Nick Butler ©ITG

Hidden away behind the dominant themes of Russian doping, Pan-Korean unity and formulating some sort of reaction to sexual abuse scandals, last week’s International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session here marked another staging post in the attempt to boost the appeal of hosting the Olympic Games.

John Coates, the Australian who seemed to be playing a constant game of musical chairs throughout the two-day meeting so often was he required to speak, delivered a presentation with the striking headline: The New Norm: Candidature to Delivery to Legacy.

He highlighted 118 reform measures which, it is claimed, could cut up to $1 billion (£718 million/€806 million) from the costs of staging a Summer Olympic Games and $500 million (£359 million/€403 million) for the Winter edition.

Cue the usual backslapping. 

"These are the biggest savings in the history of the Olympic Games," said IOC President Thomas Bach. "It is a fundamental rethinking of the organisation of future Games."

As often, it was Britain’s soon-to-depart IOC Athletes’ Commission member Adam Pengilly who raised the most pertinent question about how these reforms will help win referendums.

"How are we are going to get feet on the ground and persuade local people in nations who have shown an interest in the benefits of hosting the Games to convince the average person on the street?" he asked.

Quite… and it was striking that this comment was the only occasion on which the dreaded R-word was mentioned throughout the Session.

The IOC New Norms document was unveiled at the IOC Session last week ©IOC
The IOC New Norms document was unveiled at the IOC Session last week ©IOC

Coates’ replies that it will form part of "materials" and "expertise" handed to Bid Committees as part of the dialogue phrase before making a joke about Brexit hardly inspired confidence this would make the crucial difference.

There are two points which struck me when reading the 58-page document.

Firstly, a lot of it is old ground recycled out in various reform processes dating back to a Commission chaired by Richard Pound which presented 117 recommendations at the IOC Session at Prague in 2003.

Here is a flavour of the most interesting stuff.

More preliminary rounds will be held "prior to the Opening Ceremony and/or outside the host city" to reduce costs while the format of some competitions will be "condensed" in order to reduce the number of venues required.

Changes will be considered to the Athletes’ Village, including the potential scrapping of team welcome ceremonies and incentives for National Olympic Committees to take up less space. 

There will also be more of an effort to cut-down on “T1” and “T2” cars - personal or pool cars reserved for VIPs - as well as media transport when other options are available. 

This, though, is all vague and depends on the situation in the specific host.

A number of "turnkey" solutions were proposed where the IOC or International Federations could develop a model used to tackle a specific issue at every Games, rather than leaving it to each individual Organising Committee. 

This has already been done successfully with Olympic Broadcasting Services since 2001 and is now being done with the Olympic Information Services which we media rely on for the first time at Pyeongchang 2018. 

A centralised ticketing system will be launched for Tokyo 2020, it is hoped, while venue planning and operations, sport presentation and, potentially, catering are other areas which could follow suit.

Let’s be honest, though, most of this is akin to rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic and there I don't think any could be described as radical. 

And I only mentioned the more interesting stuff.

Team welcome ceremonies at the Olympic Village, such as the one held for North Korean athletes at Pyeongchang 2018 last week, could be scrapped under the new IOC proposals ©Getty Images
Team welcome ceremonies at the Olympic Village, such as the one held for North Korean athletes at Pyeongchang 2018 last week, could be scrapped under the new IOC proposals ©Getty Images

A more extreme measure, which I am told was raised but did not make the final draft, concerned the Athletes’ Village, where it was specifically stated that there will still be a bed for "every athlete".

Is this really necessary?

Lausanne 2020 have pioneered a two waves concepts for their Winter Youth Olympic Games in which most athletes only stay for the first or second half of the Games, and thus either the Opening or Closing Ceremony. 

Could this be considered for the Summer or Winter Olympics?

You do not want to reduce the athlete experience, but, given how Villages have long been one of the more controversial Olympic legacies, a measure which could reduce the number of rooms by 50 per cent could make a significant financial difference,

Many of the 17,000 beds currently required are empty for much of the time because athletes do not stay before or after their events. Others, such as many top  tennis players or the US "Dream Team" in basketball, do not ever stay in the Village.

A second reflection concerned the supposed cuts of $1 billion and $500 million which, while a good headline, will not resonate with referendum voters, be they informed or uninformed. 

The trouble is that, for all the cuts to the Tokyo 2020 budget generated by Agenda 2020, the budget has still vastly exceeded what was proposed in the bidding phase. 

