Every two years, cities vying for the opportunity to host the Olympic Games make a bid to do so with the International Olympic Committee ("IOC"). After a lengthy process entailing several investigations of the cities bidding for the Olympics, the IOC makes the final decision on which city is best suited to host the applicable games. This was the process that Rio de Janeiro went through to host the 2016 Summer Olympics. Tokyo went through the same screening relative to the 2020 games.
This past May, The New York Times reported that there are allegations of corruption underlying Tokyo's receipt of the next Summer Olympics. In response to these suspicions, the Japanese Olympic Committee has formed a commission to investigate those concerns. Allegations of corruption raise concerns about whether the Olympic bidding process is flawed. I do not believe these fears are justified. Research indicates that the protocol is thorough and diligent. A look back at the history of recent Olympic bidding regulations and current measures involved support this conclusion.
In 1998, Salt Lake City placed a bid with the IOC for the Winter Olympics. During the vetting process, accusations surfaced that members of the IOC accepted bribes over $1 million from the Salt Lake Organizing Committee ("SLOC"). Soon thereafter, six IOC members were expelled and four others resigned. This news shook the Olympic community and gave rise to reforms that created deeper investigations into Olympic bidding. The reforms also prohibited applicant host cities from being in direct contact with IOC members. With those new rules in place, bidding suspicions did not linger in Olympic circles for a decade.
Things changed, however, in 2008 when Doha (the capital city of Qatar) was bidding to host the 2016 Summer Olympics. Allegations spread that, indirectly in connection with and/or on behalf of Qatar, former member of the IOC and president of the International Association of Athletics Federations, Lamine Diack, tried to bribe various IOC members. According to The Guardian, Diack's alleged bribery attempts were discovered due to the investigative procedures put into place after the SLOC scandal. In the wake of the aforementioned suspicions, Doha was disqualified as a potential recipient of the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Six years after the Qatar scandal, further Olympic bidding reform came in 2014 when the IOC passed Olympic Agenda 2020. According to www.Olympic.org, Olympic Agenda 2020 is described as a "strategic roadmap for the future of the Olympic Movement" and consists of 40 new additional reforms implemented into the bidding process. The site states that Olympic Agenda 2020 aims to make the bidding process more inviting by defraying the costs often associated with seeking to become the Olympic host city. Some of the new reforms allow neighboring countries to share the event as well as its costs, and permit the addition of a game or two that the host city desires. Olympic Agenda 2020 also carries an Olympic digital channel for global online exposure, which indirectly drives tourism to host cities and surrounding regions.
In addition to these recent reforms, there have been several shifting trends regarding the standards through which the IOC chooses the host city. When it comes to cities bidding to host the Olympics, the norm has usually been to present an extravagant design plan similar to that of Beijing relative to the 2008 Summer Olympics and the noted "Bird's Nest" Stadium. Since, more simplistic plans have been presented to the IOC.
Tokyo is an example. It won the bid to host the 2020 Olympics with the most simplistic hosting proposal of all competing cities. This trend has an imitative effect. In preparation to bid for the 2024 Olympics, President of the Ile-de-France region, Valérie Pécresse, visited Tokyo to learn from the Tokyo Olympic Committee. The simplistic design resonated with her and she stated, "The basic model of the host city of Tokyo is a very 'simple' model, and that made a strong impression on me."
This move towards simplicity is also a move towards lower expenses. With lesser need for cash comes lesser opportunity for corruption. The current shift in Olympic design is an indirect result of the reforms of Olympic Agenda 2020, and the trend is becoming an organic preventative measure towards maintaining the integrity of the games.
Despite these positive outcomes, suspicions of Olympic malfeasance have reared their ugly head again recently, both with respect to the 2020 Summer Games as mentioned above and relative to the 2016 Rio Olympics. As Mac Margolis of the New York Post reported, the Rio Olympics were ripe with concern. The day before the opening ceremonies, a senate committee found that suspended Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was guilty of budget fraud; much of which was alleged to help secure the Olympics for Brazil. Following an impeachment trial, Rousseff was removed from office. That verdict raised questions whether the IOC bidding process is justified. Skeptics cited rumors of Russian athletes doping as a part of their concerns with current Olympic venue selection protocol. The drug allegations led to investigations.
In the process of researching Russian doping suspicions, former president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, Dick Pound, found that Japan transferred $2 million USD to a Singapore based account owned by a company called Black Tidings. The Guardian has reported that Black Tidings is the same company that was the center of corruption accusations linked to the IAAF and it was also a name mentioned throughout the 2016 Olympic bribery allegations. When asked about the payment, JOC President Tsunekazu Takeda confirmed the transaction's legitimacy and attributed the money towards consultancy fees for the preparation and presentation of Japan's bid for the 2020 Games. Takeda went on to explain that contracts with consultants are a standard business transaction when making a bid for an international sports event on the scale of the Olympics. IOC Vice President John Coates said he saw no reason to doubt Takeda's statement. The IOC further put out an official statement that there was a lack of evidence to support the suspicions of corruption. Despite these findings, the Japanese Olympic Committee is undertaking the aforementioned proactive examination.
With trends towards lesser spending on extravagant stadia and numerous reforms currently in place to prevent tangling with IOC members, the IOC has created a just Olympic bidding process. As discussed above, when there have been risks to its integrity in recent years, current protocol has intercepted and thwarted curious activity. The recent Russian doping allegations should not be confused with bidding protocol. They are two separately distinct ideas and analyses. One subject is grounded in which city proposes the best opportunity to host the Olympics. The other examination looks at whether athletes are cheating and whether their governments facilitated the use of illegal substances. Human behavior in the forms of greed and cheating cannot be confused with the soundness of policy and structure. Justice is blind and prosecutes the wrongs of humanity regardless of location. The IOC did just that with Diack, Doha and will do so anytime there are errors in human behavior.
When I think of my native Los Angeles potentially hosting the 2024 Summer Games, I think about how design of the infrastructure and capability of the city to host a mammoth sporting and media event will carry the determination of whether the Olympics comes to Southern California. We will find out in September 2017, but it is comforting to know in the meantime that regulations put into place since the Salt Lake scandal and through Olympic Agenda 2020 will put the City of Angels on an even playing field with other host city applicants. Knowing that attempts to bribe or influence the IOC will be monitored and obstructed also provides a sense of confidence.
I recently wrote in this column that I thought the Rio games were tainted. They were for the reasons I set forth: safety, public health, doping, professional athletes playing against amateurs in the same sport, political motives, and concerns about economic spending on the games in the host country leaving it with poor financial conditions after the Olympics. Nevertheless, and whether the selection of Rio was the wrong choice in hindsight, the bottom line is that the criteria described above to select an Olympic host is objective and fair. There will be errors in judgment on selection when looked at in the rearview mirror, but that is with anything in life. The most important thing is that awarding the location of an Olympic games is no longer a result of bribery. The IOC has done a great job putting reforms in place the last 20 years to prevent such an outcome, and should be lauded for its efforts.
This post was originally published on Forbes.com