Interest in hosting Olympics never so high, says IOC chief

Bids to stage sporting event hit new high, despite global warming becoming an increasing challenge

IOC president Thomas Bach speaks during an interview at the IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, ahead of the Paris 2024 Olympics. AFP
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Despite threats from climate change, AI-enhanced doping and even competition from e-sports, the boss of the International Olympic Committee believes the future has never looked so bright for the sporting event.

Thomas Bach, a 70-year-old German former fencer, has run the Switzerland-based guardian of the Olympic Games since 2013, when interest in hosting the event was near rock-bottom after repeated scandals over costs and corruption.

Its diminished appeal was clear at the time of bidding for the 2024 and 2028 Summer Olympics. Because there were only two candidates, Paris and Los Angeles, it is in those cities the next two Games will be held.

Since then, the 2032 Games have been awarded to Brisbane, Australia, and Mr Bach told AFP in an interview at IOC headquarters there was a "double-digit" number of countries in the running for 2036.

"We have never been in such a favourable position. We have never seen such a high interest in hosting the Olympic Games," the IOC president said from his offices in Lausanne overlooking Lake Geneva.

After a string of Olympics held in western democracies, 2036 could be an opportunity for Saudi Arabia, sole candidate for the 2034 Fifa World Cup; Qatar, Indonesia, or India.

"We are now 12 years away from these Games, so it is way too early to comment on any of these interests," Mr Bach replied when asked about Saudi Arabia and Qatar, whose human rights records would make them contested destinations.

New model Olympics

Mr Bach attributes the revival of interest in hosting the Olympics to reforms undertaken on his watch, which have sought to put an end to the wasteful spending that has near-bankrupted several host cities in the past.

Instead of oversized and gleaming new stadiums and facilities that often lie empty afterwards, the IOC now encourages the use of existing or temporary infrastructure.

An estimated 96 per cent of the sport during Paris 2024, which begins on July 26, will take place in existing or temporary locations, while LA 2028 might reach 100 per cent.

"Paris is the first Olympic Games which is absolutely in line with our Olympic agenda reforms from start to finish," Mr Bach said.

As a result, French organisers claim their event will emit only about half the carbon of either London 2012 or Rio 2016.

Critics, such as environmental research group Carbon Market Watch, commend the efforts to improve but remain sceptical that the Games can ever be sustainable.

"The most significant factor affecting the Games' environmental footprint is its enormity," a report from the group said this month.

Mr Bach acknowledges global warming is an increasing challenge, above all for the snow-dependent Winter Olympics but also the much larger summer version.

He confirmed the Summer Olympics might at some point have to move from the traditional slot in July and August to the cooler autumn months – as the 2022 football World Cup did in Qatar.

"The international sports calendar may look very different from the one we are used to now," he said.

He also stressed the importance of the continuing revolution in artificial intelligence, which led the IOC to unveil a strategy last week to harness the technology to help athletes.

But he warned, too, of the potential downside of AI-powered medical advances enabling even more sophisticated cheating.

"I'm not a prophet, but when you look at the combination of AI and biochemistry, you can arrive at a rather dystopian conclusion of what this could mean ... to improve the performance of an individual," Mr Bach said.

The development of e-sports is also creating a growing challenge for eyeballs, particularly among young people.

"I don't think that you will see e-sports events at the Olympic Games, but you may see very soon its own Olympic e-sports Games," he said.

Updated: May 02, 2024, 12:59 PM