Analyzing the 2016 Olympic vote

The IOC vote never ceases to surprise, and the 2016 vote was no exception. The eventual winner, Rio de Janeiro, was somewhat expected, but Chicago's early exit caught many people off guard. While there is a lot of goodwill and positive sentiment towards Rio right now, I seriously question the IOC's decision, and think it might prove to be a mistake.

I will get into my thoughts on Rio a bit later in this post, but first I want to talk about how the vote unfolded. Most of the reporters I've seen on TV and the journalists I've read online really don't understand how this process works, so hopefully I can shed some light on this site. Here is how the vote broke down:

Ballot 1: (95 eligible, 94 valid ballots)
Madrid - 28

Rio - 26

Tokyo - 22

Chicago -18

Ballot 2: (97 eligible, 1 abstention, 95 valid ballots)
Rio - 46

Madrid - 29

Tokyo - 20

Ballot 3: (99 eligible, 1 abstention, 98 valid ballots)
Rio - 66

Madrid - 32
Rio de Janeiro elected.


Vote Analysis

Chicago realized fears some had in being eliminated in the first round. Really, any of the four cities could have been eliminated first. I was concerned that Chicago did not have a strong enough base to get out of the first round, and that appears to have been the case. I thought that President Obama's appearance could have garnered enough votes from Africa in the early round, but in hindsight, these votes are much more about personal relationships.

Former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch made it clear today that his last wish in life is for Madrid to host the 2016 Olympic Games. Samaranch is not as influential as he was even four years ago, but he carried enough weight to give Madrid the first round lead. Many of Samaranch's friends seemingly did not want him to embarrassed with an early Madrid exit.

Tokyo clearly wanted to save face and avoid first round elimination. I can only suspect how the process unfolded, but based on the fact that Tokyo lost two votes in the second round, there were clearly other IOC members who also felt a compelling need to see Tokyo advance at least one round.

The collective strong desires on the part of Madrid and Tokyo to avoid early elimination may have cost Chicago the votes that it needed in the first round to stay alive. Based on the numbers, there were obviously a lot of IOC members who came to Copenhagen with the intention of voting for Rio. But it is plausible that just as many members also intended to pick Chicago, and first round finagling cost the city dearly.

I've long said that the IOC should reform its voting process. While it would be nice to eliminate the secret ballot so that IOC members can be held accountable for their vote, that is unlikely to happen any time soon.

What is reasonable is for the IOC to adopt new rules that prevent vote switching. If 22 IOC members thought that Tokyo had the best bid in the first round, then at least 22 should have thought that Tokyo had the best vote in the second round. There is no logical reason for an IOC member to change his/her mind other than backroom dealing, personal promises, and the desire to make a city look good for as long as possible in the voting.

The IOC's electronic system could easily be programmed to lock in a vote until a city has been eliminated. Another option would be for IOC members to rank their choices 1-4 in advance. Either solution could only help the IOC truly pick the best city to host an Olympic Games and prevent much of the politics that only a handful of old sports bureaucrats really care about.

Another question I have is why one member abstained in rounds 2 and 3. That is something we may never know.

Many observers might note Rio's 66 votes and think that they were going to win no matter what. Heck they were only two votes away from winning outright in the second round. Still, I think that the overwhelming sentiment among IOC members was for the 2016 Games to be held in the Western Hemisphere. I would bet that Chicago would have picked up significant votes in the second and third rounds had they not been eliminated early. When they were out in Round 1, Rio did not have serious competition. Such is the oddities of IOC voting.

My favorite quote of the day comes from Australian IOC member Kevan Gosper in discuss Tokyo's ability to stay alive for the first round at Chicago's expense.

"I'm shocked," Gosper said. "The whole thing doesn't make sense other than there has been a stupid bloc vote."


Chicago Analysis

So what else hurt Chicago? I touched on this in my last post, but President Obama's visit to Copenhagen was not as effective as Tony Blair's was for London 2012 nor Vladimir Putin's was for Sochi 2014. Both of those former world leaders spent several days meeting with 30-40 IOC members and personally lobbied for the Games. President Obama was in Copenhagen for just over four hours, gave one speech, answered one IOC question, and did not meet with any IOC members. While he had the clout to potentially do less than Blair and Putin, I'm sure many members were disappointed that they did not get to meet him personally. I know that Michelle Obama met with numerous IOC members, but unfortunately for Chicago, she was not enough.

