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UPCOMING OLYMPIC GAMES

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It was mightily close but there was no upset.

Embarrassing technical glitches meant it needed a re-vote conducted the old-fashioned way; but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) today heeded their heads over their hearts and elected Beijing as host of the 2022 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The Chinese capital is set duly to become the first city in history to host both a Summer and Winter Olympics.

It was always likely that members would adopt a cautious approach in what IOC President Thomas Bach described at the Session’s Opening Ceremony as “difficult times in sport”.

It is, nonetheless, worth pausing to reflect on the remarkable shift that has transformed the Chinese capital into a safe pair of hands for the guardians of the Olympic brand and values.

Fourteen years ago, at the IOC Session in Moscow where Beijing won the right to host the 2008 Summer Games against a field that included Toronto, Paris, Istanbul and Osaka, the decision was viewed widely as daring and risky for the Movement, on grounds that it would be portrayed as a case of putting money above principles.

Such criticisms are far more muted today.

That is not to say that the Chinese bid’s commercial appeal did not play a significant part in its success.

We were told this week that the bid was projecting to generate $660 million (£423 million/€604 million) from domestic sponsorship; I would be surprised if, in fact, the final total were not a great deal closer to the $1 billion-plus (£640 million/€910 million) notched up by the Sochi 2014 Winter Games.

The Chinese capital’s ‘safe pair of hands status’ also owes something to the list of casualties which fell by the wayside during the course of this less-than-compelling race.

Beijing and Almaty truly were the last two bids left standing.

How the IOC must be hoping - however well Almaty acquitted themselves in the final stages of this race - that some traditional old West European winter sports cities will present themselves when the time comes for the 2026 Winter Games contest.

In addition to its stellar sponsorship performance, Sochi’s legacy also includes the stonking general infrastructure spend that arguably did more than any other single factor to put European citizens off bidding and produce the change of thinking we now know as Olympic Agenda 2020.

The choice of Beijing sits less well with this new way of presenting the complex business of putting on the greatest pageant in world sport, since one senses a tension between China’s justifiable national pride in, say, its reputed Ұ800 billion (£82 million/$129 billion/€118 billion) a year budget for high-speed rail infrastructure and Agenda 2020’s ‘less is more’ attitude.

A safe pair of hands it may be, but the selected Beijing project is not without risk for the IOC - a factor that may well explain the unexpectedly close vote.

While everyone is confident China will get the job done, I sense no great love for this undertaking.

Should issues arise, as they nearly always do, be they over an overarching matter such as human rights, or something much more specific, such as lack of compactness, or indeed snow, the IOC may find that they quickly generate publicity unhelpful to its efforts to ginger up interest among as wide a range of cities as possible in hosting multi-sports events.

For now, however, attention will quickly switch back to the IOC’s much more sought-after flagship summer product - both Rio 2016, now the Next Big Thing, and an intriguing incipient race for 2024 set to unfold over the next two years.

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