April 06, 2005

Sometimes Democracy is a Bad Idea

In July the 117th Session of the IOC will be held in Singapore. The highlight of that meeting will be the election of the host city for the 2012 Summer Games. That contest — between Paris, New York, Moscow, London, and Madrid — is receiving an enormous amount of attention from the world media. The Evaluation Commission has completed its five site visits, which have been good for a lot of ink. Personally, I don't think that the visits have changed the situation much since I last posted on this subject. You can follow all the goings-on over at GamesBids.com if you find it interesting.

Although the site election will get most of the press, the IOC will make a much more important (in my opinion) decision to at the July session: the composition of the Olympic programme for 2012. While you're over at GamesBids.com, take a look at this fascinating tidbit from President Jacques Rogge:

At the IOC session the IOC members will vote on the different 28 sports and make a decision; it will take a simple majority whether they are in or out [of the 2012 programme].

Holy crap, is he serious?

I was aware that the IOC Programme Commission is in the process of completing a report on their recommendations, and I knew that decisions would be made by the full membership in July. But I had no idea that the decision would be made by majority vote, with every one of the 28 current sports on the table. I'm all for having a vote, but shouldn't the delegates be voting yea or nay on a specific proposal? Is putting the whole programme up for grabs the best way to get the best programme? If you ask me (and nobody has), this is a bad idea.

Here's a recap of how the IOC has arrived at this point, in their own words:

[In 2002] the IOC decided to cap the numbers for the Games of the Olympiad to 28 sports, 300 events and 10,500 athletes, and therefore to systematically apply the principle of the Olympic Charter to review the composition of the programme after each edition of the Games. The attractiveness and popularity of the Olympic Games depends to a large extent on the quality of the sports programme. It must be varied and of high quality, and must produce competitions that are exciting, attractive, action-packed and athlete-focused. The Olympic Programme must also reflect the constant evolution of public expectations. Consequently, it was felt that the regular review of the programme was needed to ensure that its composition continues to be relevant and meet new expectations.

Five Outsiders

The sport evaluation will be presented for all 28 summer Olympic sports, plus five other recognized IFs:

In 2004, the IOC accepted this report (PDF), which lists the criteria that will be used in evaluating sports and disciplines. It contains 32 specific items under various topics, plus a 33rd called "general" intended as a catch-all. The Programme Commission constructed a questionnaire covering the 33 criteria, which was then given to the international sports federations (IFs) to complete and return.

So far, not a bad plan. I have some issues with the criteria, which I will comment on in another post, but at least the IOC has clearly described exactly what a sport needs to do to get (or stay) on the programme. In July, the IOC delegates will be presented with an evaluation of all 28 summer Olympic sports, plus five others (see inset), against these detailed criteria … and then they're going to allow a free-for-all vote?! What was the point of setting out the criteria, anyway? The vote probably isn't going to be influenced by the evaluation any more than the site election will be influenced by the report on the technical merits of the different bids. It's going to come down to politics, plain and simple, in both cases. For the host city election, that's OK, but in my opinion the sports programme is too important to play politics with.


Alan Adamson said...

Maybe you should replace 'democracy' with 'majority vote of a dubiously constituted committee'.

Amateur said...

Hey! You're trying to turn my own words against me! But the rest of my readers won't realize that you are really fighting a different argument, Alan …

Seriously, though … on the selection committee that I sit on, we are always presented with recommendations by the coaching staff, which we then discuss, amend, and vote on. We don't make the selections from thin air. That is essentially what I am advocating here; the IOC membership should be voting on a proposal from the Programme Commission, not putting everything up for grabs.

Of course, the Programme Commission is also a 'dubiously constituted committee,' eh Alan? OK, I admit, in my scheme politics and national interests would still play a role. But I think that the Programme Commission members will consider the evaluation criteria, if for no other reason than that they created them. And that would make for a more objective decision.

Amateur said...

And also, speaking of the Olympic programme, you still have not written anything about singles curling ...