too has another major project on the horizon, in the shape of the 2020 World Expo.

I have a hunch, though, it is one of those cities that might be prevailed upon to ride to the IOC's rescue should an underpopulated field appear in the offing come next summer.

Even if it, or Doha, would be seen as outsiders in the face of a well-managed US bid, it could use the 2024 race to position itself for 2028, when it would pose a big threat to even the most heavyweight European contenders.

Dubai has suggested it will not bid but should be completely written off ©Getty ImagesDubai has suggested it will not bid but should not be completely written off ©Getty Images

The most rational strategy for a serious European bidder, too, in my view, would be to make provision to bid both in 2024 and 2028.

The risk of sitting out 2024 is that, should the US once again mess up, as is well within the bounds of possibility, you might miss out on a good opportunity to snap up the prize; worse, one of your European rivals might end up as the beneficiary of US misfortune, in which case there would be little point in bidding for 2028 either.

Unfortunately, I doubt that this strategy would sit well with the political classes in several of the strongest potential European bidders, some of whom have already tasted the ashes of Olympic defeat and may be assumed to be particularly keen not to do so again.

Paris is one of those I would put in this category, and now that Prime Minister Manuel Valls has signalled Government backing for a French bid to host Expo 2025, I would not be surprised if the French capital decides ultimately to focus its efforts on 2028.

Istanbul, beaten by Tokyo for the 2020 Games, is another: with economic growth slowing and the appalling violence in Iraq and Syria alarmingly close at hand for Turkey, the likelihood of an Istanbul 2024 bid appears to me at the moment to be receding.

Rome surprised many with its abrupt withdrawal from the 2020 race and could certainly give a US bidder a run for its money in 2024.

However, European growth seems once again to be stalling, and it is hard to foresee enthusiastic support for the Olympics to return to the Italian capital while economic prospects are so uncertain.

You might expect German cities to be keen to help out their compatriot Thomas Bach as he endures what is turning into his first sticky spell as IOC President - and indeed I think Hamburg or Berlin are among the likelier 2024 bidders.

However, Munich was one of the European cities whose inhabitants voted against backing a bid for the 2022 Games.

Consequently, German sports leaders may be expected to proceed very cautiously.

Berlin host city of the 1936 Olympics is among the stronger European contenders, although Hamburg is also mounting a German bid ©Getty ImagesBerlin host city of the 1936 Olympics is among the stronger European contenders, although Hamburg is also mounting a German bid ©Getty Images

Baku, a first phase casualty in the 2020 race, will I think bid.

One of the benefits of hosting next year's inaugural European Games is that it will enhance the organisational skills and experience of local Azerbaijanis.

Partly as a consequence, the city by the Caspian Sea should be capable of a very credible Olympic bid, though not one, I think, likely to upset a US candidate that is on its game.

Finally, while you might think that the recent sharp chill in relations between Vladimir Putin's Russia and the West would have snuffed out any prospect of St Petersburg winning the 2024 race, that does not, I think, mean that it definitely will not enter.

If he suspects a sub-standard contest, Putin might sense an opportunity perhaps to exploit any US weakness and certainly to position the city for a more sustained assault in 2028, when political power alliances may again have shifted.

And whatever residual problems this year's Sochi Winter Games in Russia might have left the IOC to deal with, they were run with undeniable efficiency.

So there you have it; I make that only two almost unquestioned bidders - the US and Azerbaijan - with Germany, Russia and the Gulf as strong possibles and France, Italy and Turkey, as well as conceivably an African city, more distant maybes.

Let's allow too for the fact that someone unsuspected often pops out of the woodwork.

In the best of all possible circumstances, that could still make for a compelling and vigorous race; more likely, it will just about pass muster.

David Owen worked for 20 years for the Financial Times in the United States, Canada, France and the UK. He ended his FT career as sports editor after the 2006 World Cup and is now freelancing, including covering the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the 2010 World Cup and London 2012. Owen's Twitter feed can be accessed here.