David Owen: Agenda 2020 - a few things it will be good to have, but an Olympic revolution this ain't
I read the news on Wednesday, oh boy - 95 words precisely, in my newspaper at least, on those 40 landmark Olympic Agenda 2020 recommendations.
'What is wrong with these people?' I thought. 'Don't they recognise the importance of a sports movement powerful enough to redraw the map of London?'
Then I reflected: if you take the 40 recommendations at face value, 95 words is probably about what they are worth for a mainstream news organisation.
A blueprint to make bidding for and staging the Olympic Games a slightly less daunting, slightly less costly process, and to inject slightly more flexibility into the way the sports programme is chosen, is hardly calculated to set pulses racing around the breakfast tables of Peoria or Antananarivo.
Even the most eye-catching proposal - recommendation 19: "The International Olympic Committee (IOC) to launch an Olympic Channel" - is something it should have done years ago.
The proposals, if passed next month, will pave the way for some useful innovations, but Thomas Bach's five-ring revolution it ain't.
I don't blame the IOC President for this.
As his compatriot Otto von Bismarck observed, politics is the art of the possible.
It would be disastrous for Bach, little more than a year into his tenure, were he to advocate a truly radical series of reforms and then get shot down in flames.
Furthermore, whatever may have been written in recent months as the race for the 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics has disintegrated before our eyes, the Olympic model is far from broken.
The Movement generated more than $8 billion (£5 billion/€6.5 billion) from broadcasting, sponsorship, ticketing and licensing in the four year cycle culminating with the London 2012 Games.
What is true is that the broadcasting and international sponsorship revenues that play such an important part in funding National Olympic Committees (NOCs) and International Sports Federations (IFs) are set to pause for breath in the 2013-2016 quadrennium.
Instead, the main engine of growth looks set to be local sponsorship - but these proceeds are earmarked chiefly for the countries where the Games are staged, in this case Russia and Brazil.
So there is no crisis - but what is also self-evident, at least to me, is that the Movement has a structural problem that these recommendations will do, to use the technical term, diddly-squat to address.
The structural problem is that the Winter Games is not a global event because vast sweeps of the globe scarcely ever experience snow and ice.
So as a marketing platform for host countries they are far less powerful than their Summer counterpart.
And yet the hassle factor for the host population is nearly as great.
The solution is obvious.
No, nothing to do with the Jamaican bobsled team.
They should simply move some indoor disciplines with fans in lands where the water never freezes from the bursting-at-the-seams Summer Games to Winter.
Volleyball, for me, would be one strong candidate to make the switch; boxing another.
And why not offer sports, such as squash and karate, which have been battering at Lausanne's door in a so far unsuccessful attempt to get into the Olympics, the opportunity to join the Winter programme?
You get some idea of why Agenda 2020 has steered clear of this sort of thing, if you remember what happened to poor old Brian new-kid-on-the-block Cookson, President of the International Cycling Union (UCI), when he had the temerity earlier this year to suggest something similar.
"Let's think about the Winter Olympics," Cookson said. "Why does it have to be snow and ice?
"If you have a problem with Summer Olympics where the whole thing is perceived as overheated with too many facilities, too many sports, too many competitors and so on, why not look at moving some of the other sports indoors that traditionally take place in the northern hemisphere winter?
"Why not look at combat sports like judo, or other indoor sports like badminton?
"You could even say what about putting track cycling in the Winter Olympics?"
I agree with almost every word of that; yet poor old Cookson ended up having to apologise to International Judo Federation President Marius Vizer - and I can see why - for talking about sports other than cycling.
But if Agenda 2020 is not a suitable forum for giving such ideas a serious airing, you have to wonder what is.
The Winter Games has, I think, one other shot at gingering up interest in its rather jaded concept and producing a more competitive race for 2026, and that is if there is a strong southern hemisphere candidate.
But that would be a short-term fix.
The fundamental problem - that the cost-benefit analysis is not nearly as attractive as for a Summer Games while you do not have a genuinely global product - will remain.
Don't get me wrong: there are a fair few things in these 40 recommendations that it will be good to have: non-discrimination on sexual orientation as a fundamental principle; stronger relationships with organisations managing sport for people with different abilities; proper ceremonies for athletes who win medals after the event as a consequence of disqualifications; an insistence that Olympic Movement organisations comply with basic principles of good governance (though there is nothing about what the consequences would be if they don't).
But there is much that seems vague (recommendation 28 on the key issue of autonomy); little flashes of the old self-indulgence (is it really necessary to spell out quite so baldly that "the field of play for the athletes to always be state-of-the-art for all competitions"?); and the odd line that is plain silly (is the IOC's "ultimate goal" really "to protect clean athletes", as recommendation 15 would have it? I'm not saying that's not important, but I'd have thought its "ultimate goal" was to organise outstanding Games).
The other short-term problem that I fancy the IOC may now face is that if the mainstream media judges the content of Agenda 2020 to be worth only 95 words of its real estate, it may focus instead on where next month's Session, at which the members will pass their verdict, is taking place.
Monte Carlo, with its casino and luxury car showrooms, is a delightful place; but it is not necessarily the ideal backdrop for an organisation at present struggling to convince people that it is in tune with these waste-averse, exceptionally cost-conscious times.
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