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A Come-From-Behind Plan to Land the Olympics

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After the Salt Lake City scandal, the IOC revamped its selection process to make it appear rigorously scientific and transparent. New York has already cleared the preliminary round, which consisted of an initial ranking of all contender cities based on a huge assortment of attributes, including finances, athlete housing, transportation, and the Olympic “legacy” (i.e., how the facilities will be used after the Games). Those rankings were then run through a patented and mystifying fuzzy-logic algorithm, OlympLogic, which, according to IOC, uses “the entropy principle” to account for “the volatility, turbulence, or unevenness of the grades, thus preventing the masking of weak grades and leading to more accurate results.”

Any city failing to break a minimum score gets dropped from the final tour—last November, that was the sad fate of Istanbul, Rio, Havana, and Leipzig. Moscow passed by the skin of its teeth with a ranking that “straddled” the acceptable score. The fact that the Russians soldiered on with their bid shows that Doctoroff isn’t alone in considering the process open to the art of persuasion.

So now there are the on-site visits. The hoopla that NYC 2012 has organized to envelop the evaluators during their four days in New York next week—including a Lincoln Center gala and $20 million worth of Olympic signage plastering every block in the city —will make it seem as if the city’s chances hinge on their experience. The evaluation team will then produce an encyclopedic report that is sent to all 115 IOC members, who are expected to read it and studiously decide how they will vote in July. “I have no idea for whom I will vote before reading that report,” says Swiss attorney Marc Hodler, an IOC member and former head of the International Ski Federation. “All the members should go through it very thoroughly, look up everything, and come to the right conclusion.” And then he chuckles lightly, shrugs his shoulders, and adds, “I’m not certain the IOC members are all very good readers.”

Athens, Turin, and Beijing all failed to ace the evaluation phase—and still managed to come away with the Games.

“Look, in order to have an Olympic bid you need to have an Olympic stadium,” says Doctoroff. “Even if it costs us some popularity right now.”

“Winning IOC votes comes down to maintaining tight relationships with individuals, not demonstrating technical perfection,” says Evelina Christillin, a university professor (and niece of Gianni Agnelli) who spearheaded Turin’s capture of the 2006 Winter Games. “Italians have a huge advantage, because after 2,000 years of political intrigue, we are much more Machiavellian.”

Luckily for Doctoroff, the Italians will almost certainly side with New York in Singapore. That’s because Milan has its sights on the 2016 Olympics—and since the IOC is loath to put consecutive Games on the same continent, Milan 2016 needs Paris, London, and Madrid to go down to defeat. Doctoroff will seek to exploit precisely this sort of self-interest between now and July. And while New York may not be able to match the romance (and national political support) that Paris has, it can ably compete in terms of commerce, which the IOC has embraced in recent years.

It was the 1984 Los Angeles Games that brought the Olympics into the arena of Big Money. Organizer Peter Ueberroth proved the Games could be a profitable venture rather than a bankruptcy-inducing exercise in civic PR, like the 1976 Montreal fiasco. At around the same time, the IOC, under Samaranch’s leadership, started to reap major licensing fees from its five-ring emblem. Samaranch also consolidated all TV rights under IOC control and started ratcheting up the fees. Under the latest contract, NBC will pay $2.2 billion to broadcast the 2010 and 2012 Games.

As the money started flowing, cities all over the world hungered for a piece of the action, though the selection process was still governed by gentleman’s-club, who-you-knew customs. The IOC membership was a bizarre amalgam of parochial interests, including minor royalty, friends of friends, and Iron Curtain apparatchiks. Members were not elected but “co-opted”—invited to join by existing members, with a strong prerogative given to the president. Appointments were for life.


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