Nick Butler ©ITG

South American geography aside, there appears little in common between the two International Olympic Committee Sessions taking place four years apart in Buenos Aires and Lima.

One was an exciting celebration of what appears, with hindsight, to have been a golden age in Olympic Games bidding. The other, starting here on Wednesday (September 13) in the Peruvian capital, has lost the grandeur and purpose and is struggling to inspire anything approaching a similar level of interest or significance.

The Buenos Aires Session in 2013 saw Tokyo awarded the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics and wrestling win its bitter battle to remain on the sports programme.

Then, an affable-seeming German named Thomas Bach was elected IOC President.

It was one of my first forays into the strange and byzantine world of sports politics.

I always remember the hive of activity when walking into the Hilton Hotel at which all the voting members were staying. Lobbyists, official and unofficial, were cluttered around every table, comparing notes and gossip before leaping up with excitement whenever an elusive IOC member came within harassing-distance. 

Media lurked around, striving desperately for a whiff of what was going on, as spin doctors told unlikely tales of how their clients would inevitably win by a landslide as they had been promised so much support. 

Every so often two rival lobbyists working for different bids collided and greeted each other with the sort of testosterone-fuelled aggression more common to a weigh-in before a boxing world title fight.

I had barely had time to digest this scene on our first visit when a colleague introduced me to one Tokyo 2020 speech-writer who had just asked her: "Is this that Nick Butler bastard?" It turned out I had managed to cause offence by an article referencing Japan and the Nanjing Massacre following a visit to China the previous week.

Thomas Bach accepts the congratulations after being elected President at the IOC Session in Buenos Aires ©Getty Images
Thomas Bach accepts the congratulations after being elected President at the IOC Session in Buenos Aires ©Getty Images

We suddenly found ourselves with a flood of dinner invitations. "Don’t think they actually want to have dinner with you," my colleague told me. "They just want to stop the other bid spending time with you. But go anyway. It’s a free meal…"

It was a surreal world and, clearly, an imperfect one. 

Far too much emphasis was paid to secretive lobbying between individuals in which personal incentives seemed far more important than the merits of each bid. The extravagance and money involved in everything, from hotels to cocktail receptions to "gifts" handed out, was particularly striking to someone who had just graduated from four years at university.

"This reception was amazing," I remember saying one morning. "There was a free bar."

It was also fascinating and I was hooked by the personalities and politics involved.

Four years on and, in many ways, reminiscing about this feels like a nostalgic throwing back to a time long forgotten. 

On the other hand, the consequences of the less savoury elements from these years are still being felt today.

Bach’s first two years were dominated by "Agenda 2020" and his increasingly irritating slogan "change or be changed". 

Yet, when looking back, it seems that many of the more substantial changes were reactive more than proactive.

As he argued, an economic downturn and the rise to a new kind of anti-establishment politics gradually turned the tide of western public opinion against lavish Olympic bids. 

Authoritarian Governments briefly queued up to take over, but even they now seem to be losing their appetite as hosting sporting events provides a perfect platform for human rights critics.

Bach, no doubt remembering how the Munich bid he chaired lost to Pyeongchang in the 2018 race, was reminded again of how IOC members do not always make the "best" choice when, in 2015, Almaty came within four votes of stunning Beijing in the race for 2022.

The race for the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games began later that year with more withdrawals. It was then that he decided to act.

Clamour for a joint awarding of the 2024 and 2028 Olympics to Paris and Los Angeles began as a top-down rumour before becoming more concrete following the withdrawal of Budapest in February this year. Members were initially sceptical before were effortlessly cajoled into unanimously approval at another hastily convened IOC Session in Lausanne in July.

Thomas Bach celebrates with Los Angeles and Paris Mayors Eric Garcetti and Anne Hidalgo for the 2024 and 2028 Olympic and Paralympic Games to be awarded jointly to the two cities ©Getty Images
Thomas Bach celebrates with Los Angeles and Paris Mayors Eric Garcetti and Anne Hidalgo for the 2024 and 2028 Olympic and Paralympic Games to be awarded jointly to the two cities ©Getty Images

This week’s meeting in Lima was meant to be a glorious celebration of a "win-win-win".

