Philip Barker

It is less than a year until the destiny of the 2024 Olympics will be revealed when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) meet in Lima.

After Rome's Mayor withdrew her backing for their bid, the race looks set to be a three horse affair between Budapest, Paris and Los Angeles.

How different it was in Lausanne 30-years-ago when IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch opened envelopes to announce that Albertville would stage the 1992 Winter Games and that his home city of Barcelona would host the Summer Games.

In the 1970s, the Olympic Movement had been plunged into crisis after successive political boycotts. Few were willing to bid but everything changed after the 1984 Los Angeles Games made such a huge profit.

"To put on a Games privately, to show that you could do it without a financial failure, I think we were an important factor," said Organising Committee President Peter V Ueberroth.

Samaranch was able to congratulate six cities who had "launched themselves so valiantly into the adventure of a bid". It was, he said, "an expression of confidence and faith in the Olympic ideal and its future". 

"We can only rejoice at this very tough but friendly competition," he added.

The IOC Session in 1986 in Lausanne marked the beginning of a new era for the Olympic Movement. It was also to be the last time that Summer and Winter hosts would be chosen at the same time.

A poster for the 1986 IOC Session in Lausanne ©IOC
A poster for the 1986 IOC Session in Lausanne ©IOC

The organisers claimed it would also be the longest Session yet held and was followed attentively by the media on an unprecedented scale. The Session also reflected the growing commercialisation of the Olympic Movement.

There was a symbolic moment too, the opening of a new wing to the IOC headquarters at the Chateau de Vidy.

Seven cities had launched bids for the 1992 Games but Delhi withdrew before the final vote in Lausanne.

"We are not going to rank the cities," insisted veteran IOC member Gunnar Ericsson, the leader of an official IOC Coordination Commission for the Summer Games. Members were also allowed to make individual visits to bidding cities, a practice which would later lead to trouble.

In the days before the vote, the cities installed their presentation stands in the Palais de Beaulieu. Lobbying of IOC members went on all week but the final presentations before the vote were to be no longer than 60 minutes. It was even explained to cities that "a timing device had been installed". The Winter host was to be chosen first, a factor which many felt played into the hands of Barcelona. Those who believed in conspiracy theories disregarded the fact that this had also been the case in 1981.

The Bulgarian capital Sofia were the first of seven Winter Games cities to present followed by Lillehammer, Anchorage, Falun, Albertville, Cortina d’Ampezzo and then Berchtesgaden. Protesters outside the assembly hall did not help the German bid.

For French candidate Albertville and the Savoie region, victory came in the fourth round of voting. It would effectively end the hopes of Paris for the Summer Games. Not since 1936 had both Games been staged in the same country, but there must have been mixed emotions from Prime Minister Jacques Chirac and National Olympic Committee boss Nelson Paillou, who were part of both presentation teams.

In the race for the Summer Games, Amsterdam’s publicity brochures described a tour of the city’s canals as "a picturesque and enchanting scene". It was not so for one party of Olympic visitors. They were flour-bombed by protesters. More seriously, a real bomb was planted at their campaign offices. A "no Olympics" campaign asked to meet the IOC but the request was rejected. Unsurprisingly, they were the first to be eliminated from the race.

Although Barcelona were the favourites, their bid had also been hit by tragedy. A bomb at their domestic headquarters killed a policeman. Their display stand remained unlit on the day of the funeral in tribute.

At one IOC gathering, tycoon Rupert Murdoch had flown in fresh seafood to support 1982 Commonwealth Games hosts Brisbane, but an Australian bid would not be successful until Sydney won the 2000 Games. Belgrade had been encouraged by the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, warmly praised by Samaranch, although he did not dub them the "best ever".

A travel guide for the Albertville 1992 Winter Olympics ©Albertville 1992
A travel guide for the Albertville 1992 Winter Olympics ©Albertville 1992

Parisian Mayor Chirac had led his city’s campaign but the vote for the Winter Games had already been allocated to Albertville and the writing was on the wall.

"We will be able to provide you with an unforgettable Games," Barcelona’s charismatic city Mayor Pascal Maragall told the IOC, and for the first time since Coubertin presided over the 1924 Games in Paris, an IOC President was able to announce that the Olympic Games were to be held in his home city. Samaranch had insisted, since Barcelona submitted its candidature, that he had "never received or discussed with any member of the IOC the chances for this city".

As it turned out, Barcelona lived up to Maragall’s promise with spectacular Games. The Winter Games in Albertville were less memorable.

The announcement of the host city was not yet the showbiz moment it later became and Samaranch did so in French, still the official first language of the Olympic Movement.

The lobbying, particularly in Lausanne, had been intense, and too much for some. Birmingham bid leader Denis Howell, a British Member of Parliament, talked of "horrendous pressures" and called for "pressurised canvassing to be eliminated". 

Some delegations included high ranking politicians and even royalty. The cost of even bidding for the Games had soared.

