Liam Morgan

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session rarely makes any actual decisions these days.

Sure, the IOC will claim the final call on its policy-making rests with the full membership, but, in reality, the Session has become little more than a glorified rubber-stamping chamber.

Decisions are often made by the IOC top brass long before they reach the Session. The main power retained by the body has been electing hosts of Olympic events, and even that has been significantly reduced and diminished by widespread bidding reforms approved in June.

A "vote" at the IOC Session tomorrow will mark the culmination of the first example of the new behind-closed-doors system in action, as the electorate will be asked to green light Gangwon Province as the host for the 2024 Winter Youth Olympic Games.

Having had next to no input in the process - aside from the eight members of the IOC Future Host Commission - the Session will award Gangwon Province the event, possibly even by acclamation.

Gangwon Province is set to host the 2024 Winter Youth Olympic Games ©Getty Images
Gangwon Province is set to host the 2024 Winter Youth Olympic Games ©Getty Images

All the decisions have so far been made by the commission, whose recommendation that the Youth Olympics in four years’ time be given to the location of the main Winter Games in 2018 was given the usual thumbs up by the Executive Board yesterday.

The supposed vote was also put on the agenda for the Session two days before the Executive Board formally put it forward to the full membership.

While there are benefits to this process, particularly for the Youth Olympics, the lack of transparency is a sign of things to come in the way the IOC selects the preferred location for its flagship product.

Exactly one year ago, the IOC revealed four countries - including Russia - had expressed an interest in hosting the 2024 Youth Games. South Korea was not one of them.

We have scarcely heard a word from either Russia, Spain, Bulgaria or Romania since, although that could be of their own accord.

In its terms of reference for the commission, the IOC says it should "respect any confidentiality that may be requested by potential hosts as they work toward the development of the public and private dimensions of their project, as well as the content of any discussion of particular proposals".

This rule, however, seems to have been inserted by the IOC to further its control over the procedure.

Romanian IOC member Octavian Morariu chairs the Future Winter Host Commission ©Getty Images
Romanian IOC member Octavian Morariu chairs the Future Winter Host Commission ©Getty Images

The composition of the Future Winter Host Commission, led by Romanian IOC member Octavian Morariu, was announced in October. Two months later, it was already in a position to propose South Korea as the host nation.

Interest from the Gangwon Province only surfaced roughly a week after the make-up of the commission was given its mandate.

According to the IOC, one of the main responsibilities of the commission is to "interact with representatives of potential hosts to determine the nature and extent of their possible interest".

How many talks could the group possibly have held with other interested countries in such a short timeframe? What happened to the other four to have indicated a willingness to host?

It would not be a stretch to suggest the venue for the 2024 Youth Games, as with so many other issues in the Olympic Movement, has been pre-determined for a while, and none of the other countries stood a chance.

What the IOC and its President Thomas Bach want, they usually get. The South Korean project has all the hallmarks of a Bach proposal, with the slim possibility of North Korea hosting events thrown in for good measure.

It hardly sends a good message to countries who may wish to stage the Games as their interest seems to be superseded by the desire of the leadership.

That has been apparent in previous votes for the Summer and Winter Olympic Games, of course. It is well documented that the IOC preferred Beijing over Almaty for the 2022 Winter Games, although that race was a lot closer than the organisation might have hoped, with the Chinese capital eventually prevailing by a slim margin at the 2015 Session.

The Future Host Commission recommended Gangwon Province as the host of the 2024 Winter Youth Olympics to the Executive Board ©IOC
The Future Host Commission recommended Gangwon Province as the host of the 2024 Winter Youth Olympics to the Executive Board ©IOC

What the 2024 Winter Youth Olympics process, a sort of test case for the IOC following its approval of drastic changes to bidding, has provided is a glimpse into the future.

Elements of the way the event has been awarded will likely be reflected in the selection of hosts for editions of the main Summer and Winter Games, particularly the latter, which the IOC has admitted can only be staged in a limited number of countries.

While the possibility of a recurrence of the corruption to have plagued previous bid races has been reduced with this targeted method, so too has the transparency and accountability the IOC claims it prides itself on.

The IOC is not averse to picking and choosing when it applies its values and rules. Enhanced transparency, remember, was part of the recommendations which became Agenda 2020.

In fairness to the IOC, it has at least publicised visits from Australian and Indonesian delegations who are hoping to secure the right to host the 2032 Summer Olympics and Paralympics. The fervour surrounding the former, compared with the low-key nature of the latter, is a further indication of where the IOC wants to go in 12 years’ time.

Bach also hinted Sapporo is a strong contender for the 2030 Winter Olympics as he played up the Japanese city’s "excellent" bid at a press conference today.

The 2030 Games will be the next major Olympic event to be awarded under the new procedure, and it will be interesting to see how the process differs from the selection of Gangwon Province as host of the 2024 youth event.

One thing will remain the same; the Session will know little about it until it is asked to approve whatever has already been decided.