David Owen

Should the International Olympic Committee (IOC) appoint the hosts of both the 2024 and 2028 Summer Games when it meets in Lima this year?

It is a question that has been much under discussion in the small, esoteric world of Olympic bid junkies for a good few months; Alan Abrahamson wrote a widely-read column on the theme last September.

And, to judge by Thomas Bach’s non-committal response when asked directly about it five weeks ago – “let us study this question” - it is a matter to which the IOC President may well have devoted a certain amount of thinking time during the recent holiday period.

The consequences of taking this momentous step – both upsides and down – are relatively straightforward to identify.

On the plus side, it would enable the IOC, which finds itself in its weakest position for a generation, to nail down strong hosts for its flagship event – presumably Los Angeles and Paris – for the balance of the next decade, taking this key issue altogether off the agenda until 2023 and giving itself space to focus on the myriad other problems that assail it.

These would include the matter of whether the host selection process itself needs further reform, and if so how.

There might be marketing, and therefore income, benefits too to knowing the Summer Games hosts 11 years out.

On the other hand, the step would amount to a startling confession of weakness and loss of confidence in the future on the part of sport’s most prestigious club.

Unless very skilfully managed, it would risk handing the whip-hand in negotiations over all details of the Games’ organisation to the designated 2028 host, as well as seriously angering Budapest, a city that, while viewed almost universally as the minnow in the race for 2024 as currently configured, has proud and extensive Olympic traditions of its own and would in all probability be capable of staging a delightful Olympics on the Danube in seven years’ time if it unexpectedly got the nod.

Furthermore, we know how seriously the IOC takes the matter of keeping the Movement in the public eye during the intervals between individual editions of the Games: that is why it has gone to the trouble and expense of launching an Olympic Channel.

The glamour and excitement of the bidding battles for the greatest prize in world sport – the right to host the Summer Olympics – have acted as an effective vehicle for achieving this in recent times.

These high-octane races have been a big factor too in boosting the Movement’s political influence, helping to ensure that it has the ear of world leaders.

Thomas Bach, the IOC President, has been fairly non-committal when asked about the 2024/2028 question so far ©Getty Images
Thomas Bach, the IOC President, has been fairly non-committal when asked about the 2024/2028 question so far ©Getty Images

That is the balance-sheet for if they take the plunge; much harder to assess accurately are the consequences if the IOC resists the temptation to make both Paris and Los Angeles winners when they gather in September in the shadow of the Andes.

The key variable to assess here is how the 2028 field would stack up in the event that the 2024 contest proceeds to a conclusion in the orthodox manner, leaving the IOC to fire the starting-pistol anew, undoubtedly with some modifications, in two years’ time.

Would the 2024 losers, for one thing, storm off in a huff, not to be seen for dust when the call came for 2028?

Also worth pondering, I feel, is whether the present IOC leadership would like to clip the wings of ordinary IOC members and, if so, what repercussions this might have for future bidding races.

So, here goes: what follows is a personal attempt to peer into the future, based on little more than gut instinct and around a decade and a half of observing this endlessly fascinating world from behind a keyboard.

It is offered honestly and without fear or favour, but will inevitably turn out wide of the mark, perhaps in many respects; it is how the cookie looks most likely to crumble at the moment from my perspective should the IOC be courageous (or perhaps foolhardy) enough to allow space for a full-blooded 2028 contest to develop.

1. Budapest, I think, if treated sensitively would come back, and could be a strong contender for 2028 – though its chances would be reduced, clearly, if another European capital, ie Paris, wins the 2024 Games.

2. If LA loses, I would still be surprised if the United States did not ultimately throw its hat into the ring for a 2028 race, perhaps with another city; if Paris loses – again – I think it would be much harder to coax back, even though there promise to be many new faces among the top ranks of French political and sporting leaders by the time a decision would have to be taken.

3. The problems with Rio probably mean that it will be a while before another serious South American contender emerges. This unhappy 2016 experience will also, I imagine, have set back the cause of an African Olympics further into the future and may contribute to a sense that 2028 is too soon for India.

4. Whoever wins in Lima, we can expect Asia to be a likely source of 2028 bidders. An Australian bid, based around Brisbane, is under consideration. I have little doubt that China would take little persuasion to enter the contest, if the IOC sent out the right signals. There could also, once again, be interest from the Middle East, particularly I fancy if Governments there sense that Europe and the Americas are set to sit the race out. Ashgabat might even be tempted.

5. Interest from Europe would be limited in the wake of a Paris or Budapest victory, but not necessarily LA. Baku, ambitious, hydrocarbon-rich host of the inaugural European Games might assess its chances. Rome could conceivably return if the Italian political landscape changes. Madrid might try again. You could also foresee circumstances in which a chastened Russia, eager for rehabilitation, proposed St Petersburg, or perhaps even Sochi, for 2028. Russian Olympic Committee President Alexander Zhukov indicated only this week he thought a Russian bid for 2028 “completely possible”.

6. Finally, if Paris (or Budapest) did win and the United States sat on its hands, well that could provide a perfect opportunity for media darling Justin Trudeau’s Canada to make its play, most likely with 2015 Pan American Games host Toronto.

So, while incomes in many wealthy industrialised countries remain under pressure and the world seems in its most turbulent, tetchy, unpredictable state for a good 20 years, the cupboard does not look to me entirely bare when it comes to plausible 2028 Olympic candidate-cities.

Paris are one of the three shortlisted cities bidding for the 2024 Olympic Games ©Getty Images
Paris are one of the three shortlisted cities bidding for the 2024 Olympic Games ©Getty Images

I would be surprised if Bach had not used the festive holiday quiet period to arrive at his own assessment, much better-informed than mine obviously, of the outlook for any 2028 race.

So massive an admission of weakness would it be for the IOC to fall back on divvying up the 2024 and 2028 spoils between the two current heavyweight contenders that I tend to think Bach and his colleagues should stick it out on the basis that an acceptably strong field would emerge from the various possibilities for 2028 I have tried to set out above.

Then again, it would be a gamble, and it is not me who would have to live with the consequences if the gamble went wrong.

Bach, moreover, has shown himself in the past to be careful and pragmatic when the really big decisions are at stake, moving decisively early in his Presidency to lock NBCUniversal into a deal for US broadcasting rights all the way through to 2032, even at the price of relatively conservative growth from the IOC’s most lucrative broadcast market for a long time into the future.

I mentioned clipping IOC members’ decision-making wings.

It is my opinion that the present leadership would have few qualms about doing this in the right circumstances, which in turn makes me wonder if they might not try to manoeuvre towards a sort of half-way house that endeavours to keep the 2024 losers onside without closing the door to new 2028 entries.

Maybe, for example, the unsuccessful 2024 bidders could be told that, should they bid again with similar blueprints, they would have to pass only the last stage of the 2028 process before going through to the final vote.

New bidders, by contrast, would be assessed as rigorously as the 2024 candidate-cities this time around, on the understanding that, in all probability, only one of them would make it through to that decisive ballot.

We shall see. In the meantime, the New Year has brought a marked ratcheting-up of the intensity of a contest that both acknowledged heavyweights appear dead set on winning.