From the editor: A meaningful victory

Eoin Connolly reflects on this week's SportAccord Convention in Denmark, where sport’s international bodies convened for their annual get-together and the 2024 Olympic bidding race intensified.

From the editor: A meaningful victory

It’s been a significant week in the life of SportAccord, the umbrella body for international sports federations, at the event that used to share its name, the SportAccord Convention.

SportAccord is now GAISF – the Global Association of International Sports Federations – reverting to the acronym but not quite the title by which it was known until 2009. That change is part of a package of reforms passed on Friday at the SportAccord General Assembly, which came on the closing morning of the SportAccord Convention, the day after the closing ceremony. The reforms were intended to address the fallout of a speech made by the former SportAccord president, Marius Vizer, at the SportAccord Convention in 2015, which caused a number of international federations to leave SportAccord, but not the convention. A few of those now plan to rejoin GAISF, which is what we used to call SportAccord.

The SportAccord Convention, meanwhile, has confirmed that it will be heading to Bangkok next year, bringing GAISF with it. By then, we should know where the 2019 edition of SportAccord – as the convention is popularly known by delegates – will be held, while the 2021 host should be confirmed by 2020.    

It all makes sense when you think about it. So too does the two-way contest for a prize that both contestants look certain to win but are now preparing to ensure they won’t appear to have lost. Because for all the chatter going on in the halls of the Radisson Blu in the pretty Danish city of Aarhus, where the great and the good and the “did you hear that story about?” of sport’s international bodies have shared their strip-lit recent days, one question dominated the 2017 SportAccord Convention above all others. And there was typically only one answer to it.

“We’re bidding for 2024.”

So said Casey Wasserman, chairman of the Los Angeles bid for the Olympic Games, when asked if his staff had any contingency plans in place for a mooted joint award of the 2024 and 2028 events to the Californian conurbation and its sole rival, Paris. Some version of that line was on the lips of every member of each campaign, often more than once in the same conversation.

It’s easy to appreciate why – even leaving aside the average spokesperson’s aversion to the hypothetical. Both teams left in the running have been at this for over a year and this is the point, with the bid books published and bars lifted on international promotion, at which the contest is supposed to reach its proper level of intensity. As one bid consultant mentioned to me before the two teams presented to delegates on Tuesday, the “phoney war” is now over. This is supposed to herald the battle to which so many hours of preparation – not to mention millions of dollars and euros – have been dedicated.

There were signs of that in Denmark through the week. Both campaigns were out in force, as might be expected with so many international federations and IOC members in attendance, and their respective city tourist boards supplied impressive surrogate stands – and plenty of cheese and wine – on the exhibition floor.

There were the kind of skirmishes that one associates with this phase of a bid process. The Paris bid paid for a smart wraparound on local editions of the New York Times but when these were distributed to guests at the Radisson, some noted that the hotel did not usually take the newspaper; LA, meanwhile, was forced to deny claims made in Le Figaro that it had artificially inflated likes and follower counts on social media.

The presentations, meanwhile, created the strongest impression so far of the bids differentiating themselves from one another. LA relentlessly pushed its “low-risk” credentials, with one speaker after another noting the lack of public money in play, the lack of new venues needing construction, and the bounty of professional and commercial support on offer. Paris talked up its unique qualities as a city, its near peerless experience as a host, and the rigid guarantees around its Games plan.  

For now, the party line within the IOC is not dissimilar. GAISF president Patrick Baumann – speaking on Thursday as SportAccord president Patrick Baumann – confirmed that the evaluation commission he leads to LA and Paris later this spring will make its recommendations only in the context of a live 2024 race.

Yet with all that being said, the prospect of a joint award has never looked closer. The two bid teams met separately with IOC president Thomas Bach on Monday. The widely held understanding is that a deal is coming together.   

Presented with the option of 2028 or nothing, neither team is likely to take the latter option. Both still want 2024 – or, to put it another way, both want to win. Both are also beginning to intimate that, while the deal itself might work, it only works one way round – Paris because of lease agreements relating to its Games infrastructure, LA because the impact of its concept will be more keenly felt in the near term. At this point, the team that goes second may feel like they came second.  

“If those rules change, I think both cities are adaptable,” said LA mayor Eric Garcetti, speaking to SportsPro and other media after the presentation. “I mean, for instance, I’ll give you a different hypothetical. If somebody said, ‘Hold the Olympic in three months,’ Los Angeles could probably adapt to that and do it. That’s how ready we are. But whether it would be sooner or later, we will always listen to that. And if there’s a win-win solution for everybody, I always joke that I’d be happy to go to Paris in 2028 but I’m sure that Mayor Hidalgo would be happy to go to Los Angeles in 2028, too!”

This week, the IOC appointed Rebecca Lowell Edwards as its first strategic communications director. She has an interesting challenge in her first few weeks.

Bach has bemoaned the fact that the Olympic bidding process produces “too many losers”. There might yet be two winners in the 2024 race – but it could all come down to semantics.