The news that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board was planning to confirm Brisbane in Queensland as its preferred candidate for the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games this week was a surprise, but not entirely unexpected.
The IOC established a new way of awarding Summer and Winter Olympic Games in 2019 with the creation of a Future Host Commission. This group was tasked with identifying and recommending venues for the Games before entering into dialogue with potential host countries, putting an end to the protracted bid races of old.
With this new process in place, a bid from Queensland was considered the front-runner for the 2032 Olympics and Paralympics, especially due to the region's success in hosting the Commonwealth Games in 2018. The bid remained favourite even when it was briefly put on hold from May to December last year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was not a surprise that it was Brisbane entering into "targeted dialogue" with the IOC, then. It was more the timing of the decision. The IOC had not set out an exact timeline for when it planned to award the Games and so the advancement of the process this week was somewhat out of the blue.
The IOC’s decision to put all its eggs in one basket 11 years before a Games has certainly raised eyebrows, especially because the ongoing pandemic has shown that life can be very unpredictable. In addition, the economic impact of the global health crisis is yet to be revealed in full and could still wreak havoc with the best-laid plans.
Interestingly, the uncertainty caused by the pandemic was actually credited as a reason for the early decision. "The decision to advance the process was taken at this particular moment, given the uncertainty the world is facing right now," a statement from the IOC said.
"This uncertainty is expected to continue even after the COVID-19 health crisis is over. The IOC is considering seizing the momentum offered by the excellent project of Brisbane 2032 and the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC), in this way, bringing stability to the Olympic Games, the athletes, the IOC and the whole Olympic Movement."
There will still be those wondering about whether it was necessary to rule out other potential hosts so early on in the process, especially as there were a fair few cities gunning for the 2032 Olympics and Paralympics.
This included the Qatari capital of Doha, which was planning to host the Games as a follow-up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2030 Asian Games. Budapest in Hungary had been hopeful of putting a bid together, while Chinese cities Chengdu and Chongqing announced an intention to bid in December.
Jakarta in Indonesia, New Delhi in India, Istanbul in Turkey and Saint Petersburg in Russia were other cities exploring the possibility of bidding. At one point, there had even been interest in a joint bid from North and South Korea.
Many of these cities may feel slighted that they are now suddenly out of the race, without receiving a real opportunity to plead their case for the Games. Maybe they will also feel aggrieved that John Coates had chaired a working group in 2019 that examined changing the process for selecting a host city for 2032 onwards. Coates is AOC President and a close ally of IOC President Thomas Bach, suggesting a potential conflict of interest.
Bach rejected the idea that Coates had any influence in the decision to confirm Brisbane as the preferred candidate for the 2032 Games, and dismissed criticism that the new host city process lacked transparency. He claimed the new process was "more low-cost, helps prevent any undue interference, makes it less political, and makes it more and more sober."
For cities hoping to bid for future editions of the Games, however, it seems the faster a proposal is put together to impress the IOC, the better. A senior figure in the IOC hailing from the country in question may also be of some help.
As pointed out by colleague Michael Pavitt, the new process could prevent organised public opposition to a bid. Anti-Olympic sentiment has previously proved to be the downfall for a number of bid campaigns for both the Summer and Winter Games.
Most recently, an initial field of seven candidates for the 2026 Winter Olympics and Paralympics was condensed to two after a series of withdrawals, with bids from Calgary in Canada, Sion in Switzerland and Innsbruck in Austria all scuppered by referendum defeats. Indeed, Calgary, which hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics, became the ninth straight Olympic bid city to lose a referendum when its residents voted against the candidacy in November 2018.
Munich dropped out of the race for the 2022 Winter Olympics, eventually awarded to Beijing, after a referendum defeat, while Hamburg exited the process for the 2024 Summer Olympics after a poll was also lost in the city. Opposition to hosting the Games also brought an end to bids for the 2024 contest from both Budapest and Boston.
A campaign or referendum is unlikely to have an impact on a bid race now, seeing as such a contest no longer exists. Subsequently, it is unlikely there will be the same level of organised opposition against a bid again.
On the other hand, it is not like the Queensland bid for the 2032 Games was kept secret, and it will be difficult and unwise for future potential host cities to refrain from communicating with the public about their plans. This still gives campaign groups room to form and prevent a plan to welcome the Olympics and Paralympics.
Eleven years is more than enough time for opposition to garner support anyway, particularly with these initial steps in the host city process non-binding for Brisbane.
Indeed, it is not definite that come 2032, the world's best athletes will be heading to Brisbane for the Olympics and Paralympics. The bid is still required to submit documents and the required guarantees needed to host the Games before it is formally recommended as host city. But for now, we have seen the first steps of the IOC's new process for selecting the host of its flagship event play out.