Michael Pavitt

As referendums have taken down several Olympic bids in the last couple of cycles, there has been some clamour for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to head out to the potential host cities to sell their product.

There are welcome suggestions that the IOC have realised this is necessary, as they seek to find a way to combat the anti-Olympic momentum.

An IOC team, led by Olympic Games executive director Christophe Dubi, were claimed to have given a "credible and human" face to the organisation when talking to residents in Sion despite the Swiss city eventually bowing out of the process.

Dubi was the main man again as the IOC arrived in Calgary last week to essentially pitch the idea of hosting the 2026 Winter Olympics to people in the Canadian city.

Possibly the greatest risk of being part of an event like this would be for the IOC to come across like Lyle Lanley, the salesman who convinces the cast of The Simpsons - bar Marge - that building a monorail would essentially solve all of their problems.

Fortunately, Dubi appeared to succeed in not coming across in this manner, despite the obviously polished and slick performance given by the Swiss official. Rather than the bluster and waffle often provided when speakers use Olympic terms like "Agenda 2020" and, latterly, "The New Norm", Dubi tended to stay clear of these buzzwords and was far better for it. Instead, he provided some short, sharp and clear answers to the questions which is exactly what is needed.

The senior IOC official addressed concerns relating to the perceived costs of hosting the Olympic Games. He stated that the operating budget of every organiser since Sydney 2000 has been balanced when defending the IOC not covering potential cost overruns, while the Swiss stated he could go back even further.

There was also honesty and acknowledgement of the issues related to infrastructure costs which Dubi admitted had given them an "image problem".

He referenced the mass infrastructure projects surrounding the 2014 Winter Olympic and Paralympics in Sochi, which has largely led to the overall costs associated with the Games being reported as $51 billion (£38 billion/€43 billion), a figure that has become a millstone around the IOC's neck ever since.

Christophe Dubi provided some clear and effective answers to several questions posed in Calgary ©Calgary Chamber
Christophe Dubi provided some clear and effective answers to several questions posed in Calgary ©Calgary Chamber

Dubi highlighted that if cities conducted similar projects, including tunnels and roads, then costs "could triple". An IOC factsheet, highlighting the legacies of the Sochi Games, backs up the case.

Infrastructure improvements included more than 367 kilometres of roads and bridges, and more than 200km of railways with 54 bridges and 22 tunnels. There were also 480km of low-pressure gas pipelines, two new thermal power plants, one gas power plant, three new sewage treatment plants and 550km of high voltage power lines.

Then you add on a new water and wastewater treatment facility, a new seaport for passenger liners, ferries and personal boats, 60 new educational, cultural and health facilities and a new theme park, with one of the highest and fastest roller coasters in Russia.

The message was pretty obvious. If you want to build a year-round resort the costs of doing so are as high as the rollercoasters you are constructing.

However, referencing Calgary's supposed need to build social housing, Dubi suggested the Games would help them to achieve that goal as "it makes sense because it is a need for this community".

"The Games are only successful if they make sense economically, if they make sense socially, if they make sense environmentally and if they make sense when you are in 2018 and you look back at 1988 with immense pride," Dubi said. "It is all about partnership, it is all about flexibility and finding the right solution for the hosts. Every requirement has to live to local creativity to play.

"We do not have the final solution, we have local solutions. We have best practice from the past, it does not mean they will apply here in Calgary."

Dubi was also at pains to highlight how the IOC have continued to work with organisers on the costs of the Games, repeatedly insisting that the organisation works in partnership with the hosts and can no longer impose demands upon them.

This was supported by detailing how the IOC have been flexible to allow Tokyo 2020 to change around 40 per cent of their venues while the IOC have continued to try to find further savings. This has been something the IOC have been at pains to mention on every visit they have made to the Japanese capital.

Large infrastructure projects, such as a theme park, roads and tunnels, contributed to the high costs associated with the Sochi 2014 Olympics ©Getty Images
Large infrastructure projects, such as a theme park, roads and tunnels, contributed to the high costs associated with the Sochi 2014 Olympics ©Getty Images

It is worth pointing out that while this may be the case, the initial budget forecast for the Tokyo Games was ¥730 billion (£4.9 billion/$6.5 billion/€5.5 billion), but despite the cost savings it is still nearly double this at ¥1.35 trillion (£9.2 billion/$12 billion/€10 billion).

Figures like this remain the central issue the IOC is facing and it was no surprise that the campaign group No Calgary 2026, while commending the panel for being open to "direct and challenging" questions, still expressed concerns over potential cost overruns and that citizens could not make an informed decision without the total cost being proposed.

One of the claims made during the IOC presentation from Dubi was that the organisation is "in the business of transforming lives of people", while, when asked about how the city could "monetise the Games", he provided another interesting answer.

There were the usual citations about job creation and tourism, but the official claimed there was also the unmeasurable aspect around the "pride" of hosting the Games.

If anyone has been paying attention to the recent posts surrounding the six-year milestone from the London 2012 Opening Ceremony, this has been obvious.

Words like togetherness, optimism, pride, and celebration have been mentioned by those who are drawing comparisons between what the Games symbolised about Britain back in 2012 and the seeming lows surrounding the current state of the nation around its rather uncertain and confused soul-searching around Brexit.

Is it worth hosting the Olympics so for a couple of weeks the country is feeling good about itself? Clearly no, but it is certainly a factor worth considering.

There was also the news this week that a total of £134 million ($175 million/€150 million) has reportedly been generated for London from hosting major events at venues used at the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

This was hailed by the IOC as being a "great example of how the Olympic Games can transform lives and provide diverse long-term benefits for a city for years and decades to come".

While I am sceptical about those figures, I do tend to think it adds to the argument that the Games in London were largely worth it.

The regular hosting of international events in 2012 Games venues has been seen as a boost to London's economy ©Getty Images
The regular hosting of international events in 2012 Games venues has been seen as a boost to London's economy ©Getty Images

I fully anticipate I will be bombarded with statistics telling me how I am wrong, but I do find the transformation of Stratford remarkable whenever I pass through or see it whizz past on the train. I know of a few people who moved into some of the flats which were previously used as the Athletes' Village, who would never have previously considered the area as a destination before its regeneration.

Sure, the promises of inspiring a generation into becoming super keen and fit people remains a dubious one at best. It must be considered that there is still the ongoing mismanagement surrounding the Olympic Stadium which has been a constant source of dampening around the Games legacy.

On these points it is worth considering that both were claims made to persuade the IOC to give London the Games in an extremely competitive bid race. For instance, it was asserted that the Olympic Stadium would remain an athletics venue, something that was viewed as a promise to the IOC. A promise that has since proven to be foolish and the first of many bad decisions made surrounding the venue, which have led to the costs and losses at the stadium remaining high.

I do wonder whether the same promise would be made now, with the tables having turned from cities impressing the IOC to the IOC having to essentially impress the residents of cities.

"It is all about flexibility and finding the right solution for the hosts," Dubi said last week. 

There is still more work for the IOC to do, with actions likely to speak louder than Dubi's words, however well put.

Is it also too little, too late to allay the concerns of some of the remaining cities in the 2026 process?

I would suggest that the IOC have at least made something of a start.