I had a lot of fun trying to track down International Olympic Committee (IOC) members to canvass their views on possible plans to award both the 2024 and 2028 Summer Games later this year.
The idea, first mooted last year, was given traction by President Thomas Bach during the IOC Executive Board meeting in Lausanne in December. He markedly refused to dismiss such a plan despite specific questions on the subject, claiming instead that changes must be made to avoid "too many losers".
This was widely interpreted as meaning that both Los Angeles and Paris should be "winners" of the next two events.
IOC communications staff tried to play it all down afterwards, insisting "there will be a normal bidding process leading up to the 2024 election in Lima". But Bach allowed the rumours to fester and "2024/2028" has since overhauled "Russian doping" as the favourite buzzword in Olympic corridors.
Consultants kept floating the idea publicly, especially those advising either Los Angeles or Paris for whom the plan would eradicate the damaging risk of defeat.
The major problem at the beginning of the year appeared to be the existence of Budapest as a third candidate. It would be far too much of a snub to dish out two versions at their expense. But, in recent weeks, the Hungarian capital has faltered. City Mayor István Tarlós has now said he will meet on Wednesday (February 22) with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to review the bid after a campaign group claimed they had the necessary number of signatures to force a referendum.
If they do indeed withdraw, this would be a huge blow considering that Budapest was seen as the most exciting candidate by many outside Olympic circles. It would make the need for change even more obvious.
Bach’s apparent plan is not a wholesale solution. It is a temporary answer to a specific problem of how to take advantage of two very strong bidders. Seen in this way, it makes a lot of sense.
"It reduces the uncertainty of getting good bids in 2021 as a result of all of the issues affecting bids now - gigantism, increasing costs, doping, corruption, fears of cost overruns, terrorism, and a waning appetite by the public that could be reflected in future referendums," said St Lucia’s backbench IOC stalwart Richard Peterkin.
"If the two cities are Paris and LA, both strong bids, it could do wonders for the reputation and popularity of the IOC and the Games, and generate greater confidence for the bidding and staging for future Games. It will allow the IOC to have less losing bids, giving them more time to deal with the issues that are affecting the [Olympic] Movement now - doping, corruption, elitism, popularity of the sports on the programme, illegal betting, security and other risks."
Commercial factors are also key, you would imagine.
Peterkin, ever the analyst, also pointed out the negatives. As well as the Budapest factor, this includes awarding an edition 11 years in advance and ignoring other cities considering a 2028 attempt.
After realising the pool of IOC members present here in Sapporo was rather limited, I opted for a late-night round of emailing, calling and Facebook messaging others, but without really expecting too many replies. To my surprise, the responses swiftly began to flood in.
And, while it was fair to say Peterkin had sat on the fence, others lept off it and out of the field where Bach was grazing.
This included some, like Norway’s Gerhard Heiberg, who have expressed criticism before. But others were some of Bach’s most loyal allies. Turkey's Uğur Erdener, for instance, the IOC vice-president who said that, in his opinion, the plan "is not feasible at this time".
International Boxing Association President C K Wu was similarly critical while other vice-presidents John Coates and Yu Zaiqing expressed doubts rather than outright opposition. Many others have responded critically in private or "off the record".
The politics here is fascinating. IOC members, remember, were unquestionably loyal when ratifying all 40 of Bach’s Agenda 2020 recommendations in 2014. By the beginning of last year, we were hearing more criticisms behind the scenes about the German’s leadership style but, when push came to shove over Russian doping in July, every member except for Britain’s Adam Pengilly voted in support.
But this, it would appear, is a step too far. The one power retained by ordinary IOC members is to choose host cities. The 2024/2028 plan would effectively deprive them of this right for the next two cycles.
It will be fascinating to see what happens next. Rule 33.2 of the Olympic Charter stipulates that "save in exceptional circumstances, such election takes place seven years before the celebration of the Olympic Games".
Are these "exceptional circumstances"?
I don’t think so, for the 1980 and 1988 Summer and the 2022 Winter processes also saw just two candidates.
If not a Charter change, at the very least it seems definite that some sort of extraordinary IOC meeting must be held before any change can be made. A Candidate City briefing scheduled for July in Lausanne seems the most likely scenario.
One observer speaking to us today maintained that Bach has the political skill to build enough support.
Another has speculated that IOC members are currently "hedging their bets, and not wanting to be seen as Bach surrogates". It is possible, they predicted, that many will warm to the plan if and when Los Angeles and Paris agree.
We shall see…
The most surprising response of all came from Canada’s Richard Pound.
"Given the need to reassess our process for attracting and retaining candidate cities, I would have no objection to a one-off decision regarding 2024 and 2028, especially if we get agreement between the two cities as to who goes first, etc," Pound told insidethegames.
"There is some risk, of course, when you have a deal that extends for 11 years, so there would have to be some contractual language to be worked out to make sure that the 2028 city remains committed.
"The two countries likely to be involved are relatively stable, which will help."
It is not the first time the longest-serving member has gone against what appears to be the majority view of his colleagues. But to side with Bach? Virtually unprecedented.
Is this because he does not care about having a vote because he is leaving soon anyway? Or because he knows better than most what is best for the Olympics?
There has been some support to the plan expressed on social media and, once you get past the lack of democracy and transparency, there are benefits obvious to the public as well.
The other key point, of course, is that accepting or rejecting this idea is not a long-term solution in itself.
As well as the Budapest developments, this month alone has seen another failed referendum in Switzerland against a 2026 Winter Olympic and Paralympic bid from the canton of Graubünden. Rio 2016 legacy, or lack thereof, has received worldwide criticism. Tokyo 2020 organisers have also estimated that ¥43.74 billion (£312.37 million/$387.71 million/€365.27 million) will be required to build or upgrade 11 venues outside the capital city.
Agenda 2020, clearly, has not worked.
Yes, Sion in Switzerland is still bidding, while Calgary and Innsbruck are other potentially strong contenders. But many of us currently attending the Asian Winter Games here are tempted to conclude that Sapporo may end up hosting a third successive Winter Olympics on the world’s largest continent in nine years time.
More profound changes are therefore required. This could come in a physical sense by reducing rather than adding to the sports programme and consequent numbers of venues. Or it could come less obviously through a change in the culture of the IOC to make the Western public more favourable.
For now, though, Bach appears to have his hands full enough for the next few months.
Russian doping remains the biggest challenge to his external reputation, but his response to bidding reforms may best cement his internal legacy.