By Gary Black, Jr.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot on the start of this New Year, let us remember the International Olympic Committee. From their perch in Lausanne, Switzerland, IOC members are ringing in 2016 by marginalizing the Olympic Winter Games.
Already, the IOC has burned through a number of potential Olympic sites, thanks to highhanded requests (concomitant with the absurd perks members receive).
Now, the IOC is threatening to eliminate such core winter disciplines as downhill. As FIS President Gian Franco Kasper warned at two recent gatherings, a number of winter sports events could be on the chopping block. Among them are long-distance cross country racing, nordic combined, and alpine downhill and super G.
Unfortunately for ski sport, all of the above-mentioned events are not moneymakers, and some — particularly downhill and super G — carry heavy broadcast expense. They also fail to generate the audience ratings of some other winter disciplines such as snowboard, figure skating, and short track speed skating. This is especially true in the U.S.
Kasper says, bravely, that we will never lose the Olympic downhill. Still, there could be a compromise in the offing. It is rumored that that the FIS will “test” a two-run downhill. Such an event might be a compromise to the IOC, putting yet more money in their treasure trove.
“We should not discuss whether it is possible to execute the Olympic downhill race,” Tina Weirather recently wrote on her Facebook page, “but why Olympic Winter Games are given to a place where there is no downhill track."
The alpine racer from tiny Liechtenstein raises a valid point — why would the IOC ever award the 2022 Olympic Winter Games to Beijing?
Why choose a place where mountains are several hours distant and suffer from a paucity of snow? (So much so that China has promised to pipe in snowmaking water from 30 miles away.)
Beijing is better known for its chronic air pollution than pristine winters, while the other Olympic choice of Almaty, Kazakhstan, is surrounded by mountains and snow, and had the energy to put on a from-the-heart Olympic Winter Games.
Unfortunately, Tina, the answer is somewhat simple. Like their FIFA friends in Zurich, the IOC folks in Lausanne have boxed themselves in by traditionally following the money of which China has more than its share.
Importantly, China will most certainly lavish the IOC members with gifts, all types of perks, big parties and the like. When big money is available to be spread around, nothing else much matters to the folks in Lausanne. Sport is very low on their agenda.
There are some positives about the Games going to China. Potentially, the nation, with a population of 1.36 billion, could become the largest ski market in the world. Much of the country has mountains and snow, the immediate area around Beijing excepted. (The nearest mountains to the Chinese capital that meet FIS alpine criteria are two-plus hours away and will be accessed by a yet-to-be-built high-speed train at a cost of $7 billion plus.)
The IOC is quick to point out that despite virtually no snow, the mountains will be white, made so by the aforementioned 30-mile pipeline that must be built to carry the water to the snow guns.
What the IOC does not disclose is that while China has 20 percent of the world's population, it has only 7 percent of the world's water. Snowmaking may not be such a good use for such limited resource — but that is not likely to bother the IOC.
While the IOC president, Thomas Bach, is trying to modernize the Olympic movement and rein in its penchant for excessive largess, change will not come easily. The 2024 Games received another damaging blow when Hamburg, Germany, withdrew its bid after Boston bowed out. While that still leaves Paris, Rome, Budapest and Los Angeles in the running, none of these are yet definite. Rome and Paris have mayoral elections that could change the current favorable Olympic atmosphere. L.A. is a last minute plug-in by the USOC after the Boston debacle, but may wind up as the IOC's choice of last resort.
And so, Tina, don't hold your breath for any near-term transformation. Unfortunately the IOC’s penchant for big suites with free meals and open bars, private jets, huge limos and free phones, all while scalping free tickets still count for too much with this crowd. Bach still has a lot more resolutions of reform for the IOC to regain any legitimate respectability.