The IOC also continue to have round its neck the millstone of the $51 billion (£31 billion/€37 billion) figure associated with Sochi 2014. They argue that there is a vast difference between the operational and infrastructural costs of hosting an Olympic Games but this is a subtlety that is always going to be lost on most voters in a referendum. 

Rio 2016 also exceeded its budget, and we have still not seen detailed financial reports. I doubt the IOC would want us to either, given the arrest, charging and lingering questions surrounding its former President Carlos Nuzman...

Sochi 2014 has delivered a big legacy for the IOC due to reasons beyond simply Russian doping ©Getty Images
Sochi 2014 has delivered a big legacy for the IOC due to reasons beyond simply Russian doping ©Getty Images

The same can be said with legacies. 

For all the talk about better planning and coordination, there are still three Pyeongchang 2018 venues with no post-Games plans. Rio 2016 may have been a "marvellous Games in a marvellous city" but, to many, the main legacy in the minds of local people is of a stash of gold bars sitting in a Swiss vault.

"We talk more than we walk and, with respect, I don’t think we can talk our way out of this," Pound said during the IOC Session on the issue of Russian doping. 

The IOC were furious about this comment but must now prove he was wrong.

This brings us back to the R-question.

Bach gave an interesting answer when asked about the chances of a referendum win in Sion. He insisted cities could "benefit greatly" from the IOC reforms. He then qualified his answer. "But these referendums in Western countries are not only decided on the number," said Bach.

"What you can see in a number of Western countries is that big projects which are orientated to the future have difficulties in winning referendums - be it a new airport, a new motorway or, in my country, train station, or many others.

"Citizens tend to expect a return on investment tomorrow and not necessarily in seven or 10 years. They take all this into consideration and say, 'It will be more noisy, will it work?' Will it become a little more expensive than planned? Do we really need it?' 

"This 'new norm' can offer excellent arguments, on issues such as climate change, but others will come into play."

Most of the people I have spoken to about this agree and think Bach was right. Some do not think there is anything then can really do to change the run of referendum defeats.

Maybe, but I still think they could significantly up their game.

There is still little evidence of any effort to carry out a detailed campaign about citizens’ views on the Olympics, either in cities that have lost referendums or are due to hold them soon. They need to work out exactly what issues people in different parts of cities are affected by - and this may be emotional, transport and IOC-extravagance-related as well as purely financial. They must orchestrate a "hearts and minds" public relations campaign in conjunction with the bid team.

IOC President Thomas Bach did not appear at all confident about Sion's chances of winning a 2026 Winter Olympic bid referendum but he was probably just being realistic ©Getty Images
IOC President Thomas Bach did not appear at all confident about Sion's chances of winning a 2026 Winter Olympic bid referendum but he was probably just being realistic ©Getty Images

This is not easy and their supposed attempts to influence opinion in Calgary have already prompted one councillor to complain about their tactics. 

Paris 2024, who, admittedly did not have to fight a referendum campaign, nonetheless did this really well by mobilising the whole country and particularly young people.

I am always shocked by how little is made of the sporting factor. As well as building bridges and supposedly changing the lives of local people, they need to make clear how the Olympics is a once in a lifetime party that everybody will remember for the rest of their lives.

This is an argument they can win.

Los Angeles 2024/2028 notably did this well by constantly harking-back about the benefits of the 1984 Games. Both Paris and Los Angeles also spoke in language very different from the dry rhetoric which comes out of Lausanne Towers. 

We want to hear less about "turnkey solutions" and "collaborative and streamlined" approaches and more about emotions, memories and excitement.

Social media is another challenge and the IOC, as with other institutions, have not yet discovered a way to challenge the likes of “No Boston Olympics”. 

It is so much easier now to campaign against something like an Olympic bid through the vehicles of Twitter and Facebook.

Can the IOC not engage with a company that has masterminded a successful electoral social media campaign - Donald Trump’s even? - to work out how to engage with the masses?

On this point, the announcement that "No Boston Olympics" campaigners Chris Dempsey and Andrew Zimbalist are scheduled to appear at the IOC’s Olympism in Action conference in Buenos Aires in October seems a good sign.

The IOC need to start investing the same effort to win referendums as they have to ensure "peace through sport" and for the unified Korean women’s ice hockey team to win a Nobel Peace Prize.