On the defensive, IOC president plays alternative facts trump card

Screenshot from the International Olympic Committee web site.

Screenshot from the International Olympic Committee web site.

Funny what you will find while looking for something else.

I was searching the International Olympic Committee’s web site to check a reported fact about how much the IOC charges cities to bid for the Olympic Games when I came across the headlines pictured above on a story posted the day after the Sept. 15, 2015 deadline for 2024 Summer Games bids to be submitted.

Eighteen months later, that headline looks like an IOC version of something Trump senior counselor Kellyanne Conway would have explained away as “alternative facts.”

The real facts:  A rejection in a public referendum (Hamburg), fiscal priorities (Rome) and the threat of a referendum (Budapest) have reduced the 2024 competition to just two world-class cities (Los Angeles and Paris) and made a mockery of the IOC’s self-congratulatory headlines.

In an interview last week with the German magazine Stuttgarter Nachrichten, IOC President Thomas Bach blamed the dropouts on the “anti-establishment movements we have in many European countries.”

Or, alt facts.

Kellyanne Conway, a senior counselor to President Trump, delivering her immediately infamous "alternative facts" explanation on Meet the Press.  IOC President Thomas Bach must have been taking notes. 

Kellyanne Conway, a senior counselor to President Trump, delivering her immediately infamous "alternative facts" explanation on Meet the Press.  IOC President Thomas Bach must have been taking notes. 

Hmm.  The U.S. just elected a purportedly anti-establishment president, and France has a much more established anti-establishment movement, led by presidential candidate Marine LePen, than either Hungary or Germany, yet both the USA and France have cities still in the race.

And you can find more alt facts in the information I originally sought to confirm.  (see inset on "Candidature Service Fee.")

As far as the IOC is concerned, the cost of bidding for the Olympics is $250,000.

The truth is something else, despite the IOC's insistence that its Agenda 2020 "reforms" would make bidding an affordable exercise.

Chicago officially spent $70.8 million in its privately-funded, losing effort for the 2016 Summer Games.  A spokesman for Tokyo 2020 said its bid committee spent $54 million, (plus $35 million from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to promote it) on that winning effort.  Tokyo had spent $74 million, including $25 million directly from the metropolitan government (plus another $75 million from the metropolitan government in promotion) on its losing bid for 2016.

 Los Angeles will spend more than $50 million (privately funded) and Paris $63.5 million (with half coming in equal shares from the federal, regional and city governments) on 2024 bids; the costs are lower now  because less travel to promote the bid is allowed.

Screenshot from page 46 of an IOC document entitled, "Candidature Process Olympic Games 2024"

Screenshot from page 46 of an IOC document entitled, "Candidature Process Olympic Games 2024"

Where does that money go?  To the high-priced consultants who try to twist IOC members’ arms on behalf of their candidates (and, some would say, grease some members' palms, bid city scandal reforms notwithstanding.)  To public relations.  Salaries.  Travel for bid committee team members to the now limited number of events at which they can present their bids to IOC members (and do more arm twisting.)

Paris and Los Angeles will send more than 10 people each to one such meeting, next month’s SportAccord Convention in Aarhus, Denmark.  That’s not an expensive trip from France, but it is from Los Angeles – and all for the chance to give a 10-minute, Power Point presentation (no videos allowed.)

Then there is the Candidate City Briefing this July at IOC headquarters in Lausanne – a train trip (or drive) from Paris, another expensive flight from Los Angeles.  This will involve some two dozen folks from each bid team, with the IOC paying travel and lodging for six per city.

And, finally, the Big Kahuna, the IOC vote for the host city in Lima, Peru, this September.  For that, each bid team can have up to 100 people, with the IOC picking up the travel and lodging tab for a dozen per city.

Some would say all those presentations – especially the final one – are wasted on IOC members who already have made up their minds.

And couldn't those tens of millions be better spent, even if some bid sponsors for 2024 and past bids might not shell it out for other (more) worthwhile projects?  That is especially true of Paris, which is using about $30 million in public monies.

All of which makes U.S. Olympic Committee chairman Larry Probst’s suggestion to have only the 15-member IOC executive board vote for the host city even more sensible.   You could disseminate all the candidates' information via the Internet (or snail mail) and have just a single, face-to-face presentation to the executive board made by a small group from each city.

