In the final analysis, the week was one of such bewilderingly wretched excess that no one could quite believe it was not something out of an Olympian Alice's wonderland. As Churchill certainly never said, but might have had he witnessed the machinations last week in Lausanne, the Vatican City of the Olympic movement: Never have so many been so eager to give so much to so few in order to get so little.
What that would have meant, if Churchill had said it, was this: For the last three years, 13 cities with a combined metropolitan population of more than 17 million have spent a total of more than $100 million in separate, but equally frenzied, campaigns to win the hearts and minds of 89 living (or almost) members of the International Olympic Committee, who held a secret election in Switzerland last week to pick the host cities for the Summer and Winter Olympics of 1992. Because there could be only 2 winners, there had to be 11 losers, and each would leave Lausanne having spent enormous amounts of money, time, passion, brainpower and creative energy, for which they got in return almost nothing of tangible value.
And so it was. At the end of a surreal week that combined a peculiarly pushy brand of civic boosterism with the high-tech cool of professional trade-fair barkers and filmmakers, plus some hard-headed techniques of public relations and personal persuasion that never ever ruled out raw bribery, the besieged cadres of the IOC bravely chose the anointed duo: Barcelona, capital of Catalonia on the Mediterranean coast of Spain, got the Summer Games, and Albertville, an area of 12 tiny, rather tacky ski villages in the French Alps, the Winter Games. The 11 rejects were, in alphabetical order: Amsterdam, Anchorage, Belgrade, Berchtesgaden (West Germany), Birmingham (England), Brisbane, Cortina (Italy), Falun (Sweden), Lillehammer (Norway), Paris and Sofia.
The obvious question is why? Why would 13 perfectly sane and self-respecting municipalities want to enter such a sacrificial crapshoot against such long odds? More to the point, why would any-city want to invite into its environs the uncontrollable monster that the Olympics has so often come to be? The four Summer Games held since 1972 have produced, in order, a terrorist massacre, a $1 billion deficit and a pair of mean-minded Cold War boycotts that deeply undermined the competitive quality of the Games. So who wants them? Until recently, almost no one. Denver won the 1976 Winter Games, but its furious citizenry made the city give the damn things back. In 1978 Los Angeles got the '84 Summer Games because it was the only bidder, and in 1981 Seoul won the '88 Games against only one other bidder.
What is different now? Mainly, the fat $225 million profit that Los Angeles managed to turn from its ostensibly "Spartan" spectacular. At first Los Angeles's windfall was denounced by Olympic bleeding hearts as a blatant felony, but it wasn't long before the new Olympic ideal was to fit ever bigger dollar signs inside the five Olympic rings. In June 1985 the IOC itself followed directly in L.A.'s money-colored path and signed with a marketing company to recruit "worldwide Olympic sponsors" (such as Coca-Cola, Eastman Kodak, Federal Express and Visa for a cool $104 million so far). Thus it was no surprise last week in Lausanne to see that it was avarice over altruism by a million to one.
John Rodda of the Guardian, dean of the coterie of European journalists who specialize in the Byzantine workings of the IOC, put it quite bluntly: "These people are here to bid on a business contract. A commitment of $10 million for the Summer Games, for instance, is peanuts because they're trying to make a deal that could generate as much as $3 billion. Any good businessman would consider risking $10 million on a contract like that a very smart thing to do."
The losers convince themselves that they have done a smart thing, too, arguing that there is a global afterglow of publicity around even a failed Olympic bid that reminds a blasé world that dowdy or far-distant towns like Brisbane, Birmingham or Anchorage do indeed exist. This seems pretty thin gruel for a multimillion-dollar high-energy campaign that can last several years.
Nevertheless, most Olympic bidders play the game completely convinced they can win. And they know that they can never afford to lose sight of the sole purpose and single motive of it all: To snag—somehow—first the attention and then the allegiance of a majority of those 89 rare and easily ruffled birds who happen to belong to one of the most eccentric and inscrutable clubs in the world.
The tactics of Olympic bidders vary somewhat, but they are never very subtle. The most popular strategy is simply to shower everyone on the IOC with gifts, trips and parties, even though many of them are very rich, very sophisticated and very spoiled old men. No city did better in this area than Paris. Whenever an IOC member felt the need to vacation in Paris for a while, he was instantly sent airline tickets and given a free room in the elegant Hotel de Crillon, as well as reserved tables at Maxim's or Tour d'Argent with the bill paid in advance. Members traveled everywhere in limousines, sometimes with a police escort, and they were given perfume, raincoats, jogging suits and discounts at some of Paris's finest shops. An adviser to the Paris committee was Madame Monique Berlioux, who ran the IOC's secretariat for 15 years until she was forced out in 1985. "We do these things to get the bid, but I wish it weren't necessary," she said. "There are many things that $10 million could do for sports in Paris that are better than throwing parties and giving free hotel rooms."
Surprisingly, the most lavish party of all during the long campaign for the Games of '92 was produced by Brisbane and—more surprisingly—it was given in East Berlin, where the IOC met in full session in June 1985. The Australians flew everything directly into West Berlin—including Australian wine, fresh lobsters and live lambs. The food was prepared in West Berlin, then transported through Checkpoint Charlie to the Palasthotel in East Berlin, where a good time was had by all, and the $500,000 check was picked up by the Australian-born press lord Rupert Murdoch.