10:27 AM EDT, June 19, 2013
Few International Olympic Committee meetings will have more of an impact on the future of the Olympics than the session that is to take place this September in Buenos Aires.
In a brief span, the members will elect a presidential successor from six candidates to replace Jacques Rogge of Belgium, who has served 12 years; pick the 2020 Summer Games host from three candidates, Madrid, Tokyo and Istanbul; and decide whether wrestling, baseball-softball or squash will be added to the Summer Games program after 2020.
While the United States has no dog directly in any of those fights, the winners of each clearly will affect the U.S. Olympic Committee’s approach to a future in which hosting another Olympics is a high priority. For instance, some feel a Tokyo victory in the 2020 race will hurt a U.S. bid for 2024, since it will give the IOC members more incentive to pick a European city.
With all that in mind, I sat down last week with USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun, who has been on the job for 3 ½ years, for a question-and-answer session.
Here is Part I of that interview:
Q. Does the result of the IOC presidential election make a difference to the USOC?
A. I’m sure it will. We just don’t know which way. I’m sure the six candidates would bring different things to the table in terms of leadership and programs. We don’t have a vote as a National Olympic Committee and are looking forward to working with whoever gets that position.
Q. On the issue of which sport might get added to the program, don’t you have a conundrum? You have two “U.S.” sports, the joint baseball-softball bid, and a very popular sport in the U.S., wrestling, as another. Can you have a preference?
Q. Can wrestling overcome the stunning circumstance of being dropped from the program by the IOC executive board in February? If it does, that would be an admission the earlier decision was a mistake.
A. If you look at the reforms wrestling has implemented since that initial vote, they have made substantial progress. From that standpoint, it is hard to say (dropping them) was a mistake by the IOC – assuming they get back in the Games.
Q. The USOC is seeking cities interested in a possible bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics. It would seem a Winter Games are A) easier to get, because the number of potential host countries is more limited by topography and weather; and B) much less of an organizational and financial challenge for a host city. Why did the USOC decide to concentrate on a summer bid?
A. I think you are right on both those counts. There are less countries that can host the Winter Games; because of that, your odds are better. I also think we have a lot of infrastructure in place to host a Winter Games.
But I think our ability to inspire Americans and engage the whole country in sport is much higher in a Summer Games than a Winter Games. That was the feeling of our board.
Q. In terms of Winter Olympics, can you see the IOC ever going back to Salt Lake City, which has all the venues still in place and, therefore, could minimize costs – which is, purportedly, one of the IOC’s goals going forward.
A. Salt Lake City has all the infrastructure, and they have proven they can rally their community around the Olympic Games. I think Salt Lake City would be a very viable candidate if we decided we wanted to host the Winter Games.
Q. Other than Salt Lake City and Denver, which other U.S. cities are possible Winter Games hosts?
A. I think Reno/Tahoe could put together a compelling bid. I haven’t seen details on an Alaska bid, but I know Anchorage is very interested.
We have two bobsled tracks in the U.S. – Salt Lake City and Lake Placid. If you begin to build more bobsled tracks, you worry about your ability to fully utilize them.
Q. Given the cost of new facilities, do you think the IOC would agree with the idea of using relatively close existing facilities – such as the Salt Lake bobsled track for a Denver or Reno-Tahoe Olympics?
A. I don’t know what the IOC will do, but I do know it is going to be very difficult for any American city standing alone to be able to afford the (Summer or Winter) Games. We think it is important to look at our next bid more broadly as a national bid and see if we can get state and federal support – not necessarily financial support.
Q. What kind of support?
A. A guarantee, which wouldn’t be an appropriation unless there was some type of operating shortfall. And infrastructure support, in terms of airports and roads.
Q. When will you decide about whether to make a 2024 bid, which seems more and more likely?
A. In late 2014.
Q. If a 2024 bid were to fail, would it be too late to make a bid for the 2026 Winter Games?
A. We would not rule out a 2026 bid if we lose 2024, but the timing would be tight. (For example: the vote for 2020 Summer Games host is Sept. 7; the 2022 Winter Games bid deadline is Nov. 14.)
Q. Back to the 2024 bid: It is my feeling that San Francisco would be the most attractive U.S. candidate to IOC members. Looking at the 2024 bid, where does San Francisco figure?
A. We are in discussions with about 10 cities. San Francisco did express an interest in learning more about the scope and scale of the Games.
Q. Have you identified publicly the 10 cities?
A. No, but some have named themselves to a degree: San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Philadelphia, Dallas are among them.
Q. London’s permanent new Olympic Stadium cost approximately $750 million. Costs for new arenas of that scope will go past $1 billion by 2024. Some saw Chicago’s plan for a temporary main Olympic stadium for a projected $360 million as a cost-cutting template for future bids. Will that idea catch on?
A. If you can take a permanent stadium that costs $1.5 billion and make it a temporary one for $500 million, it saves $1 billion.
Q. That makes it even clearer Atlanta had the right idea to turn what would have been a white elephant Olympic Stadium into Turner Field for the Braves.
A. It’s the classic model. It’s perfect. If you can build a stadium that is convertible into something that is going to be used in a regular basis that is obviously a preferable way to go.
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