Liam Morgan

Reading through the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) press release following the decision taken in Lausanne this week regarding the 2026 Winter Games, one phrase leaps off the page like a ski jumper at the bottom of the ramp.

"IOC President Thomas Bach said the changes address both external and internal challenges presented by a new political dynamic and the IOC's failure to adequately respond to them," the release reads.

There it is in black and white. The phrase "IOC's failure".

The IOC have, up until recent times, been reticent to admit their own issues. When it comes to bidding for the Olympic Games, however, they have been more than willing to.

While Bach has continually refused to concede they may have got it wrong with their convoluted response to Russia, for example, the German has fronted up to clear problems within the candidature process.

His "too many losers" line in a press conference back in December has, in fact, become the catalyst for what has been disseminated from IOC HQ in the Olympic Capital ever since. Currently, very few cities seemingly want to bid for an event billed as the world’s greatest sporting spectacle.

Bach and the IOC hope the decision to alter how cities bid for their showpiece event in winter sport –- which includes the introduction of a year-long invitation phase and a shortening of the candidature phase to one year –- will address this particular issue going forward after just two cities, Beijing and Almaty, were left on the start line in the race for the 2022 Games.

The IOC voted in favour of the changes to the proposals relating to the Winter Olympics earlier this week ©Getty Images
The IOC voted in favour of the changes to the proposals relating to the Winter Olympics earlier this week ©Getty Images

The proposals were given the unanimous support of the IOC membership during the Extraordinary Session in the Swiss city earlier this week, and while they might not be as hard-hitting as the 2024 and 2028 double award, they may still have far-reaching consequences for the future of the Winter Olympics.

This is especially the case for bobsleigh, luge and skeleton as the IOC voted in favour of ensuring that the closest existing sliding facility be used if the candidate city does not already have one in place.

On the surface at least, this makes some degree of sense. Building a brand-new sliding track, with its multitudinous technical requirements, often provides one of the key difficulties for organisers of any Winter Olympics.

Pyeongchang 2018 struggled in this respect initially and a principle challenge currently faced by Beijing 2022 is their own sliding centre, the exact location for which was only chosen recently. International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (IBSF) President Ivo Ferriani is keeping a close eye on preparations there and it will be a while before the finer details are completely ironed out.

But the IOC’s decision raises an obvious impediment for future candidate cities who do not have the luxury of an existing track close by. "Sticking to that religiously might rule out bids from Spain, Turkey, Argentina, Kazakhstan etc, or else ghettoize sliding," prominent Olympic statistician Hilary Evans pointed out on Twitter.

With that guideline in place, Almaty might not have put themselves forward for 2022 at all, while it does seem to favour European cities, where there is no shortage of venues to host sliding sports.

It seems the IOC are, in a way, contradicting themselves. They want to encourage bidders for the Winter Olympics but at the same time are seemingly restricting the pool of cities from which to choose from.

This may be partially negated by the implementation of the invitation phase, however, as IOC officials will co-operate and discuss more closely with candidate cities in order to tackle potential issues and flaws at a much earlier stage.

Pyeongchang 2018 had issues with their Sliding Centre during their Games preparations ©Getty Images
Pyeongchang 2018 had issues with their Sliding Centre during their Games preparations ©Getty Images

The decision may also have a profound impact on athletes competing in the three sports of bobsleigh, skeleton and luge, who could find themselves alienated from those in other disciplines on the winter programme.

In theory, you could have a situation whereby all of the other sports are staged close together, while sliding is held hundreds of kilometres away. Surely this would have a negative impact on athletes? After all, you so often hear of athletes whose highlight of their Olympic experience is being at the heart of the Games in the Village along with their fellow competitors, something which the bobsledders, lugers and skeleton competitors of the future might not be able to say.

"I am afraid there will be separation of athletes and visitors if facilities are far away from each can kill the spirit and unity," said a member of the Twittersphere.

On the other hand, some are praising the IOC for attempting to protect bid cities from unnecessary, expanding costs. "I think the IOC is starting to realise that it isn't right to force a country to build something for an Olympics when it doesn't have the need for it," wrote one commenter on our story explaining the changes to the 2026 Winter Olympic bid process.

