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Want to Host the Olympics? Take a Vote

10 Jul, 2019

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
IOC's Referendum Requirement Comes After Nine Cities Back Away from Hosting Status Following Pushback from Residents

It took a long time – and several embarrassing examples – but the IOC is finally going to start requiring all cities to conduct a referendum if they want to bid to host the Olympics.

That’s the official word as the IOC Session in Lausanne, Switzerland, wrapped up.

According to Sports Pro Media, “interested bidders will be asked by the IOC to hold a referendum prior to entering the candidature phase, should it be required.”

The past few years have been especially fraught with opposition to hosting. Before the 2026 Winter Olympics and Paralympics were awarded to Milan and Cortina, the field had included several candidates. Both Sion (Switzerland) and Innsbruck had to withdraw when residents voted down the candidature. Surprising many, another candidate, Calgary, which had hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics, also saw its Olympic hopes voted down. (Trivia point from Inside The Games: When that vote came, Calgary became the ninth straight Olympic bid city to lose a referendum when its residents voted against the candidacy in a plebiscite in November.)

For a prestigious event, the Olympics have become persona non grata in terms of hosting. And yes, there was a time when cities would make a stampede for the Olympic bargaining table. Today, they don’t. The recent failure of bid campaigns by Boston, Hamburg, Rome and Budapest for the 2024 Summer Games can all be attributed to residents’ and politicians’ growing discontent with the prospect of increased taxes, widespread disruption and construction of venues that will get little use after the Games close. And now, astronomical raises in event cancellation insurance is giving the IOC one more reason to make sure cities are ready to host before making the award.

The roots of refusal to host actually stretch further than the 2024 Games. In fact, they go back nearly 50 years, to a time when America put its collective foot down and refused to host the 1976 Winter Olympics in Denver, Colorado. It was the first-ever referendum, and the Games came out on the losing end of a nearly 60-40 margin. (The IOC licked its wounds and took the Games to Innsbruck instead.)

While there are likely a few places where the possibility of a referendum is unlikely (***cough cough! Sochi! Beijing! cough cough!***), it will be interesting to see whether the new ruling leads to a trend of some cities hosting the Games repeatedly. Alternatively, we may be seeing a resurrection of the debate over permanent host sites.

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