Diversity of cities bidding for events makes comparisons tricky

On 11 November the host cities for the 2017 IAAF World Championships in Athletics and for the 2018 Commonwealth Games will be elected. In both cases the cities competing could scarcely be more different, making direct comparisons very difficult.

For the IAAF the choice is between Doha in Qatar and London. Meanwhile, the Commonwealth Games Federation will vote for their event to be hosted either in the Sri Lankan city of Hambantota or in Brisbane, Australia (in fact the bid is formally from the Gold Coast). The fact that both elections are on the same day seems to be pure coincidence.

In the contest between Doha and London, both candidates have websites, athlete ambassadors (such as Yelena Isinbayeva for Doha and Ed Moses for London) and plans for ambitious development programmes. But the two cities themselves are dramatically different in almost every way: culture, geography, size, climate, history, political system, economy, sporting habits and so on.

Commonwealth Games candidates Hambantota and Brisbane are also radically different. Apart from the fact that they are both on the coast and looking to boost their tourism credentials, it’s hard to see what else they might have in common.

The 71 Commonwealth Games Associations with a vote have a 144 page evaluation commission report at their disposal which concludes, with various qualifications, that the Brisbane bid presents a “low risk” whereas the Hambantota bid presents a “medium to high risk”. The report gives a steer on technical aspects such as venues, transport and accommodation but the comparison for voters is not really between the spectator capacities of venues, it is a choice between an established sporting destination and one which is entirely new.

If the voters decide on the new option, Brisbane backers will justifiably feel that their lower risk bid has not been fairly recognised. On the other hand, if Brisbane prevails, Hambantota supporters will question why their bid wasn’t stopped at an early stage, saving the Sri Lankan government a lot of time and money: it’s clear to any observer that much more new construction would be needed to host the Games there.

One possible solution to this issue would be a rotation policy but as the Commonwealth Games Federation possesses the rights to one high profile event every four years, it would be a tough political challenge to develop and implement such a policy.

As the IAAF owns rights to a number of events varying in scale, there is an opportunity to “try out” a new market with a smaller championship but the real interest is in the biennial World Championships. The bid committee from the city which loses out for 2017 will very likely feel that the quality of their bid was a less significant factor in the decision than political considerations.

There is no easy answer for the leaders of the event owning bodies. Limit the bidding process solely to technical criteria and it will be the “usual suspects” among cities and countries which generally host the big events; make an arbitrary decision solely on political criteria and watch the number of bids dwindle next time.

If rights-holders want to maximise the number of bids and to increase the number of countries capable of putting major events, reducing the cost and complexity of hosting should be a priority. In setting up the Youth Olympic Games the International Olympic Committee has made innovations intended to keep down the cost of organisation and others would do well to follow suit.

I make no predictions for the IAAF World Championships and Commonwealth Games host city elections, except that the losers will argue they have been hard done by.

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3 Comments
06

Nov
2011

Peter Murphy

Rowland,

I’d like to know quite how, in establishing two entirely new sporting events (winter and summer Youth Olympic Games or YOGs) in an already crowded calendar, the IOC can be described as ‘helping reduce cost and complexity’? The inaugural Singapore summer YOG cost US$1.4bn – an astronomical sum for a junior games. A better example surely would be the Commonwealth Youth Games – recently held on the Isle of Man. That was an event that was hugely successful and on an appropriate scale for the host.

PM

07

Nov
2011

Rowland Jack

Innovations are being tested at the YOG which may ultimately be implemented at the Olympic Games. It will take a few years to see how things progress. The Commonwealth Youth Games is a welcome new development.

07

Nov
2011

Peter Murphy

Hi Rowland,

I should have said upfront that great original article and thoroughly agree that in both the IAAF and CGF’s case this week will see some very different candidates (one factual correction – it’s Gold Coast that’s bidding for the Commonwealth Games, not Brisbane :-)

However I still don’t buy the YOG argument I’m afraid. What innovations are you talking about? Mixed national and continental teams? 3 on 3 basketball? Can’t see either catching on frankly.

Rogge’s most notable (well, sole really) achievement as head of the European Olympic Committees, the job he had before becoming President, was creating theEuropean Youth Olympic Festival. When he became IOC president, he was determined to repeat the trick and pushed for the creation of the YOG.

They don’t really make much sense, which is why perhaps there’s always been such a lack of enthusiasm for them amongst senior IOC leadership. Promoting healthy living by gathering 3,000 of the fittest young people in the world and lecturing them? That’s preaching to the converted. Mixing teams to promote x-cultural understanding? These kids are some of the best-travelled on the planet.

The IOC and SYOGOC each blame the other for the ‘mission-creep’ that saw costs balloon to $1.4bn, but either way it’s a vanity event with no clear purpose.

The Commonwealth Youth Games isn’t a new invention btw – this year’s were the fouth.

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