Before bid, USOC must first choose summer or winter
DENVER – Now that they’ve made peace with their international partners on the financial front, leaders at the U.S. Olympic Committee must decide whether to try to bring an upcoming Olympics to America.
The key to that decision will be weighing the pros and cons of bidding for a Winter Games versus a Summer Games – a debate that will begin in earnest when the USOC board meets next month in the Bay Area.
Two people with knowledge of how the USOC decision-making process would work told The Associated Press that members of the U.S. delegation were being urged by international leaders last week, during private conversations at meetings in Quebec City, to think seriously about the Summer Games in 2024.
Those people spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the bid decision is made privately.
“In anything you do with this, where there’s a lot at stake and you’ve accomplished something extremely important and you’ve got momentum swinging in a different direction, you go for the top,” one of the people said of trying for a Summer Olympics instead of a Winter Games. “Don’t sell yourself short.”
On Thursday, the USOC announced it had solved one of its core problems with the IOC: rewriting the formula for revenue sharing through 2040.
The USOC had said it wouldn’t consider a bid for any Olympics until the revenue issue was resolved. Now that it is, CEO Scott Blackmun said the “strategy is to develop a strategy.”
The momentum for a U.S. Summer Games bid will be weighed against what would be a less-expensive path, and likely one with fewer obstacles – a bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Denver, which has formed an exploratory committee, would likely enter that process as a favorite, with Reno-Lake Tahoe, Bozeman, Mont., and Salt Lake City also considering bids. The USOC would have to start from scratch in the search for a summer city, with New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Dallas among the most likely candidates, said both people familiar with the USOC process.
One of those people said there would be no drawn-out, public domestic bid process, as there was for the 2016 Games, when Chicago spent nearly $10 million to win the USOC phase, then went on to an embarrassing last-place finish in a contest ultimately won by Rio de Janeiro.
Others in the U.S. Olympic circle believe that the IOC always has more difficulty finding countries to host the Winter Games and that IOC leaders would look kindly upon a solid winter candidate from the United States, such as Denver.
“I think our strategy should be, let’s host a Winter Games, a Pan-Am Games, a few meaningful world championships,” USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny said. “That’s the kind of stuff we need to do to someday bring a Summer Games back here.”
As the United States has learned, bidding for an Olympics is fraught with obstacles and political hurdles – and they don’t always go away when you win.
The last two Olympics on American soil were filled with problems: Atlanta (1996) took a bad rap as being too commercialized and spread out, while Salt Lake City (2002) had a massive bid scandal.
The USOC has not, in the past, been able to provide a financial guarantee from its federal government – an issue that should not be taken lightly, according to both people with knowledge of the process. Chicago had city and state guarantees for the 2016 bid, though it’s hard to guess, in retrospect, whether that helped, hurt or made no difference in the city’s last-place finish.
It remains a big unknown whether Chicago or New York, which got rejected for the 2012 Games, would want to jump through the IOC hoops after what’s happened in the past.
And IOC President Jacques Rogge, who will be long gone by the time the 2024 bid process starts, has repeatedly said bringing an Olympics to the African continent is a priority for the IOC. There are no African candidates for 2020, which means the next Olympic bid process could pit an American city against one trying to bring the games to Africa for the first time.
There’s still time to consider a summer bid, but if the USOC wants to pursue the Winter Games, the clock is ticking. The 2022 Olympics will be awarded in 2015.
Denver has many facilities in place and has improved its international reputation over the past several years. The high-profile, international SportAccord meetings held in Quebec City last week took place in Denver in 2009, and the city got good reviews.
Denver remains, however, the only city to be awarded an Olympics then give them back. The 1976 Winter Games in Innsbruck, Austria, were originally slated for the Mile High City. Denver voters chose to give them back because of concerns over cost, urban sprawl and pollution.
“You could take the safe route and go with Denver, but that issue is still there and it will be used whether they think it will or not,” one of the people familiar with the process said. “Americans have come a long way since then. But they need to be watertight with the city they pick. To have an exposure like that, I’m not saying it’s a fatal flaw, but it’s a weakness that will be exposed because there still a perception, right or wrong, that the United States is only in it for the money.”