LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND – Radical reforms to staging the Olympic Games that were passed by the International Olympic Committee in February could have a significant impact in Japan for many years to come.
With Tokyo two years away from hosting the Summer Olympics and Sapporo expected to bid for the 2026 Winter Games, the 118 new measures — collectively known as “The New Norm” — encourage host cities to plan the games in line with their own long-term development needs, with a focus on sustainability and driving down costs.
The changes are, in large part, a reaction to the public opposition to hosting the games that has sunk the Olympic ambitions of several European and North American cities in recent years.
IOC Olympic Games Executive Director Christophe Dubi said the reforms, which the IOC membership unanimously adopted ahead of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, were inspired by the question, “What can we do to make the process lighter, simpler, while preserving what is unique in the games?”
The New Norm aims to fine-tune almost every aspect of the Olympics in an effort to reduce costs, complexity, risk and waste. Every operational area was analyzed by the IOC in collaboration with industry experts and Olympic stakeholders, including former organizing committee staff.
Host cities will now be urged to construct new facilities only when there is a proven long-term benefit. They will be encouraged to increase the use of public transportation, use existing stadiums and arenas, and consider venue-sharing options between different sports and even cities.
The IOC estimates that the New Norm could bring savings of up to $500 million for the Winter Games and $1 billion for the Summer Games.
This reduced burden is a key message the IOC wants to push after public and political opposition in recent years ended the hopes of cities such as Munich, Boston, Rome, Oslo and Innsbruck. The negative sentiment was fueled by the huge price tag associated with the games and the fear that local taxpayers would be left footing the bill, paying it off with money better spent elsewhere.
“The modifications presented in the New Norm address many challenges associated with bidding for and hosting the Olympic Games,” said John Coates, chair of the IOC Coordination Commission for the Tokyo Games and head of the steering committee that oversaw the reforms. “We examined if the right services and products were provided, if timing of delivery was optimal, and where we can provide additional expertise. What resulted is a robust plan that reduces complexity and costs, while maximizing flexibility and partnership.”
The IOC makes a substantial financial contribution to each edition of the games — estimated to be $1.7 billion for the 2024 Olympics in Paris and $925 million for the 2026 Winter Games — and is now trying to subtly change the nature of its relationships with local organizing committees.
“The posture has changed from an IOC that was somewhat judging the quality of the project and sanctioning the progress of an organizing committee to a partner that brings money — a very substantial amount of money — solutions, constant expertise, assistance, guidance,” said Dubi.
“From the very first stages, we sit alongside the candidature committees, not to judge but to maximize the quality of the projects. We’re not sanctioning, we’re finding solutions.”
One specific aspect of the New Norm has Tokyo DNA all over it. The IOC helped the Tokyo organizers shed $2.2 billion from their construction budget thanks to the establishment of a Joint Steering Forum that facilitated face-to-face talks between the IOC, the organizing committee, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the central government.
“We learned in Tokyo that for some very strategic and important decisions it is more comfortable to have all the actors around the table,” Dubi said. “We are all financially invested in the project and have a vested interest in the best possible outcome.
“Tokyo allowed, in less than a year, for the revamp and redesign of the master plan, to make better use of the 64 venues, to simplify some of the solutions that could be simplified, and in the end to save more than $2 billion.”
For Sapporo, which Olympic insiders consider a strong contender in the race for the 2026 Winter Games, the New Norm should translate into significant savings. Sapporo Mayor Katsuhiro Akimoto recently said the city was aiming to reduce its planned $4 billion bid in line with the IOC’s new stance.
The reforms could, for example, encourage Sapporo to consider using temporary facilities and even reuse venues from the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano.
“We are on the same page as the IOC. It’s clear that ‘compact’ will be the keyword of these games,” Akimoto said.
Dubi anticipates that under the New Norm, the race to host the 2026 Games will produce a greater variety of locations with smaller operating budgets. He predicts “very different value propositions, very different projects in nature, because there is no one-size-fits-all solution, no blueprint,” he said.
The IOC executive thinks each of the 2026 bids will probably propose a smaller operating budget than those for past two editions of the Winter Games (Sochi in 2014 and Pyeongchang in 2018). “And if that is the case, then it’s a demonstration after Tokyo that these 118 measures can have an effect,” Dubi said.