Backed into a corner by an increased and increasing perception that the returns no longer justify the investment involved in hosting an Olympic Games, the new reality is that the IOC and its stakeholders, including cities and international federations, have finally concluded that the games have no choice but to adapt (mainly by cutting costs) or die.
The IOC says that The New Norm, unveiled during last month’s PyeongChang 2018 winter Olympic Games, “will provide cities with increased flexibility in designing the Games to meet long-term development goals, and will ensure that host cities receive more assistance from the IOC and the wider Olympic Movement.”
Or, to put it another way, in the words of Christophe Dubi, the IOC’s executive director of the Olympic Games: “The games have to fit to the context, and not the context to the games – and that’s a fundamental change.”
Asked by Sportcal at a media round table in PyeongChang why the IOC had taken so long to adopt the apparently straightforward and common-sense cost-reduction measures contained in The New Norm, John Coates, the IOC’s former vice-president and chair of the co-ordination commission for the 2020 games in Tokyo, said: “We’ve always taken the view that the games was an opportunity for each city to put its mark on it, to put its design on it. I don’t think there was a great acceptance in the past by cities to take advice about what would happen before the games.
“But as the costs have increased they have had to accept it. In the past we’ve just gone along and allowed the city to design something special. We didn’t send messages across, but increasing costs have forced our hands on this.”
As for the international federations, Coates, who was heavily involved as president of the Australian Olympic Committee in Sydney’s hosting of the 2000 Olympics, said: “We used to, as an organising committee, have our own agreements with each international federation. Now there is a standard sport delivery agreement that will move from one games to the other, so we don’t have to negotiate as we had to in 2000.”
Importantly, Coates added “the international federations’ mindset has also changed. They’re not saying when a games goes to a new country, this is an opportunity for them to get another venue.” Citing the costs involved in creating venues for sliding sports at winter Olympics, he added: “They’ve also recognised with the sliding sports that you’ve got to maintain the venue and commit to having events afterwards, and there’s cost involved there.”
The New Norm is derived from six of the 40 recommendations contained in the IOC’s ground-breaking Olympic Agenda 2020 reform programme, as follows:
1. Shape the bidding process as an invitation
2. Evaluate bid cities by assessing key opportunities and risks
3. Reduce the cost of bidding
4. Include sustainability in all aspects of the Olympic Games
12. Reduce the cost and reinforce the flexibility of Olympic Games management
13. Maximise synergies with Olympic Movement stakeholders
The IOC claims that, having redesigned the Olympic Games candidature process and adopted a strategic approach to legacy, “hundreds of millions of dollars” will be saved in the delivery of the games. It cites “a joint coordination process between national and regional government, the IOC and Tokyo 2020 [which] has already assisted in reducing Tokyo’s revised venue budget by $2.2 billion.”
Thomas Bach, the IOC president, has said: “These are the biggest savings in the history of the Olympic Games. It is a fundamental rethinking of the organisation of future games. This will lead to a new norm – from the candidature for and the delivery of the games through to their legacy.”
So what form might these savings take? The IOC claims that “more than 80 of the 118 solutions that have been proposed would result in cost efficiencies without compromising the Olympic experience. The plan invites opportunities to reduce venue sizes, rethink transport options, optimise existing infrastructure and reuse the field of play for various sports.”
Coates cited a simple recalculation of acceptable waiting times for lifts in the Tokyo 2020 athletes’ village. By increasing this from 50 seconds to about 90 seconds, organisers were able to reduce the number of lifts required and save $80 million.
Tony Estanguet, president of the Paris 2024 organising committee (the first candidate and host city to experience fully the new approach), said: “It’s been a great opportunity to benefit from this new mindset. One of the reasons for the success of this bid was about engaging the stakeholders. In the past it became too big and for us it’s not sustainable any more. It had an impact on our vision and concept. A direct result was that we built our concept based on existing venues and temporary venues.”
Such venues will make up 95 per cent of those used at the 2024 games, Estanguet said, adding: “It’s because the IOC asked us why we wanted to build a venue, and if we didn’t have a strong reason and a strong benefit for the territory then the IOC was telling us not to go for a permanent venue and to choose an existing one or a temporary one. It helped us to save costs on the infrastructure budget.”