The IOC should be commended for attempting to reduce costs, which in theory should help cities to come forward, some of which would no doubt have been put off by the ludicrous $51 billion (£39 billion/€45 billion) it was rumoured to have cost Sochi to host the 2014 Games.

"Win-win", to coin part of Bach's preferred rhetoric after the IOC effectively guaranteed Los Angeles and Paris an Olympic Games in the future at the Session.

As with the simultaneous allocation of the 2024 and 2028 Olympics, however, the IOC are perhaps guilty of putting this in place first and thinking about the consequences later. Unquestionably their main tactic is to bring the amount of money splashed out on bids down, but at what cost?

"This policy seems half-baked and exemplifies how desperate the IOC is to cut costs," said another commenter.

Ferriani, who became an IOC member in Rio last year, and other officials have been fully supportive of the move. "We are absolutely committed to be flexible and use the closely existing sliding track in order to slide closer with the IOC," said the Italian in one of the better idioms used during the Extraordinary Session in Lausanne. He is learning fast.

"As we slide into the future, the IBSF is committed to be flexible in using also an existing sliding track closest to the host city in accordance with Agenda 2020."

Thomas Bach has readily admitted that there are several issues with the Olympic bid process ©Getty Images
Thomas Bach has readily admitted that there are several issues with the Olympic bid process ©Getty Images

International Biathlon Union vice-president for sport Max Cobb, a previous critic of the IOC, believes they have got this one right. "Generally I think it is the duty of sport leaders to respond to changing conditions and I see the the IOC's adoption of a new process in that light, I see it as progress," he told insidethegames.

"Details matter and it is therefore hard to critique a broad overview of the plan based on a few slides from a presentation I did not hear. That said it appears to me to be a very thoughtful piece of work lead by an experienced leader in the Olympic movement - a job well done."

International Ski Federation secretary general Sarah Lewis was another backer, claiming it would help "avoid the situations where the candidates say yes to everything, regardless".

"There is considerable expertise within the IOC, the International Federations and the National Olympic Committees which can be put at the disposal of the potential candidates to assist and shape their bid," added Lewis.

The invitation phase certainly appears a step in the right direction. By increasing consultation with potential bidders, the IOC can ensure only the most viable options are presented to the membership for a vote.

The procedure approved by the IOC specifically deals with the referendum threat, one which looms over every city that dares even express the slightest of interest in staging the Games.

"We may not like this new political reality, but we cannot ignore it," said Bach.

"In a nutshell, the Candidature Process which worked so well in the past has become too expensive and too onerous for this new political reality."

IBSF President Ivo Ferriani, left, has backed the proposals concerning sliding venues at future editions of the Winter Olympics ©Getty Images
IBSF President Ivo Ferriani, left, has backed the proposals concerning sliding venues at future editions of the Winter Olympics ©Getty Images

As it stands, interest for 2026 has been relatively high, with Innsbruck in Austria, Calgary in Canada, Sapporo in Japan and Sion in Switzerland among leading possible candidates.

It is also worth noting that elements of the proposal given the green light by the IOC, including the measure relating to sliding sports, are not exactly new. Former IOC marketing guru Michael Payne pointed out that then President Juan Antonio Samaranch tried to persuade Norwegians not to build a new facility to host bobsleigh, skeleton and luge and instead use Albertville in France, which hosted the 1992 Games, as far back as 1989.

Lillehammer ignored that advice and went on to construct a venue for the 1994 Games, considered one of – if not the – greatest-ever edition of the Winter Olympics. Interestingly, the country did not have one before and it was also considered as part of Oslo's bid for 2022, unceremoniously abandoned in the wake of a lack of Government support.

"For those who love winter sports it was so disappointing to see great cities like Oslo and Munich drop out as candidates for 2022," said Cobb.

"Clearly they could have been strong candidates and hosted a truly amazing Olympic Games largely on existing facilities. Both would have been fantastic for athletes and fans alike. But the citizens did not seem to want the Games. I guess the big question is will this new process get at that issue.

"I think the crux move for the future of the Olympic Winter Games is to gain the support of the communities in which the Games will be held. 

"That’s a question of leadership and reputation both within the bidding committee and the IOC. This improved process can help that but it’s only a part of the overall issue facing the Olympic Winter Games."