And yet…the overriding feeling so far here this week has been: "What’s the point?"

It is still early stages, and many IOC members have not yet arrived, but the atmosphere so far has been flat and apathetic. 

A press conference by Paris 2024 yesterday was so dull that I had to listen through my entire recording to find an angle worth writing about. 

Los Angeles initially did not even bother with press events, and have only added some today following criticism. 

There also appears to be a strange shortage of American journalists here so far.

Even the Los Angeles Times are not sending anyone. 

As for other issues on the agenda, well, the IOC have attempted to censor all discussion about Russian doping by delaying the outcomes of their two reports until next month. They can, therefore, counter that it is "premature to speculate" whenever anybody asks about it before then. 

We have written before that this is wrong, given how two reports on Russian doping have already been published but it is the IOC way of "controlling the narrative".

The only other item of limited interest are the elections for three vacant IOC Executive Board positions and one empty slot for vice-president. This is effectively a contest to see who can be the most unthreatening and puppet-like so as to receive the backing of Bach and his small inner circle.

Rio 2016 President Carlos Nuzman entering the Federal Police Building in Rio de Janeiro last week after his house was searched following claims he had been involved in a scheme to help bribe IOC members from Africa ©Getty Images
Rio 2016 President Carlos Nuzman entering the Federal Police Building in Rio de Janeiro last week after his house was searched following claims he had been involved in a scheme to help bribe IOC members from Africa ©Getty Images

Of course, there is another issue dominating discussions in the lobbies and corridors, and this is the latest corruption scandal which erupted last week surrounding Rio 2016 President and IOC honorary member, Carlos Nuzman.

Nuzman has been accused of being involved in a group of officials supposedly offering $1.5 million (£1.2 million/€1.4 million) to help solicit the votes of African IOC members in return for supporting Rio 2016. 

Brazilian police now claim members from farther afield were also involved and, given Peru’s favourable judicial relations with Brazil, have vowed to monitor who does not attend this week’s Session.

Some people maintain that something does not add up here and that Rio 2016 were so likely to win anyway that they would not have bothered with such a scheme. Far more, though, fear this to be the tip of the iceberg and are waiting for the successful bids of Tokyo 2020, Pyeongchang 2018, Sochi 2014 and even London 2012 to soon receive similar scrutiny.

Bach will inevitable claim to be "shocked" but “closely monitoring” the situation when asked about Nuzman at a press conference later today. 

A three-and-a-half-hour item entitled: "Update of Implementation of Agenda 2020 - Midway Through" is included on the IOC Session agenda on Thurday (September 14) to show how the IOC are committed to reform and transparency.

But, like with Russian doping, their actions do not back-up their words.

Richard Pound is one of the few remaining members on the IOC prepared to stand up to President Thomas Bach ©Getty Images
Richard Pound is one of the few remaining members on the IOC prepared to stand up to President Thomas Bach ©Getty Images

Their decision-making system is more secretive than ever and the few members who still try to get the IOC to reach independent decisions - such as Canada’s Richard Pound and Britain’s Adam Pengilly - have lost virtually all of their influence. 

So far, it seems that many of the best parts of the old bidding system have been removed while the most unsavoury elements have remained. 

At present, they seem more bothered about trying to use their political influence to shut-down investigations behind the scenes rather than fronting up and changing,

"Good governance?" quipped one observer yesterday. "More like effective governance."

Pound, as he often is, was right when he said this week that the IOC must respond more stringently.

"It must be obvious that the IOC is taking body blow after body blow," he told insidethegames. "Whether the answer involves legislation or more robust Ethics Commission action, or some combination. When the [2002] Salt Lake City scandal erupted, the IOC took action, rather than waiting for third parties to act. That eventually saved us.”

The IOC now is a very different organisation operating in a very different atmosphere to how it did four years ago in Buenos Aires.

They must do more to convince people that they are actually capable of changing.