Former Danish IOC member Kai Holm said as much, claiming Obama's stopover was "too business-like."

"It can be that some IOC members see it as a lack of respect," Holm added.

Chicago had the disadvantage of presenting first, and technical problems (on the IOC's end) actually delayed their presentation. Rio and Madrid went third and fourth respectively, allowing their emotional appeals to be fresher in voter's minds on what is certainly a long day for them. And while the President and Michelle Obama both gave good speeches, by all accounts Brazil President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva had the most charismatic and passionate speech of the day. The Brazilian leader has actively been campaigning for Rio for months, and he spent plenty of time meeting with IOC members in the days before the vote. His hard work certainly paid off for Rio.

Another problem for Chicago had nothing to do with its bid - which was technically excellent - and a lot to do with the USOC. I outlined many of the problems with the USOC in my post earlier this week. But in a nutshell, many IOC members are still upset that the USOC receives a disproportionately large share of Olympic television and sponsorship revenues. The USOC has seen considerable leadership turnover over the past decade, making it more difficult for an American city to build relationships with IOC members. Additionally the USOC's botched announcement of a new television network earlier this year proved to be a significant blow.

Swiss IOC member Denis Oswald made his opinion clear: "It was a defeat for the USOC, not for Chicago."

Oswald has been one of the most outspoken critics of the USOC in recent years, and I wouldn't pretend to think that he speaks for most IOC members. That being said, he is on the IOC Executive Board, and his comments indicate to me that at least several of his colleagues came in with the mindset that they would not vote for any American city until the USOC went through some real reform.

If any U.S. city hopes to host an Olympic Games in the future, then the USOC and its new Chairman Larry Probst will have to demonstrably prove that it is an unpretentious partner in the Olympic Movement. The USOC has already made progress to that end in recent years, but they evidently still have more work to do.

Universal Sports' Alan Abrahamson has more on the USOC's failings his post here.

I grew somewhat concerned about Chicago's chances when I heard the questions in the Q&A portion of the presentation. Syed Shahid Ali, an IOC member from Pakistan who would love nothing more than for polo to become an Olympic sport, asked a question he probably knew the answer to about the US's procedures of letting overseas Olympic visitors into American airports. Ukrainian IOC member Sergei Bubka (yes, the former pole vaulting champion) asked about the far distance of the Chicago cycling and shooting venues - again a question he probably knew the answer to. Both Bubka's and Ali's questions only brought to light two of the few perceived weaknesses of the Chicago bid (I'd argue they're not really weaknesses). Considering that Bubka is a fairly influential IOC member and Ali is a vote that Chicago might have been hoping for, it led me to believe that Chicago might have a tough time finding votes. IOC members generally know the answers in Q&A sessions, so there is a calculated reason behind every question.

Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the opposition groups in Chicago that protested an Olympic bid. There were several groups that peppered the IOC with anti-Chicago mail and one group even garnered an audience with the Evaluation Commission earlier this year. Every city has opposition groups, and I strongly disagreed with most of the points made by those against Chicago. That being said, I think they helped weaken Chicago's efforts, and they might have made a difference.


Rio Analysis

As for Rio, I have serious questions about their bid, and fear that the IOC might have made a mistake. I hate to be the person to rain on the Rio parade, because I know there are many people celebrating in South America today. But there are significant problems with the Rio bid that have not been discussed enough in the public sphere, and they need to be addressed.

Many people say that Rio "deserved" the Olympics because they have never been in South America. I can certainly understand that sentiment, but I believe that cities deserve to host an Olympic Games by putting forth the best plan and having the infrastructure in place to invite the world. An Olympic Games is an incredibly complex operation that requires an enormous amount of security, first-rate facilities, and smooth transportation. Only a small handful of cities in the world have the infrastructure in place to pull off an Olympic Games.

Rio has estimated that it will spend $11 billion in construction and infrastructure improvements to host the 2016 Olympic Games. I would be willing to bet that the cost will wind up being at least few billion greater. I've already seen some estimates that have their real expenditures being at $14-15 billion.

