Thursday, 3 January 2013

Pitching the Most Compelling Story: the 2020 Olympics Bid Race Goes Global

The race for the 2020 Olympics is getting serious. Bid dossiers from Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo are due with the IOC next Monday (7 Jan), the date set by president Jacques Rogge for the start of international promotion.

Nine months of hard campaigning lie ahead, with bid delegations criss-crossing continents to meet and woo IOC members and the top brass from National Olympic Committees and 28 international sports federations who will influence the 7 Sept vote in Buenos Aires.

First up, the three bids have some stories to tell, to inform the world of their best intentions. Time for the big bid book reveals. The buzz phrases will be, as always at this stage of any Olympic bid contest, "compact venue plan", "Games designed for athletes", "legacy" and "sustainability" "full government support". This is what the IOC wants to hear. There'll be some flashy venue designs too - in the case of Tokyo, a national stadium for the 2019 Rugby World Cup and 2020 Olympics if they win designed by Zaha Hadid, the architect behind London 2012's aquatics centre.

Madrid, bidding for a third consecutive time, holds a press conference in the Spanish city on 8 Jan. Istanbul, hoping it'll be fifth time lucky in its quest to secure the Olympics, has yet to announce a briefing.

But it's Tokyo, bouncing back from its 2016 failure, which could steal a march on its rivals.

The first sign of Tokyo 2020's more aggressive strategy to win the Games this time around is next week's briefing in London. Here, the softly-spoken bid president Tsunekazu Takeda, an IOC member, new Tokyo Metropolitan Governor Naoki Inose and bid CEO Masato Mizuno will launch the city's candidature file to the world's media. Several of Japan's Olympians and Paralympians will attend the presser.

It's all about the messaging, the best news angles from the bid books. By virtue of holding their presser in the British capital, Tokyo will generate plenty of global headlines next week. Crucially, it's an opportunity for journalists not already acquainted with the bid team to establish contacts for the long road to the vote at the IOC Session.

Istanbul and Madrid are also expected to hold their own briefings with international media in the coming weeks.

The communications strategy of each of the three bids will be fascinating to observe at close quarters as the international campaigns gather steam.

There'll be plenty more love-ins with international media along the way.

But the most crucial are the IOC Evaluation Commission visits in March. Led by Britain's IOC member Craig Reedie, the inspection team will first visit Tokyo (March 4-7) before trips to Madrid (March 18-21) and Istanbul (March 24-27).

I covered the IOC inspections of Madrid and Tokyo for the 2016 bid race. This is what happens: journalists are bussed around the cities following the IOC inspectors to points of interest, ie to existing venues and where new ones will be built. But they won't be allowed to get too close. Apart from the staged photo opportunities during which there's no chance for questions, the most we can expect is the odd word of encouragement to be uttered about the bid city as the IOC officials board buses in between stops on their own tours. These things kick off early, so tired smiles and waving to media is obligatory for the IOC experts as they go about the business of cramming their heads with bid city information. The reports to IOC members are based on these trips.

It's only at the conclusion of the four-day visits that journalists get the chance to ask pressing questions about the city's bid book and the IOC panel's impressions. And even then the IOC inspection chief, in this case Reedie, is guarded in dishing out praise or criticism. The art of diplomacy will be on show. Nonetheless, what he says will make good or bad headlines for Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo, perhaps giving one of them the edge in the bid battle for the Games after Rio.

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