The first modern Olympic Games started in Athens on May 25, 1896 under the old calendar, which is April 6 of today, thus marking the 121st Anniversary of the modern Olympics.
The last successful tournament was in London in 2012. Today, the Olympics is in crisis and requires a major rethink to ensure a stellar future.
Unlike the Football World Cups or Euro championships, which are multi-billion businesses sustained by national leagues and dramatic qualifying matches, the Olympic Games are a make-or-break event once every four years.
Paris or LA?
Neither Paris nor Los Angeles will bid again in 2028 if they are eliminated from the summer 2024 Games. Thus, it would be best to award both Games in the above order to both nations this September — with a little leaning on two new presidents in France and the United States to agree.
What the Olympic Movement needs today is a historic brand value. This can be achieved by commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Paris 1924 Summer Games. After that, LA could come to the rescue of the Olympics, as it did in 1984 amidst the politically motivated boycotts of the Games during from 1976 to 1984.
If the United States and France cannot agree upon who goes first, members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) can be asked to vote on the order.
The current crisis
A petulant insistence on just “Me,” and “Moi” will throw the IOC and the Games concept into a dangerous existential spin. The IOC needs to safeguard its position and use this time not just to rethink its existence but also understand its global TV audience.
Waning interest in hosting the Games and candidate dropouts have put the current bidding process into doubt. Five countries dropped out of the bidding for the 2022 Winter Olympics, mostly after public opposition.
Beijing ended up beating Almaty and Kazakhstan. However, none of that trio is a stellar winter Games location. Hamburg, Rome and Budapest dropped out of the 2024 Summer Games well into the candidature process as concerns mounted over costs and public opposition.
The debacles in Sochi 2014 and Rio 2016 fueled further concerns over the viability of hosting the Games under their current structure.
Not just a sporting event
An immediate fix of the current three-stage candidature process should require the aspiring hosts to conduct a referendum at the conclusion of Stage 1.
The host country should, at this point, present the proposed budget of their vision to the voters. After a public debate, each host that has garnered a 66% approval vote should be invited to move on to the next stage and complete its bid effort.
The IOC needs to realize that the Olympic Games are not just a sporting event. They represent the biggest mobilization of resources in peacetime. Their financials and global reach make them a political event, with sport as one of its outputs.
Since the IOC requires the host country to guarantee the budget of the Games,as well as to invest in the infrastructure, awarding and staging the Games is a massive political process affecting the host country in particular and the Olympics in general.
A political measure that the IOC has already adopted is vetting doping and human rights infractions among candidates. Sidestepping candidatures from rogue countries is another political decision. The only thing separating “sport” from “politics” should be the use of sport for political propaganda.
Steps to be taken
The bidding process is another area of concern that needs immediate re-invention.
The IOC ought to become more humble and strategically proactive. It should reach out to a limited number of properly screened candidates (hosts) and convince them to take up the mantle, promising assistance it will receive to prepare for and deliver the Games.
It is the host country and the Olympic Movement’s legacy that will sustain the oldest running festival in the world.
Future Summer Games should be awarded to nations that will offer three to four cluster cities in which to host the 18-day event. This move will reduce costs, spread benefits and also increase visitor numbers in the stands.
Winter Games should be limited to hosts that can provide a large urban area for the indoor events along with a nearby ski resort developed for world class competitions and winter holiday makers.
If not, we may soon get to the stage where no country can or wants to host a summer or winter Olympic Games except the ones that are wholly unsuitable to do so. That will be tragedy for a global idea that represents not the least of the gifts Athens and the Hellenic people gave to the world 2,500 year ago.