Seeing former International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge in Kuala Lumpur earlier this month reminded me how time marches on.
It is only two years since the Rogge era ended, yet already it seems that the situation confronting his successor Thomas Bach is a mirror image of that faced by the Belgian.
Internally, Rogge was seldom free of mumbled criticism regarding his rigid style and perceived shortcomings in his handling of relations with national Governments and leaders.
Yet outside the Movement, it seemed that everyone was in love with the Olympic Games, the IOC’s flagship product.
The height of this love affair was the contest for the right to host the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, between 2003 and 2005.
Nearly everyone remembers the line-up for the decisive vote in Singapore in July 2005: London, Paris, Madrid, New York City and Moscow - the Olympic equivalent of southern Africa’s Big Five game animals.
It is sometimes overlooked that four more cities - including Rio de Janeiro, which won the very next Summer Games race - did not even make it as far as the Raffles City Convention Centre.
Now compare and contrast this with Bach who, inside the Olympic Movement, is master of all he surveys, so much so that his Olympic Agenda 2020 reform programme was waved through without a single vote cast against any of its 40 recommendations.
Still more tellingly, after Marius Vizer ambushed the German in Sochi, the SportAccord President survived barely a month.
What is more, Bach was not obliged to do anything as unseemly as wield the dagger himself.
Beyond the Olympic bubble, however, the Olympic Games have seemingly become about as popular in the mature Western democracies which have historically hosted them as other, more typically controversial items of infrastructure such as a new motorway or a refugee holding centre.
Mere mention of a bid is enough to bring the Nimbys out in droves: Do you want to stage the Olympics in Boston-Oslo-St Moritz? Not In My Back Yard.
This is in no way Bach’s fault.
It is rather a reflection of the recent long, grinding economic slowdown in the Western world.
This has put both the living standards of the middle classes and the quality of public services under severe strain.
As a consequence, when the opportunity to spend tax dollars, or krone, or francs, on hosting a glitzy sports festival is presented to them, citizens are tending to say, "We’d rather have a better bus service/new hospital/cut in taxes, thank you very much".
These background tensions are now feeding through into the 2024 Olympic race, the rules of which are being written even as the contest’s early skirmishing is getting under way.
My observations of Bach in recent years would lead me to conclude, rightly or wrongly, that here is a President who, in an ideal world, would like to exercise quite a high degree of control over important stuff such as the city that will stage the Movement’s flagship event.
This, after all, is a man who floated the idea that became a breathtaking $7.7 billion (£4.9 billion/€6.9 billion) broadcasting deal with Comcast/NBCUniversal at a dinner fewer than 60 days into his new job, accompanied by just two other IOC officials.
There is actually a relatively simple explanation as to why almost any occupant of the IOC President’s office in 2015 might feel that way: IOC members, when left to their own devices, have repeatedly shown not the slightest inclination to bestow the Summer Games on a United States host; yet viewed in the cold light of commercial logic - i.e. the source of the Movement’s cash - there is a strong argument that now, 19 years (and counting) on from Atlanta, this would be a smart thing to do.
One simple step to increasing the chances of this happening might be to enhance the role of the IOC Executive Board in the choice of host-city.
Not surprisingly, this is what United States Olympic Committee chairman Larry Probst would like to see happen, as he made pretty plain in public comments last year.
To set against this, though, is the plain fact that the IOC needs a compelling, well-populated race for the 2024 Games to make up for the limpness of the recently-concluded 2022 contest.
There are two obvious pitfalls that might prevent an exciting, multi-faceted competition for this great sporting prize from developing.
- If you are a potential candidate but you sense that the Executive Board is minded to, and has the clout to, ease the path of a US bidder, your most rational strategy would probably be to keep your powder dry for next time.
- The aversion of many taxpayers to helping to foot the bill for a sporting festival during tough economic times has not gone away.
You might think that with five countries having thrown their hats into the ring, the 2024 race is already guaranteed to be more 2012 than 2022.
But, with the Boston fiasco having absorbed so much precious time, there is still no certainty of a US bid - even though, as I write, Los Angeles does appear to be getting its ducks into line.
Hamburg faces a referendum.
Rome pulled out last time.
I don’t think this will happen, but it is just possible that the IOC could be left with a Paris versus Budapest showdown - the sort of interest level in staging the Summer Games that was typical in the 1980s.
There is still a month for other names to emerge.
However, Baku, host of the inaugural European Games, probably needs more time to emerge as a real Olympic heavy-hitter.
Qatar still has the small matter of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and attendant controversies, to occupy it.
And Toronto is right up against it because of the IOC’s US conundrum: if they picked the Canadian city, that would probably mean that the Summer Games could not return to US soil until at least 2032, more likely 2036 - an interval of fully 40 years; too long.
The IOC, in other words, is still not well enough off for 2024 bidders that it can afford to scare anyone away.
This is the context into which I would place the decision, announced in Kuala Lumpur, to abolish the Applicant Phase of bidding.
On the face of it, this appears to reduce the Executive Board’s role in the contest, and enhance that of the members, by doing away with the half-way house cull that has been used to thin out the field in recent times, notably to Doha’s disadvantage.
Now, according to Christophe Dubi, the IOC’s executive director for the Olympics, candidate-cities will take part in the entire 24-month process "unless the IOC Executive Board for special circumstances decides otherwise".
Admittedly, the phrase "special circumstances" is vague enough as to still allow the Executive Board plenty of scope for intervention; the power-point slide illustrating Dubi’s remarks, moreover, condensed this qualifier to "unless IOC Executive Board determines otherwise".
When I asked Bach if the Executive Board retained the right to make a cut, however, he replied, with noteworthy economy, only if there were "an infringement of the rules".
On the face of it, then, the ordinary rank and file IOC members are to have complete control of who wins this pivotal 2024 contest, not even being restricted to the short-list of three, four or five we had become accustomed to.
I just can’t quite bring myself to believe, especially given the close involvement of IOC officials in the new-look two-year candidacy process, that this will be the last word on the subject.
I await further updates on the rules that will apply with interest.