The picture that went viral from this week’s extraordinary IOC Session in Lausanne – Thomas Bach hand in hand, and triumphant, with the mayors of Los Angeles and Paris, who had (on the face of it) been guaranteed to host the 2024 and 2028 Olympic Games – almost didn’t happen.

The decision to negotiate to reach a ‘tripartite agreement’ over hosting the two games had just been ratified unanimously by the IOC’s membership and Bach was preparing to move onto the next item of an otherwise somewhat tedious agenda, when there was a commotion as the two mayors effectively stormed the stage to thank the members and celebrate with Bach.

The double award had, of course, been seen as a fait accompli from the moment that the IOC’s executive board recommended it a month ago (if not long before), which was perhaps why it hadn’t occurred to Bach to stop and celebrate.

But taking affairs into their own hands, the erstwhile rivals, LA’s Eric Garcetti and Paris’ Anne Hidalgo, swept Bach along in the emotion of their moment of triumph, to the extent that the normally impassive German had to take a moment to compose himself before proceeding with the agenda.

So it would seem churlish to rain on their collective
parades. But here goes.

The picture that went viral: Eric Garcetti, Thomas Bach and Anne Hidalgo

At a joint press conference with Bach after the vote, Garcetti and Hidalgo professed their “genuine friendship” for each other, as they talked in glowing terms of their plans for hosting the games, now that they knew for sure that they would host one edition or other of the games.

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Such an agreement had repeatedly been described as a ‘win-win-win’ situation for the IOC and the two cities in the run-up to the vote (which took the form of a show of hands, incidentally, so as always in such a situation, it would have taken a brave member to swim against the tide and vote against the plan).

Bach called the decision a “golden opportunity” for all concerned, adding: “Ensuring the stability of the Olympic Games for 11 years is something extraordinary. That is why we say this is a great day for the Olympic Games and the Olympic Movement, and it’s a great day also for these two wonderful cities, these two great Olympic cities.”

But a day later, I run into Etienne Thobois, chief executive of Paris 2024, outside the presentation rooms in Lausanne in which the two bids are displaying models, films and other technical gadgetry describing their bids to IOC members (and subsequently the media), and offer him my congratulations. He shrugs and says: “Well, you know, we still have to cross the finish line.”

As technicians pack away the paraphernalia of the previous day’s drama (Paris had brought its head of state, the charismatic French president Emmanuel Macron), all the talk is of which city will host which games – and at what price? There is surely a lot of water still to pass under the bridge before that tripartite agreement is announced.

No one knows where the €1-billion figure came from, but everyone certainly believes that the negotiations will have a commercial element to them  

Of course the nightmare scenario, described by the outspoken Canadian IOC member Dick Pound in this week’s exclusive Sportcal Insight interview as, potentially, “a disaster of our own creation,” is that no agreement is reached. In that case the IOC would be forced to return to plan A, awarding the 2024 games to one of the two cities at its Session in Lima in September, and turning the other one of “these two wonderful cities, these two great Olympic cities” into a loser – just the outcome Bach has sought so strenuously to avoid.

But talking to IOC members and members of both bid teams,
this is an outcome no one is seriously contemplating.

The finish line for Paris, as the bid has repeatedly stressed, will come in 2024, not 2028, giving Los Angeles the opportunity to graciously give ground and agree to postpone its plans for four years and host the later edition. That’s what everyone expects. But for the IOC, doesn’t that place it in an uncomfortable position vis a vis a bid/host city: beholden to it for making its brave new plan workable?

Will we see a discernible shift of power in the IOC/host city relationship in favour of the city, if this is the outcome? One IOC member tells me: “What if we decide to change the sports programme? Will we have to get LA’s permission? No one has thought that one through.”

And what about compensation, or an incentive, or whatever form of words you choose, for the city willing to postpone its Olympic ambitions? The previous day, responding to a question by Nawal El Moutawakel, the IOC member from Morocco, over reports of a €1-billion ($1.14-billion) payment to the 2028 host, Bach said: “I don’t know where you heard this. You can be quite sure that the executive board will not come up with such a proposal to the session. That will in fact lead to the bankruptcy of the IOC.”

No one knows where the €1-billion figure came from, but everyone certainly believes that the negotiations will have a commercial element to them.

Thomas Bach talks to the media the day after the double award decision

There’s talk of the extra costs that will be incurred in maintaining a bid/organising committee for four more years, and the need to negotiate a completely new set of government guarantees and draw up a new host city contract. Who’s going to pay for that (if not the IOC) – quite apart from the issue of whether the IOC will have to effectively pay off one of the cities for temporarily bailing it out of its dearth-of-bid-cities crisis.

We’ve been here before, of course. Those with long memories will recall that Los Angeles’ hosting of the 1984 games involved a similar (perceived) bail-out of the IOC after Teheran, the only other bidder, withdrew, leaving the IOC indebted to LA for staging the games by default. It took decades for US-IOC relations to regain an equal footing after that one.

One last thought. The city of Lima and the government of Peru have contracted to host the IOC Session in September in the expectation of becoming the centre of global media coverage and attention as the IOC makes its cliffhanger decision on which city will host the 2024 Olympics. 

Yet Bach said this week that if and when agreement is reached over which city will host which games, the IOC will announce it immediately, potentially depriving Lima of its moment in the sun.

Will the IOC have to compensate the city hosting its Session
as well as the one hosting its games?