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A Come-From-Behind Plan to Land the Olympics


One frequently cited factor is the IOC habit of rotating the Games around the globe. What that means for New York’s bid is debatable. According to one line of reasoning, after Beijing’s 2008 Summer Games and Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Games, the Old Continent gets the Games again. “The Europeans worked pretty skillfully—it’s no accident that Vancouver won for 2010,” observes Richard Pound, a former Canadian Olympic swimmer and IOC vice-president, who wrote the 2004 book Inside the Olympics. “That took Toronto out of the mix, but also damages New York. Because now the Europeans can make the argument that you can’t have two consecutive Olympics in North America.”

A competing hypothesis, espoused by Doctoroff and others, holds that only Summer Games count in the rotation, making New York a perfect choice in 2012 after Sydney, Athens, and Beijing. Amid so much ambiguity, one thing is certain: There will not be back-to-back European Olympics. Thus, a win by London, Paris, or Madrid will torpedo European bids for 2016. Then there’s another angle—the July 6 vote will proceed in a series of single-elimination rounds, which continue until one city gets 50 percent of the vote. Which means that if New York can survive the first couple of rounds, Doctoroff could have an anti-Paris coalition on his hands, if London or Madrid decides to keep their 2016 options open.

Geopolitics may also play a role. In November, Paris-bid president Jean-Paul Huchon told the International Herald Tribune, “The position of the French government on the international scene—especially after the reelection of George Bush—is going to allow us to have more unity around the French candidacy. This is indisputable.”

Well, there are people who dispute that. “IOC members are not so two-dimensional that they would vote on anti-American lines,” Pound contends. “But the big thing among voters is avoiding a horrible mistake, more so than choosing the absolute best candidate. One reason we didn’t choose Beijing in 2000 was that it was still too close to Tiananmen Square.”

Then come the more speculative theories. One holds that the 22 IOC members from Commonwealth countries will collude to support London in 2012, Delhi in 2016, and Cape Town in 2020. Another suggests IOC members will deep-six the New York bid in order to hold out the possibility of the city’s hosting the 2016 Games. That, in turn, would enable the IOC to extract more money from NBC in the TV deal for 2016. Ad revenues from an East Coast Olympics would be far greater than from one overseas, where most events unfold while Americans are either working or sleeping. But when I run that notion past Pound, the key IOC figure in TV negotiations, he’s momentarily speechless, then dryly opines, “That theory has zero credibility.” Why? “Because only about half a dozen IOC members truly understand the economics of the organization.”

The thorniest question of all is how much corruption remains a factor. Since Samaranch instituted his reforms, the IOC has hardly had a spotless record. In 2004, South Korea’s Kim Un-Yong, an IOC vice-president, was suspended shortly before his arrest for embezzling millions from various sports organizations and pocketing $600,000 from Samsung, a major Olympic sponsor.

“There is still plenty of corruptibility,” says British journalist Andrew Jennings, who has made a cottage industry of exposing IOC-related misdeeds. Last summer, Jennings consulted on a BBC exposé in which journalists posed as representatives of a firm eager to help the British capital win the 2012 Games. They arranged meetings with four independent consultants who promised to deliver IOC votes, at a steep price. The BBC team also managed to tape Ivan Slavkov, an IOC member who is also chairman of Bulgaria’s Olympic committee, as he declared himself open to “negotiations.” Slavkov later claimed he was conducting a freelance sting operation. Now suspended from the IOC, he will likely be expelled in Singapore.

As a result of all this, IOC members are supposedly on their best behavior. “Members already felt like they were under scrutiny—and the BBC program exacerbated that,” Battle says. “They don’t want to get caught in a situation that could be interpreted badly.”

Jennings isn’t convinced. “We counted 54 votes that were offered to us,” he says. “Maybe there was some glossing up by those agents and overlap between the members they were promising to deliver. I’d still guess there are, at minimum, 25 votes for sale. But after our exposé, if they go shopping for goodies, they’ll be careful to defer the delivery.”

Even Juan Antonio Samaranch at the height of his power could not always predict the success of Olympic bids. Because their votes are secret, members could ignore his wishes—though not always with impunity; sometimes Samaranch would parse the results and ferret out the rank-breakers.

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