Barcelona’s budget included a marble floor on their display stand. It contained five chairs designed by Gaudi and stood in front of a reproduction of a mural by Joan Miro. Even their candidature file weighed some 12 kilograms. It was sent to every IOC member and became known as "The Magic Box’’. The files arrived in a wooden chest made of bubinga and the gilded brass fastener bore the Barcelona logo and the name of the recipient. This "created a subtle link between city and the recipient," said the Barcelona Bid Committee.

Nowadays, the IOC guidelines stipulate a simple A4 booklet with strict limitations on the number of pages. They also require digital copies of everything, something virtually unheard of in 1986.

Some believed that FIFA President and IOC member Joao Havelange, a Brazilian, had organised a bloc-vote for the Catalan city. As concerns about the election were raised, Havelange helpfully suggested that "FIFA selection procedures might provide a useful model for the IOC".

Birmingham insisted their hospitality was "modest" but bagpipes welcomed some 55 IOC members on board the SS La Suisse for an evening on Lake Geneva in the company of HRH The Princess Royal. Sudanese runner Omar Khalifa arrived carrying a 1948 London Olympic Torch to applause from the diners. He received a cheque to help with the fight against famine and earlier in the summer had been the figurehead in the worldwide "Sport Aid" fundraising effort inspired by Bob Geldof.

Cortina d’ Ampezzo opted to remain on dry land. They enlisted Gina Lollobrigida to host a reception at the luxury Beau Rivage hotel on the lakeside at Ouchy.

Olympic hustings are often described as a circus but Bechtesgaden invited members to a real life one, and Falun had five-time Wimbledon champion Bjorn Borg on hand to play tennis.

Mark Hodler, a senior IOC member and President of the International Ski Federation, admitted they were "concerned and alarmed" about how much was being spent on bidding for the Games.

The Olympic Review noted that "there was general agreement that certain limitations should be placed on the activities and financial commitments of the candidate cities" but it was an problem which would haunt the Olympic Movement for a further decade. 

The Amsterdam bid was one of six which failed to beat Barcelona ©Amsterdam 1992
The Amsterdam bid was one of six which failed to beat Barcelona ©Amsterdam 1992

It was Hodler himself who was a key figure in revealing the extent of financial inducements in the race for the 2002 Winter Games. This finally forced the hand of the IOC and a formal ethics code was finally introduced. Current regulations insist that "no gifts of whatever value may be given to Olympic parties or International Federations recognised by the IOC" and "no advantage or promise of any kind of advantage may be made".

There are no longer any visits to bidding cities by IOC members, other than a designated Evaluation Commission. The award of decorations or awards to IOC members is also on the banned list.

The mid 1980s were a time when the Olympic Movement was still feeling its way towards the open era after a century of strict amateur regulations. Willi Daume, the organising chief of the 1972 Munich Games, had been put in charge of a Commission to examine the problem. Players from the National Hockey League (NHL) had been prevented from taking part in the Olympic ice hockey tournament but now the doors were opened. 

They also discussed who would be eligible when tennis made its return in 1988. Although the decision was not made in Lausanne, professional tennis stars were admitted. The Olympic programme was changing with the decision to confirm baseball as an Olympic sport for 1992 in Barcelona. There was another glimpse of the future when the IOC requested that the organisers of the Seoul Games include a taekwondo display in their Opening Ceremony. It would eventually become a full sport in 2000.

Samaranch had been the first IOC President to take up full time residence in Lausanne and he had visited as many Olympic nations as possible. Three more were added to his itinerary as Aruba, the Cook Islands and Guam were recognised. The Olympic "family" now numbered 164 nations.

Albertville was the last to stage Winter Games in the same year as the Summer Olympics. It was at this Session that the IOC also introduced what they described as "a revolutionary rule change".

The proposal to switch the Winter Games to another year was met with "strong support".

"The advantages of changing the cycle, with regards to time and financial commitments of the National Olympic Committees preparing for the two events, are obvious," reported the IOC Bulletin.

The entrance to the restored Barcelona 1992 Stadium at Montjuich ©Philip Barker
The entrance to the restored Barcelona 1992 Stadium at Montjuich ©Philip Barker

Vitali Smirnov of Russia talked of the "great burden on Committees taking part in both the Winter and Summer Games to undertake the necessary preparations in the same year".

"Never in the history of the Olympic Movement had a new idea found such support in such a short space of time," said Hodler.

The change was reflected in a new Olympic Charter.

"A separate cycle of Winter Games is to be held," it said. "Those sports which are practiced on snow or ice are considered winter sports. They are held during the second calendar year following that in which the Games of the Olympiad are held".

After 1992, the next Winter Games were scheduled for 1994. The sequence has continued to this day. The Winter Games of Pyeongchang in 2018 will be followed by Tokyo’s celebration of the Summer Games before Beijing welcomes the Winter Games in 2022.

The Summer Youth Olympic Games will also begin a new cycle and occupy odd years beginning in 2023.