Tuesday, February 18, 2014

OLYMPICS, DAY 11: The 2022 Winter Olympics

The Olympics are awarded seven years in advance. Rio 2016 was awarded in 2009; Pyeongchang 2018 was awarded in 2011; Tokyo 2020 was awarded in 2013. 2015 is coming up at about the same rate it always has, so next year, we'll be deciding who to hand the 2022 Winter Olympics to.

Although it doesn't seem like very much of a decision this time around. There are, these days, always multiple cities bidding, multiple places to choose from, but some are clearly more capable than others. Some years, the decision as to who can host can be rather rough, and come down to the specific technical aspects of each city's bid. The decision for 2012 was particularly difficult, with a high-caliber field of capable cities bidding against each other. London had to go up against Paris, Madrid, New York and Moscow in the final round. Selecting one from them would take a lot of work.

The field here is not so tightly-packed. There are three phases to this process: applicant, candidate, and host. Right now, we're at the 'applicant' phase, which is simply any city that wants to host submitting a bid. The applicants are then assessed on a range of criteria to figure out how capable they are of hosting; the less-capable cities, the cities the IOC decides would be an obvious disaster to have host, are weeded out. Their various aspects are rated from 1-10, with an overall score of 6 or higher required to get a recommendation from the evaluation committee. A qualifying score doesn't necessarily mean you're in, nor does a lack of one mean you're out, but it falls largely along those lines. In 2016, despite a score of 6.9, Doha was knocked out at this stage (eventual winner Rio scored 6.4). In 2008, despite not hitting the 6.0 standard (the committee opted not to give exact scores for anyone that year, but you can see they scored Istanbul somewhere in the 5 range), Istanbul was advanced anyway.

The survivors of this initial screening are deemed 'candidate' cities, at which point they can start using the Olympic rings in their bid materials. These cities are further assessed, personally visited by a committee (which cities often in turn test to see how easy they are to bribe; these visits aren't exactly unannounced), and then at the end, final voting takes place. By this point, you're rather familiar with the process: if a city gets a majority of the vote, they win; if nobody does, last place is dropped and they vote again; repeat until someone does get a majority. IOC members from the candidate nations are prohibited from voting unless their city has been knocked out in a previous round.

The applicants that we have for 2022 are: Beijing, China; Astana, Kazakhstan; Oslo, Norway; Krakow, Poland; and Lviv, Ukraine.

The official candidates will be determined in July, but at first glance, it seems rather obvious that Oslo would be the natural choice, based on some basic, immediately observable issues:

*Beijing just hosted the Summer Olympics in 2008, and the IOC prefers to spread hosting duties around geographically. With South Korea hosting in 2018 and Tokyo in 2020, expecting them to do China next seems a tall order. The smog that kept some athletes at bay in 2008 is even worse now, not just in Beijing but seemingly anywhere you'd want hosting, including the place I might pick if I were selecting a Chinese city to host a Winter Olympics, which isn't Beijng, but Harbin.

*Krakow's bid involves some events being hosted in Jasna, Slovakia. The IOC does not permit multinational bids, as San Diego and Tijuana found out the hard way when they attempted to bid for 2024. Anything involving Jasna would have to be stripped out of the bid, which would potentially damage Krakow's plans beyond repair.

*Lviv has had... issues today. You can host an Olympics with the cauldron on fire. You can't host them with everything on fire. Really, they're toast. I don't care what they're telling everyone. Done. Out. I doubt they even get out of the applicant stage. (Check back in a year when they get picked to host, because as we've already established, I am terrible at predicting things.)

*Astana hosted the 2011 Asian Winter Games, and some of the facilities they'd use are thus already built... but then again, the bad taste likely to be in the IOC's mouth regarding Sochi may make them loathe to hand the Olympics to another former Soviet nation in the near future. They've begun to abandon the general boilerplate talk about how well the Games are going and attacking detractors in exchange for beginning to attempt to defend themselves for selecting Sochi, even if it has to be couched in language such as clarifying that political protests aren't allowed on Olympic grounds "whether we are sympathetic or not", a statement that one wouldn't think would be made unless that sympathy existed.

Which leaves Oslo. After problems like the ones faced here, the IOC seems to me to be about ready to run screaming into the Alps and Scandinavia, places everybody knows for a fact can put on a well-run Winter Olympics. And because Oslo is the only city in the field in that region, it stands to reason that they'd be the natural choice.

But that's only if the people of Oslo are on board with it. In September, Oslo voters had a referendum on whether to bid, and it passed, but only by a 55-45 margin. There's a sizable contingent of residents who just do not want to put up the kind of money it takes to host the Olympics. Another Scandinavian city, Stockholm, pulled out a month ago for just that reason.

Should Oslo remain in for the duration, I don't see how they don't win, barring corruption. If they pull out, the options get ugly fast. If Krakow would be able to revamp their bid to remove Jasna as a hosting site, they're probably runner-up, but if not, the IOC will likely cross their fingers, pray like hell, and reluctantly give it to Astana.

Please stay in, Oslo.

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