Saturday, August 16, 2008

Who Picks the Olympic Host: 100 Faces

'Tis the season and all that. As we watch one of the most tyrannical regimes on Earth glory in the Olympic Games, some questions arise: Who decided to put it there? and Can MyFavorite City host the Olympics?

In part I of this series, I addressed how the massive flows of money toward the Olympic Movement from the United States guarantee that America can expect to host the games semi-regularly. We can see down below how swift movement can be in favor of a certain region hosting the games when it is "their turn". In Part III I'll look at the exact requirements for host cities -- including why I believe Boston would not be able to host a summer Olympics. This installment, however, is dedicated to the question of the body who selects the sites for the Olympic Games.

That body is the International Olympic Committee. There is little that is representative or democratic about this body; current committee members elect new ones. Thus, it wavers close to a popularity contest, and anybody with agendas about seriously altering the mission of the Olympics should keep such thoughts to themselves.

The body is not particularly representative of the wider world, or even the sporting world. The full list is here, but there are different ways to break down the population:

83 men, 18 women.
41 Olympians, 60 non-.
7 members of royalty, 1 count, 2 sheiks.

But the most important layout for our purposes is as follows:

Region# Members
North America/Mexico/Caribbean12
Central/South America7

This is certainly unbalanced relative to the demographics of the world, but how representative is it of those involved with the Olympic Movement? I can't find any data grouping delegation size by region or even country since the IOC does not break down delegation size by country for current or past games. Certainly, countries such as India sent very few athletes per citizen -- only 65 are in Beijing, compared to roughly 630 from the United States. On the other hand, you have Norway sending a large contingent if you add in the winter games. (Due to its performance in skiing, Luxembourg has the highest medal-to-citizen ratio in the Olympics).

Even with that in mind, however, I have to believe that the IOC is even more European than the Olympic playing field. I see two reasons for this: first of all, it is a process to get onto the IOC, so its composition will have a lag behind the reality on the field. Until the 1980s, African and Asian teams were small, and it was largely a European and North American affair. Secondly, people tend to support those with whom they are most comfortable, and a group of cosmopolitan European royals face a barrier in getting to know and supporting an athlete from, say, Indonesia.

Representatives of cities trying to land the Olympics lobby IOC members at sports congresses, IOC meetings, and the Olympics themselves. However, in the wake of the scandal wherein bribes were alleged to have been spread by officials who successfully lobbied for Salt Lake City to win the 2002 winter games, changes were made in the process. In a move that I can only call baffling, the IOC decided that the surest way to stamp out suspicions of unfair play in the bidding process was not to open the process up, but to make it even more shadowy. Rather than allowing IOC members to visit bid cities at will, it was decided that an "evaluation commission" would visit the city and write up a report, to be combined with materials provided by the bidding cities. This is all the members have to go on when choosing who hosts the games.

Of course, much, much more goes into it than merely selecting the technically superior bid; if that were the only criteria, the Olympics would likely travel a narrow circuit of Western metropoli. There is a desire to spread out the host cities so that each region can see the Olympics nearby as well. Take the last three decades of the Summer Olympics:
1968: North America 1972: Europe 1976: North America 1980: Eastern Europe 1984: North America 1988: Asia 1992: Europe 1996: North America 2000: Australia 2004: Europe 2008: Asia 2012: Europe

You can see why I'm down on Madrid's chances for 2016. Ditto on Tokyo's. While North America will host the 2010 Winter Games, well, who really cares?

The selection voting process itself is a familiar one: all IOC members have a vote in each round. In the first round, all cities are on the ballot, and the lowest scoring city drops out; those votes must shift elsewhere. This continues until a city wins the majority of the votes available. Since voting is secret, trying to divine the movement of votes in the wake of a city's loss is a favorite Olympic sport. A good example is what happened in 1996:

Round 1 2 3 4 5
Atlanta19 20 26 34 51
Belgrade 7 - - - -
Manchester 11 5 - - -
Melbourne 11 21 16 - -
Toronto 14 17 18 22 -

Doesn't take a genius to see what happened there: one the weak bids (Belgrade and Manchester) were dispatched , the real business began. Melbourne lost out, so those votes in Australia/Oceania distributed evenly, but the supporters of a North American games moved en masse from Toronto to Atlanta when it was the only option left. There was sentimental reasons for Athens to host the centennial Olympics, but they did not overcome concerns about infrastructure, and concerns about 2 straight European Games. Compare this to the process that led to London's win of the 2012 Olympics: of the five bidding cities, it was the three European capitals (London, Paris, Madrid) that had the lion's share of support: it was Europe's turn, and everybody knew it.

Beijing won the hosting rights for the current games easily; the money lure was impossible to resist, particularly after IOC President Jacques Rogge lobbied for Beijing.

Next up: what does it take to host the Olympics?

1 comment: said...

As odds show, that Chicago should win, public opinion is not so clear - many people wants is to be Rio -
I think others take part in the race just for the sake of doing it - there are no chances for them. Well, except maybe Tokyo - the Japans could have secret winning card in the form of some original idea...