July 21, 2005

Olympic Host Voting Analysis

So everybody knows by now that London is going to be the host of the 2012 summer Olympics. I don't know if you happened to catch the broadcast of the voting, with Jacques Rogge opening the final envelope with trembling hands … such drama! The IOC sure knows how to put on a show.

London edged out Paris on the fourth ballot, which was a mild upset according to the experts. I don't know how the experts came up with their predictions, since there isn't much to base them on, but that was the general consensus. Eight months ago I made my own prediction, which was rather vague about the actual winner, but got the rest exactly right:

Moscow has got to be considered the longest shot here … New York seems to have two fairly significant political problems … That leaves one of the big three EU capitals. The winner will be the group that can win votes from outside of Europe.

The result was met with joy, despair, and excuse-making, which just proves that human beings really, really want to win any prize that they have to compete for, regardless of its value.

(For the second time in a week, I'll put in a plug for King Kaufman at Salon.com, who treated the whole thing with the appropriate amount of gravity — which is to say, very little.)

It's slightly amusing to look at what actually happened to the delegate votes through the different rounds. In case you aren't aware, the host city voting is conducted in multiple rounds until one candidate receives a majority of the votes. If no candidate receives a majority, then the lowest-scoring candidate is eliminated and the vote is repeated. Also, delegates from countries with candidate cities can't vote until their cities are eliminated.

Figure 1

Figure 1 - 2012 Host city voting

Figure 1 — 2012 summer Olympic host city voting by round (click to enlarge).

Figure 1 (inset right) shows what happened in this very close vote.

In the first round, the votes were split quite evenly, with Moscow (as expected) coming up a little bit short.

The New York delegation was probably hoping that some regional politics would come into play here. The logic would go something like this: the delegates who wanted an Olympics in Moscow would recognize that a 2012 win for a European city would shut that continent out until at least 2020. Therefore, they would throw their support behind New York, leaving Moscow as an option for 2016. Supporters of each European capital, as their city was eliminated, would use the same logic, and voilà — victory for New York.

But it's a far-fetched theory. Who, other than the Russians, feels that strongly about an Olympics in Moscow?

At any rate, the plan failed spectacularly. In the second round, there were 15 delegates who voted for Moscow, plus the three Russian delegates, who were "free agents." There's no evidence that any of them voted for New York; in fact, at least three of the delegates who voted for New York in the first round abandoned them in the second! Perhaps they had voted for New York the first time just as a nice gesture. If we assume that there were three switchers, that makes 18 votes to be redistributed; 12 of them went to Madrid, with the rest split 5-4 London-Paris. At the end of two rounds, Madrid was the surprising leader.

In the third round, the 16 New York voters plus the 3 USA delegates came into play. At least one voter also abandoned Madrid, for no apparent reason. This was where London got its big break. Of the 20 free voters, London took 12, and Paris took the other 8. My suspicion is that the second-round New York and Madrid votes went 9-8 London-Paris in the third round, and the USA delegates all went to London.

That decisive edge was all London needed; when Madrid was eliminated, its 31 supporters and the Spanish delegate were evenly split between Paris and London; a slight (17-15) edge to Paris, actually, but not enough to take the lead.

If my theory is correct (and I can't prove it) then the three USA delegates held the balance of power here; had they switched from London to Paris, the outcome would have been reversed. At any rate it is clear that there was only one block of delegates that significantly favoured London over Paris, and that's the group of voters that supported New York.

Hmmm, do you think that world politics came into play at all?


John said...

I like to think that the two votes Finland cast went to London instead of Paris in the final round (making it 54-50 instead of 52-52) on the back of Chirac's comments in the week leading up to the vote about British cooking being the second worst in Europe, after Finland's. That would make me smile if it turned out to be true.

Amateur said...

Yes, that's a good laugh! I hadn't realized that he included Finland in his joke.

Amateur said...

Well, here's a three-week old article that supports your suspicion, JJ:

Athletics chief 'switched from Paris to London': "sources in Helsinki said today that Finland's two IOC members, Peter Tallberg and Jari Kurri, backed London"

Another interesting point in that article is the claim that three IOC delegates did not vote in the final round. I don't think that it's such a big mystery, actually; some delegates probably didn't vote because they didn't have a strong preference.

If the Times is correct that the final count of 104 was three delegates short, there must have been two delegates who didn't vote in any round. In the final round the number of delegates increased by only one, although Spain has two delegates. Otherwise the number increased each time by exactly the number I would expect.