International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said yesterday that cities in South America or Africa would have an edge in winning the 2012 Summer Games over cities in Europe, North America or Asia if they succeeded in putting together flawless bids backed by stable economies. Neither South America nor Africa has ever held an Olympic Games.
"Quality must come first," Rogge said. " . . . If we are sure the quality is of the highest order, these two continents will probably have a little bit of an advantage" in the competition for the 2012 Olympics.
Either New York or San Francisco will represent the United States in what is likely to be a crowded, competitive race for the 2012 Games, which will be awarded by the 100-plus-member IOC in 2005. At least 10 cities are expected to submit bids by next year's deadline. The U.S. Olympic Committee board of directors will choose the U.S. bid city during meetings Saturday in Colorado Springs.
A USOC task force selected New York and San Francisco as finalists over Washington and Houston during a late August meeting. New York won the support of nine of the 10 members; six of the 10 voted for San Francisco. Washington narrowly failed to advance, winning five votes.
Rogge's comments suggest that the U.S. candidate city could eventually face the same international roadblock Toronto did in the election for the 2008 Summer Games. Some IOC members admitted that Toronto had the strongest bid for the 2008 Olympics, but the Games were nonetheless awarded to Beijing because members were eager to send an Olympics to China for the first time.
"In an ideal world, I would be delighted with a strong bid city originating from South America or Africa, which are the two continents that haven't staged a Games," Rogge said. " . . . Will the economic situation on these two continents be okay by then? I hope so. . . . It's still a question mark."
Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires and Cape Town, South Africa, have expressed interest in bidding for the 2012 Games. Other cities likely to bid include Rome, Paris, Budapest, Istanbul, Moscow and cities from Germany and Spain.
Cities from developing countries who want to host the Olympics could be further aided by unrelated developments at IOC meetings in Mexico City at the end of November.
The IOC will consider specific recommendations from a commission led by Canadian IOC member Dick Pound that are intended to shrink the size of venues and cut costs, with the goal of making the Games less expensive and more manageable to conduct.
"We will ask [the bidding cities] to respect these guidelines," Rogge said. "That should not affect American cities more than other big cities. . . . We want to be sure that the Games' cost is not too much for taxpayers and communities by capping the maximum cities can spend. . . . "
New York has a much larger construction budget than San Francisco, with about $4 billion in projected costs, but New York bid officials say the new construction is intended for other needs in the region at the conclusion of the Games.
Rogge touched on a number of other topics during yesterday's 30-minute conference call with U.S. journalists. He said he has met with international baseball and softball officials, including Major League Baseball Players' Association Chief Don Fehr, to hear their pleas for keeping their sports in the Olympics. Those two sports, along with modern pentathlon, might be voted out of the Games during the IOC's meeting in Mexico City. Rogge also said he is eager to see the report from the organization's coordination commission on the status of preparations for the 2004 Summer Games in Athens. The coordination commission will tour Athens next week.
Rogge also reiterated his support of the IOC's decision to ban visits by members to cities bidding for the Olympics, which was undertaken under international pressure after the Salt Lake City bidding scandal of 1999. However, that reform and the more than 50 others passed in the wake of the scandal could be overturned in Mexico City when members review all of the reforms.
"It has to be decided by the session," Rogge said. "My position is very clear. My position is, I am against the visits. . . . I think they should not resume, but the members must decide."
If the members overturn the ban on visits, Rogge said, he would recommend that the visits be conducted and overseen by the IOC, rather than the cities themselves.
"There is no reason to have a suspicion [about] a visit if you conduct it well and it is properly planned," Rogge said.