But Probst had to skin back immediately on that one, lest he offend the 80-something other members whose gravy train includes the free trip to the site of the vote, with business class travel and first-class accommodation.  The IOC would argue that the members already are traveling for their annual meeting, during which the vote takes place.

As I wrote at the time, Probst's idea still was worthy because:

1.  It would mean bid cities have to lobby (bribe?) only 15 members instead of 106 (now 95), saving a lot of time, money and effort.

2.  It would render several dozen IOC members officially irrelevant, a status they have unofficially held for years, since the only thing many do is freeload and vote for host cities.  Getting rid of them entirely and leaving IOC governance completely to the executive board would save the IOC from paying for their grand luxe travel and accommodations at the Olympics and the IOC’s annual meeting.

This photograph, taken just three weeks before the 2016 Summer Games, shows the disrepair of train lines serving the population of the Rio's Deodoro neighborhood, which contained Olympic venues that have been shuttered since.

This photograph, taken just three weeks before the 2016 Summer Games, shows the disrepair of train lines serving the population of the Rio's Deodoro neighborhood, which contained Olympic venues that have been shuttered since.

Another alt fact:  Bach’s defense of the Rio Olympics’ checkered legacy with an assertion in the magazine interview that without them, “Rio would not have a functioning public transport system.  Before the Summer Games, 18 percent of citizens in Rio had access to a proper urban transport system, now 63 percent.”

Julianna Barbassa, an award-winning Associated Press reporter in her native Rio for six years beginning in 2010, disputes both Bach’s contention and the numbers he uses to support it.

“This is beyond overreaching -- it is false,” Barbassa said via email.

“Rio had a robust, if terribly managed, public transportation system before the Games that included bus, metro, train and ferry systems. It is true that the most positive legacy of the Olympics was to add a bus rapid transit system to all that, but it centers on Barra da Tijuca, the city's wealthiest neighborhood and hardly the one in greatest need of new transportation options. The city also gained a tiny extension of its metro network, but again, it served only the wealthiest, connecting Ipanema to Barra. I won't even mention the VLT system built in the port area, which just circles in that limited stretch.

“These poorly planned additions were hugely expensive, failed to serve the needs of the majority of the population, and connected instead to Rio's wealthiest neighborhoods -- but they are the most positive legacy of the Games.”

Barbassa, author of the incisive book on Rio, Dancing With The Devil in the City of God, said the 18 to 63 percent number seems to have been pulled from thin air by civic officials.

"Those numbers were used by City Hall, and so repeated by a lot of news organizations, but they are patently untrue,” she said.  “Anyone who has spent any time in Rio previous to the Games can see how far off that initial number is.  It is unclear where they got those numbers in the first place.”

And a final alt-fact:  Bach’s assertion in the German magazine article that the IOC can’t seem to get across the fact that the organizational cost of the Games is break-event at worst.

Screenshot from a No Boston Olympics presentation to the Calgary Bid Exploration Committee.  

Screenshot from a No Boston Olympics presentation to the Calgary Bid Exploration Committee.  

That argument is based on the IOC’s notion that there are three Olympic budgets: one to stage the Games (organizational); one to build, with private or public funds, any permanent arenas deemed necessary for the Games (venues); and one for government-funded infrastructure that is not necessary for the Games (vanity / profiteering / urban renewal.) 

Christopher Dempsey, co-chair of the No Boston Olympics group that helped derail Boston’s Summer Games bid after the USOC had selected it as the 2024 U.S. candidate city, shot a hole in the IOC’s accounting methods in the presentation he gave two weeks ago to folks in 1988 Winter Games host Calgary thinking of going after the 2026 Winter Games.

In a section entitled “To mask inevitable mistakes, boosters play the Olympic budget shell game,” Dempsey outlines how costs are shifted to “maintain a `surplus’ in the `Olympic’ budget.”  That includes making a planned temporary venue a permanent one; saying it’s okay to use public funds for necessary Games-related infrastructure because the public will use it later; and identifying some organizational costs as security-related, shifting that to the government-funded security budget.

Presto, change-o, all the red ink disappears into the alt-fact universe.  Along with the truth.