altJULY 13 - THE decision by the International Olympic Committee not to short-list Doha's bid to follow London and host the 2016 Games is continuing to cause controversy, reports DAVID OWEN



IT IS now around 40 days since the International Olympic Committee (IOC) excluded Doha from the shortlist of cities vying to stage the 2016 Summer Olympics.


I have been pondering this decision a lot since then and still keep coming back to the same conclusion: that it was handled in a most unfortunate way which may come back to haunt the Olympic Movement.


Let me try to explain.


The 2016 ‘long list’ – which also included Baku, Chicago, Madrid, Prague, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo – lacked the raw power of the ultra-heavyweight 2012 candidates.


But it was splendidly eclectic.


Nonetheless, in the run-up to the decision, at June’s meeting of the IOC executive board in Athens, I think it is fair to say that Doha’s bid was the prime focus of attention, at least among knowledgeable Olympic observers.


One of the questions in people’s minds was whether the IOC might be reluctant to allow Doha’s technically impressive bid to progress for fear that the presence of the wealthy Gulf state on the shortlist might trigger a general escalation of campaign spending to undesirable levels.


In the event, it was not this that sank Doha’s bid.


As an account on the IOC’s website of President Jacques Rogge’s Athens press conference explains, Doha failed to make the list “primarily due to the bid seeking an exception to the normal dates on which the Olympic Games are held”.


Too hot


The Qatari city had planned to stage the Games in October, rather than July or August, when it would have been too hot.


Piecing together accounts I have received from several informants, the decision seems to have followed a rather impressive debate among members of the executive board.


I am told that two members – Sergey Bubka, chairman of the Athletes’ Commission, and Denis Oswald, president of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations – expressed reservations about Doha’s proposals on behalf of their respective constituencies.


Certainly, an October Games would have faced more competing sporting attractions than one in the latter part of the northern hemisphere’s summer.


It might also, in some sports, have been more difficult to ensure that as many as possible of the very best athletes were able to take part in the Games.


I am told that the issue of television audiences was also discussed – a key consideration given that broadcasting rights fees are the Olympic Movement’s biggest single source of revenues.


And, yes, North Americans and Europeans probably would have longer to spend glued to the box during their August holidays than when they are back at work in the autumn.


Arab sympathy


But I am told that three board members – Thomas Bach, Mario Pescante and Ottavio Cinquanta – then made interventions sympathetic if not necessarily to Doha itself then to the idea of having a representative of the Arab world on the shortlist.


And it does indeed seem to me that the IOC has deprived itself of an excellent opportunity to promote Olympic values among an increasingly important group of states.


My problem with the outcome is less, though, with the decision itself than with the way in which the process was handled, as well as the main reason given for Doha’s exclusion.


Quite simply, if holding the Games in October was going to be unacceptable to the IOC, it would have been better to spell this out clearly at a much earlier stage.


The Candidate Acceptance Procedure and Questionnaire did say – on page 44 – that “The Games of the XXXI Olympiad shall be held within the following period: 15 July to 31 August 2016”.


But it added: “(If necessary, the IOC may agree to dates outside this period in the case of exceptional circumstances – e.g. extreme weather conditions…)”


As it is, Doha could be forgiven for thinking it had wasted its time, money and breath on the 2016 campaign trail.


Qataris, meanwhile, were left stunned by the decision, as reported on this website.


That would, in itself, be cause for regret, but the potential ramifications of the IOC’s decision extend far beyond Doha.


Qatar is not, after all, the only country whose climate probably precludes outdoor competition in July and August.


Little point in bidding


The risk is that these nations, many of them in the Arab world, might now conclude there is little point in them even trying to make a bid for the Games.


It is hard to imagine any such state putting together a better technical dossier than Doha and, even if they did, the implication is it would make no difference.


In that sense, it might actually have been preferable to attribute the Qatari city’s exclusion to, say, concerns about a campaign spending spree.


At least that could have been portrayed as a one-off, rather than a potential precedent.


(What, incidentally, is any southern-hemisphere country that might harbour ambitions of hosting the Winter Olympics to make of the IOC’s treatment of Doha?


Would it be deemed undesirable for the Winter Games to be staged outside their normal time window in the southern hemisphere winter?)


Of course, in practice, few of the countries where extreme heat is the norm in July and August would be remotely capable of staging the Olympics in the foreseeable future.


But a few would.


And it seems to me there is a point of principle here.


I don’t see how it can be healthy for the Olympic Movement if countries are to be deprived of any realistic hope of staging the Summer Games for reasons that are beyond their power to control – ie the weather.


It would be understandable if, based on the early stages of the 2016 race, some countries concluded that, de facto if not de jure, this was the situation that now prevails.



David Owen is a specialist sports journalist who worked for 20 years for the Financial Times in the United States, Canada, France and the UK. He ended his FT career as sports editor after the 2006 World Cup and is now freelancing.