Conversely, the Tokyo budget was $4.4 billion, the Chicago budget was $4.8 billion, and the Madrid budget was $5.4 billion. One of the strengths of the Chicago bid was that most thought it could generate the greatest level of revenue from television rights, sponsorship, corporate support, and ticket sales. If Chicago was hoping to make a small, but significant profit at a $4.8 billion budget, then Rio will be hard-pressed not to lose money.

Approximately $5 billion will be spent on Rio's public transportation and potentially another $4 billion on environmental cleanups. Most of those expenditures will be shouldered by either the local or national government. In the meantime, Brazil could be spending another $3 billion on venues for the World Cup in 2014. As a result, much of Brazil's sports marketing resources will be focused on soccer for five of the seven years that IOC members might hope that sports like rowing and judo get promoted in the South American nation.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it is hard to think of a scenario in which Brazil does not suffer significant financial strain in the middle of next decade due to its sporting ambitions. At a time when the IOC has repeatedly expressed a desire to see the cost and size of the Games reduced, it's curious that an overwhelming majority of members would vote for a city that could very well cause the headlines the IOC least likes to see - headlines about lack of readiness, cost overruns, growing government debt, etc. I really do hope and pray that I am wrong, but the odds are seemingly against it at this point.

Next, there is the issue of crime in Brazil, which is a serious problem. Alan Abrahamson had an excellent article on it at Universal Sports, which cited a New Yorker story that revealed just how dangerous the city's street are right now. Unfortunately, it appears the IOC allowed P.R. about future policing programs to trump actual data.

Rio also does not have the 48,000 hotel rooms required for an Olympic Games, and will put many visitors up in cruise ships. When Jacksonville hosted the Super Bowl a few years ago, many media members stayed in cruise ships and complained ceaselessly about it. Will the media be more amenable to cruise ship hospitality in 2016 in Rio?

I don't want to make this seem like I'm completely knocking the Rio bid. They could very well prove to overcome these challenges. But I am disappointed in the media for not appropriately covering these problems with the Rio bid - problems I know they will be talking about in seven years. I am also disappointed with the IOC office, which glossed over many of these concerns in the Evaluation Commission report, after noting them in previous documents, including a technical report that deemed Rio incapable of hosting the 2012 Games. I personally believe that these issues were never properly discussed, and the implications for Rio could be tremendous.


What's next?

Many Chicagoans already want their city to host the 2020 Olympic Games. I can certainly sympathize with how they feel. Unfortunately for them, it's hard to see the USOC putting forward a candidate city in four years. As odd as this might sound, many IOC members consider North and South America to effectively be the same region (partially due to the PanAm Games), and will not support a Western Hemisphere Games in 2020.

Expect Cape Town or Durban to have a strong bid for 2020, as Africa is now the last continent not to host the Olympic Games. Much of South Africa's bid will depend on the quality of the World Cup they host next year.

Rome continues to make noise about a 2020 bid, and they would figure to have a good chance. New Delhi has openly discussed an Olympic bid, but they must first get through the 2010 Commonwealth Games, which has seen its fair share of problems. It's possible that a Middle East city such as Doha or Dubai bids for 2020, but the Doha 2016 bid was rejected over weather concerns. I would not be surprised if Tokyo bid again for 2020, and I think they might have a better chance then as well.

For now, it looks like the 2018 Winter Olympic vote will be a four horse race between PyeongChang in South Korea, Harbin in China, Annecy in France, and Munich (which will try to become the first city ever to host both the Summer and Winter Games). There still might be another city or two that gets a bid together for 2018.

The best hope for the U.S. might be for the USOC to make a concerted effort to rebuild and stabilize without worrying about an Olympic bid. If the USOC can make enough tangible progress in the next four years, then Denver and Reno/Tahoe are already interested in bidding for the 2022 Winter Games. I would not expect a U.S. city to host the Summer Olympic Games until at least 2028, and possibly 2032, which would be 36 years after Atlanta.


More by Phil Wallace:
USC fires Lane Kiffin
Hollywood Park back in the picture
HBO's Real Sports highlights Chivas USA's troubles
Don't get too excited about the Lakers' cap space
How Jim Buss ruined the Lakers
Previous Native Intelligence story: Bruce Lisker's life on the outside

Next Native Intelligence story: Bienvenido, Gustavo!

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