The New Norm foresees a ‘3+4’ approach to staffing organising committees which the IOC says “would streamline production and decrease human resource needs in the first three years – when engagement, planning and communication would be the primary focus – before shifting to detailed operational planning, readiness and delivery mode in the last four years.”
Estanguet said: “The IOC helped us to focus on the legacy and how the games will help us add value to develop sport activity. We will postpone our operations phase until late in the process, and we’re now starting to engage on the legacy plan, and our stakeholders will really work on a precise and strong legacy plan and start to implement it before the operations phase. This is quite new in the mindset and will be effective to engage people in the bid.”
The IOC has been rocked by the withdrawals of a series of bid cities, including Rome, Krakow, Hamburg, Budapest and Oslo from recent bid races, often in the wake of negative public referendum results. In the race to host the 2026 winter Olympics, a recent poll found that only 36 per cent of Swiss people were in favour of a bid by Sion to host the games, ahead of a planned referendum on 10 June in the canton of Valais, in which the city is situated, on whether to proceed with the bid.
I hope that the reforms made to the 2020 Olympic agenda show people that we want a feasible, sustainable event that makes use of existing or temporary infrastructures
Bach responded: “It’s up to the Swiss to decide. I hope that the reforms made to the 2020 Olympic agenda show people that we want a feasible, sustainable event that makes use of existing or temporary infrastructures, and there Switzerland has a lot to offer.”
The 2026 candidature process, The New Norm says, “is characterised by ongoing, open dialogue with the cities, enabling continuous improvement of their Olympic Games project.
“Stage One, ‘Dialogue’, is non-committal and enables the city to explore options and opportunities openly and in depth with the IOC and its stakeholders. Cities are not required to submit formal proposals and guarantees or deliver presentations during Stage One.
“Stage Two, a shorter and lighter ‘Candidature’ phase, emphasises the way that Games proposals should align with the city’s long-term local, regional and national development goals. During this stage, details regarding organisation and delivery are also provided by the cities.”
Coates said: “Before a city bids they should work out what they want to get from the games, how it can best align with their future development of the city, of the infrastructure of their region, whatever. And then the Olympics can add on to that, rather than the Olympics come and spend money on legacy that really shouldn’t have to be created.”
“We certainly recognise that after the last winter candidature [when only two cities, Beijing and Almaty, were left in the race for the 2022 games after several withdrawals], we had to do something to address the cost of the games. We now have a process of a one-year dialogue where the city doesn’t have to fill in a form, go round the world making presentations to this group and that group. The one-year candidature phase takes a lot of costs out without the obligation of candidates running around the word, and schmoozing. That’s out, they don’t need to do that.”
The IOC said last month that it has been holding talks about a bid for the 2026 games in its new invitation phase with four cities: Sion; Sapporo in Japan; Stockholm in Sweden; and Calgary in Canada. However, Graz and Schladming, two cities located in the Austrian province of Styria, have also recently said that they are exploring the possibility of launching a bid, while a US bid is also a possibility, albeit its focus appears to be on 2030.
The IOC must receive expressions of interest for 2026 by the end of March.
Dubi said: “We’re finding solutions in Stockholm which are different solutions from Calgary. You’re not judging on the basis of a standard project, you’re judging a project in its context. That is a crucial change because in the past you had the IOC and the evaluation commission as a sanctioning body that came after the development of the project and identified the risks and opportunities, while now we want to do this identification early and maximise the value proposition. It’s a different attitude, it’s a different type of relationship with the cities. So far, and what we hear, is that this engagement is very positive.”
As for the $64,000 dollar question of whether The New Norm will be enough to change the tide of negative referendum results over whether Olympic bid cities should proceed, Coates responded cautiously, saying: “We are very conscious of referenda in some cities. We are providing the information to organising committees so that they can be on the front foot when they’re proposing cities to the public. That is a part of what we take to the city during the dialogue stage.
“Getting the message across is part of taking the city through the dialogue stage. It remains to be seen how effective it’s going to be, but we think we’re the ones who have that information from past experience, and we should share it.”