Duncan Mackay

alt Now Barack Obama has got his work cut out.


That, in essence, was my reaction this week on first reading the report of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Evaluation Commission for the 2016 Summer Games (available here).

The IOC’s inspectors highlighted a number of issues with the bid from Obama’s home city of Chicago that together add up to a pretty substantial litany.

Borrowing mainly from the report’s summary, the Commission stated that: the “emphasis on major temporary or scaled down venues increases the element of risk to the OCOG [organising committee] in regard to the planning, costing and delivery of the venues”; “transport efficiency…would depend on…a significant increase in the capacity and use of public transport and the success of other plans to reduce traffic”; “a clearer delineation of roles and responsibilities between the City and the OCOG would be required to ensure that the OCOG would not be overburdened operationally and financially”; and, perhaps most importantly, “Chicago 2016 has not provided a full guarantee covering a potential economic shortfall of the OCOG, as requested by the IOC”. 

The Windy City’s prospects now appear to hinge more than ever on a Tony Blair-style charm offensive by the popular US President if, as expected, he travels to Copenhagen ahead of the October 2 vote by IOC members.

I don’t think the game is yet up for Chicago, however.

One shouldn’t underestimate the prospect of individual IOC members being swayed by blandishments from the most powerful human on the planet.

Many within the Movement, in any case, can be expected to think very carefully before burning more bridges with the world’s only superpower.

And, let’s not forget, the critically important US TV deal for the 2013-16 period has yet to be negotiated.

I think we can now discount the possibility of a Tokyo victory.

By my reading, the Japanese capital would have required a near-perfect report to put it up in the mix with its rivals – and it didn’t get it.

To highlight just two perceived shortcomings, the Commission “expressed concern about the size of the land area available for the construction of the Olympic Village”, furthermore “during the venue visits, it became apparent…that a number of venues listed as existing would in fact need to be built”.

I remain of the view that the city is potentially a much stronger candidate for 2020 or 2024, when the case for returning to Asia should be that much more compelling.

As for Madrid, I was genuinely surprised by some of the Evaluation Commission’s observations.

If there was one candidate I would have expected to organise matters in just the way the IOC wanted, it would have been Madrid.

And yet we read: “the Candidature File and supporting documentation, as well as the administrative structure proposed for a Madrid 2016 Games, did not demonstrate a full understanding of the need for clear delineation of roles and responsibilities, including financial, between different stakeholders to ensure an efficient and timely transition to the OCOG, or of the management of operations required to implement the Games vision, concept and plans”.

Still more surprisingly, “documentation and presentations provided to the Commission by the key organisations involved in the bid varied in quality”.

Compare this with four years ago, when presentations given by Madrid’s 2012 bid were said to have been of “high quality”.

The Spanish capital can be expected to mount a canny lobbying effort in the days remaining to it, but it sounds as if, this time around, it has not always put its best foot forward, after coming so close to springing a surprise last time.

As for Rio de Janeiro, the city which I think it is now fair to describe as the front-runner, I was left a little puzzled by the structure of the Commission’s report.

From the section focusing on the city, I thought it had got pretty much a clean bill of health.

The summary, though, makes plain that there are potential issues regarding transport and accommodation in the Brazilian city that are by no means negligible.

It is worth spelling these out in detail.

The report states:

“The topography of Rio, as well as the legacy vision, involving the development of four key zones in the city, would impact on travel distances for some athletes and other client groups.

“Efficient implementation of the Games-time transport operations plan, including the Olympic lane system and delivery of extensive plans for new transport infrastructure, would be critical.”

It also says:

“To meet Games requirements and given the insufficient number of hotel rooms [my italics], Rio 2016 has put forward a tailored accommodation plan incorporating hotel rooms, four villages and six cruise ships…

“This project, including managing the 20,000 room media village…, would require particular attention in both the planning and delivery phases.

“The difficulty to obtain guarantees for cruise ships seven years before the Games places extra pressure on Rio 2016 to meet Games demands.”

So there you have it – rounding the home turn, by my estimation, three cities are still, just about, in the race.

It is important too to underline that, with margins sometimes as small as a single vote differentiating success from failure, the last four weeks of the contest could yet change everything.

Paris received a near flawless assessment from the inspectors four years ago, but still it didn’t win.

● Like Gordon Brown, the UK Prime Minister, and his Cabinet, I have recently been privileged to visit London 2012’s fast-materialising Olympic Park.

There is something awe-inspiring about it – especially when I think back to the motley assortment of industrial workshops and breakers yards that covered much of the territory on my first expedition.

The sheer quantity of construction equipment is impressive enough, plus the way in which scarcely a metre of earth over a very considerable area seems to have been left undisturbed. 

I was, though, saddened to note as we drove near the edge of the site that it has been deemed necessary to electrify a portion of the perimeter fence.

The Olympic Delivery Authority explained that the top 1 metre of the 4 metre high barrier had been electrified and said it would deter me but not harm me in any way.

altIt is already clear that the Aquatics Centre, perched at present like a Meccano armadillo, is going to be a landmark building, at least as eye-catching as Beijing’s Water Cube.

What I am still not convinced by is the white ring of the Olympic Stadium itself.

Of course London, with its matchless heritage sites, has plenty of other attractions both for Olympic TV producers and lesser life forms.

We have also entered a comparatively austere age in which, it could be argued, less is more and a stadium that utilises 11,000 tonnes of steel, as opposed to the more than 40,000 tonnes in the skeleton of the breathtaking Bird’s Nest, is in tune with the mood.

I do hope though that the perennial wrangling over costs – and legacy use - does not end up with London hosting a party with a humdrum centre-piece.

Having gone to great lengths to win the Olympics, it would be a big mistake to provide a theatre that was anything less than stunning.

David Owen is a specialist sports journalist who worked for 20 years for the Financial Times in the United States, Canada, France and the UK. He ended his FT career as sports editor after the 2006 World Cup and is now freelancing, including covering last year's Beijing Olympics. An archive of Owen’s material may be found by Twitter users at www.twitter.com/dodo938