The craven inducements of old – college scholarships, nose jobs, call girls – are now historical relics, replaced by a more transparent and genteel system of coaxing and persuasion.
But that doesn’t mean the stakes are any lower for the Olympic jet set.
Most, if not all, the major players in the world’s amateur sport movement are in Quebec City this week for a conference that will winnow the shortlist of contenders for the 2020 Summer Games.
The intrigue will only mount from there.
According to those who make it their business to follow the goings-on of the International Olympic Committee, Wednesday’s announcement of the finalists for 2020 marks the unofficial escalation of hostilities as the bidding enters a stretch run that will culminate in Buenos Aires in September of 2013.
“Once you have bid cities move to actual candidate cities, it ramps up to another level, within the limits that have been set out, of course,” said Scott Martyn, an Olympic watcher who teaches at the University of Windsor and is a co-author of Tarnished Rings, a study of the rampant corruption surrounding the awarding of the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. “You can’t lobby IOC members directly any more, but that doesn’t mean they’re not actively trying to woo various people who can have an influence on the decision.”
The early front-runners for 2020 are believed to be Tokyo, Japan and Istanbul, Turkey – the other bidders are Madrid, Doha and Baku. The Japanese and Spanish bids were both finalists for the 2016 Games that were eventually awarded to Rio de Janeiro, while the capitals of Qatar and Azerbaijan were both dropped at the shortlist stage for 2016.
But those who understand this chessboard tend to plan in terms of decades, and the hosts of this week’s meeting will doubtless see a minor triumph in the fact that IOC president Jacques Rogge said of Quebec Mayor Régis Labeaume that “he is chasing a dream that, let us hope, will one day become reality.”
That dream, of course, is to host the Winter Olympics.
The IOC meetings coincide with the 10th SportAccord convention, a gathering of 1,800 delegates from amateur sporting and Olympic federations from across the globe. (The provincial and municipal governments are footing the $2.5-million bill to make them feel at home.)
Canadian Olympic Committee head Marcel Aubut – who practises law in Quebec City – hosted a luncheon with Rogge to mark the official kickoff. It was attended by more than 4,000 grandees and raised about $800,000 for Canadian athletes.
Another event this week featured officials from Toronto’s 2015 Pan-American Games committee – seen by some as a showcase for the city’s fitness for the Olympics.
Quebec City made a losing bid for the 2002 Winter Games, and scuttled a follow-up bid for 2022, but the city’s hopes are intact.
Labeaume said last week that he will make no lobbying efforts this week at the conference because “there’s no way that one can serve as a springboard for the other.”
Olympic watchers, however, suggest the reality is somewhat more nuanced.
“Everybody’s lobbying everybody by this point,” said a source with intimate knowledge of the process that led to Vancouver winning the 2010 Games. “Marcel [Aubut]is doing a lot of spadework for Quebec City, make no mistake.”
But the more immediate jockeying involves the cities on the list for 2020.
Tsunekazu Takeda, president of both the Japanese Olympic Committee and the Tokyo 2020 bid committee, told The Globe and Mail in an interview that the arms race of sorts when it comes to bids has driven all aspirants to raise their game.
“Our planning is the best we’ve had … the quality of the planning overall seems very, very high,” he said.
Each of the bids faces its obstacles – the Winter Games are being held in Asia in 2018, Turkey is also bidding for the 2020 European soccer finals, Spain is facing bankruptcy, Qatar wants to hold the Games in October, Azerbaijan’s infrastructure is deficient – but that’s not what anyone’s talking about this week.
Takeda, for example, highlighted things like the symbolic importance a winning bid would have in a country devastated by earthquakes and a tsunami just over a year ago.
Part of Tokyo’s pitch is to emphasize the level of public support behind their bid – thought to have been a problem last time around – and to talk up the environmental and cultural benefits of hosting the Summer Games for the first time since 1964.
“We are the world’s most dynamic and safe urban environment … this is part of a long-term urban strategy, to transform the city into the safest natural-disaster-proof city in the world by 2020,” Takeda said.
That Takeda was speaking at all was noteworthy in itself – Martyn said courting the media is a staple strategy – but hardly surprising given what other bid cities are doing; Istanbul has a trio of Olympic athletes, including former Toronto Raptors forward Hedo Turkoglu, in attendance this week.
Azerbaijan’s Sports Minister Asad Rahimov, a former international handball player, was also pumping his bid’s tires, telling AFP that this bid “ has been really carefully prepared to avoid the mistakes made in the previous bid.”