Nobody wants to host the Winter Olympics anymore. Five cities bid to host the 1998 games, eventually staged in Nagano, Japan. Three bid to host the 2010 event, which went to Vancouver, Canada. By the time bidding started for the 2022 games, however, eventual host Beijing faced only one opponent.
The reason: it is expensive, really expensive, to even bid to host the games.
The International Olympic Committee is aware of the problem, and in September this year introduced a new set of bidding rules that will govern the process of finding the 2026 host. These rules have one overarching goal–make it cheaper to be an Olympic host city.
The biggest changes to the process revolve around reducing the amount of money spent traveling between cities and accommodating on-site inspections and presentations. There’ll be less wining and dining, and more remote meetings staged by video conference.
In short, the IOC is heeding the lessons the business world has already learned and is discovering how video conferencing can save money, making bidding for the Olympics a less wasteful undertaking.
Virtual Bids Are Cheap
The concrete changes implemented in the 2026 process are taken from the IOC’s landmark Agenda 2020, which was adopted several years ago. That policy introduced the need to take practical measures like using pre-existing facilities and sharing the Games burden across countries to reduce costs. It also laid the foundation for the new bid rules which cut the process down into two distinct stages–a dialogue stage, where potential hosts work closely with the IOC to determine if they have a reasonable chance of hosting, and a candidature stage, where those that choose to push on for a formal bid actually start displaying their wares.
Video conferencing will be used in both stages. Firstly, to limit travel, accommodation, and meeting costs, and secondly, to reduce the number of on-site follow-up meetings and gratuitous wining and dining. If the meeting can take place over a video call it makes it harder to justify that four-day ski resort stay.
Switching a bunch of meetings from in-room to remote isn’t going to cover all the expenses involved in Olympic bidding–Chicago spent $70 million bidding to host the 2016 games and finished last in the final vote–but video conferencing can create some major savings.
How Video Conferencing Can Save Money
We know that video conferencing can reduce government spending. It has been estimated that companies and organizations that regularly replace in-room meetings with video conference calls save up to 30% on their travel expenses. If you’re an Olympic host bidder, and every meeting you take involves gathering together a group of international delegates and experts, that figure is going to be even higher. This is especially true when the IOC’s own rulebook, even the new one, stipulates that delegates must be housed in 4-star hotels with breakfast included, as a minimum. It costs $450 a day to cover the costs of a single IOC official attending a meeting, and they must be provided for on days immediately before and after a meeting as well so they can travel.
Beyond the cost of getting to the meeting and staying the night, turning to video conferencing also removes the need to pay for the associated costs of staging a major forum. There’s no longer a catering bill, no fancy conference room to hire, no need for security during onsite visits, no production costs for elaborate corporate publications and paraphernalia, no town cars ferrying delegates to and from their hotels.
What is more, the advances in augmented and virtual reality video conferencing mean these remote meetings can be more immersive and interactive than your average in-room chat around a big wooden table.
Impressing with Alternate Reality Video Calls
Virtual reality video conferencing and augmented reality can change the way we see the world by fusing our visual reality with a digital one, or replacing it all together with a computer-generated space not bound by the laws of physics.
For the creative Olympic bidder, these new digital formats–in conjunction with video calling–can be used to impress voting delegates from half a world away. Attendees at a video conference could watch as future Olympic venues rise from the industrial landscapes of a city’s outskirts, or be taken on immersive rides on an advanced transit system to ferry future Olympic tourists from venue to venue. A virtual parade of Olympians could march right out of the video caller’s computer screen and across their desk, while a real-time conversation flows on around them.
Sochi Olympic organizers already demonstrated how the Games’ mascots can be digitally let loose on a city street to dance with the public. Image those same mascots unfurling digital blueprints and projects before a delegate’s eyes.
Crucially, all of this digital sound and fury can be supplied at a fraction of the cost of flying delegates across the globe to stand in a vacant field and imagine a future Olympic cauldron.
Perhaps, under the IOC’s new guidelines and with inspiration from advanced video conferencing, the 2026 Olympics will be awarded not to the richest bidder, but to the one with the most innovative use of technology.