IOC MAKES HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENTS by Alexander Hwang
This past Sunday, in the closing ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced a historical development: in celebration of the end of the 22nd Winter Olympic Games, there will now be an Autumn Olympic Games.
Shortly after the end of the ceremony, the IOC held a press conference in downtown Sochi. The head spokesperson at the conference was committee official Dontrus Steme. Born in France, Steme was elected to the IOC Executive Board in 2011 to fulfill the role of Olympic Event Coordinator. In reaction to the genuine surprise from the reporters in the room, Steme announced that the board had been “discussing the Autumn Games for months behind closed doors. After a certain degree of consensus had been established, we revealed the plans to the IOC members, but made sure to emphasize the point to keep the new developments secret from the public.”
The Autumn Olympics are meant to balance the spirit of each of the seasonally-themed games. They will be centered around desert and sand sports, essentially countering the snow and ice of the winter games with sand. Currently, the IOC has only ten events planned, but it is still working on including more events, with a focus on team sports. The committee expects to have at least forty events in total for the first Autumn Olympic Games. In contrast, the 2012 summer games had 302 events within 39 different sports, and the winter games can have up to 98 events within 15 sports.
New and unique events for the Autumn Olympics include sandboarding, dune jumping, terrain biking, and arid cross country. There are also events adapted from the summer games, such as the 50m, 100m, 200m, and 400m sand dashes. The IOC has also taken the opportunity to revive some discontinued sports to increase interest in the new games. Tug of war, lacrosse and polo will now be included in the autumn lineup. Baseball, softball, and squash, recently dropped from the summer Olympic sports in 2013, will be added to the lineup as well. Beach volleyball will also now be played in the Autumn Games instead of the Summer Games, justified by the IOC as a move that will “increase viewership in the virgin games.”
It was further announced that the first Autumn Olympic Games will be held in Notat al Feykh, Qatar, in 2021. The games will run on a four-year cycle and be placed conveniently in the years after the summer games and before the winter games, in order to space out IOC revenue and maximize viewership. The IOC Executive Board’s decision to elect Qatar to be the first host was approved by the IOC Session, the organ that normally elects Olympic host cities.
“Qatar was the perfect choice to place the principal Autumn Games not only because it will fit the theme of the events extremely well,” explained Steme, “but also because it will help us achieve the goal of spreading olympism to the Middle East.”
Qatar has publically welcomed the role. Notat al Feykh will be a new city built from the ground up for the specific purpose of hosting the new Olympic games, and will include a state-of-the-art complex. It is set to be located in the desert 40 kilometers southeast of Doha, the Qatari capital. Qatar plans to spend at least $70 billion on building new infrastructure and facilities to accompany the games in the brand new city, which is only a few billion more than the $40 billion and $50 billion price tags of the Beijing and Sochi games, respectively. Analysts, of course, expect the cost of hosting the first Autumn Games to rise slightly above expectations.
Critics have pointed out that many past Olympic hosts have not turned any profits from hosting these events. Many times, the Olympic venues are also left abandoned and unused after the games are over. However, the IOC and Qatari government have reaffirmed that the Autumn Olympic Games and other Olympic games bring untold benefits to host cities and their nations, stating that “Olympic events can bring life to otherwise stagnant regions, attracting tourists and investors, while also providing cities the opportunity to initiate the first stage of regional infrastructure development and raise employment levels. These games can bring up to 30% economic growth in a region.”
When asked about how some nations, like Canada or Norway, may be on unequal footing when competing in the events of the 2021 games, Steme replied, “Although some nations may not experience the appropriate climate to be able to properly prepare for the games, they are still able to participate. We invite all athletes to pursue their dreams of going to the Olympics, even if they do not think they can win.” Steme explained that nations without geographic features such as deserts or sand dunes could still participate if foreign-born athletes were to represent them. Notable examples include Victor Ahn, a three-time Olympic gold medalist who, after getting into conflicts with his South Korean officials, transferred to the Russian Olympic team and won a gold medal for Russia in the Men’s 1,000 M in Sochi; and Clipper Chris Karman who, born in Michigan but unable to represent the United States in the Beijing Summer Olympics, used the citizenship of his great-grandparents to become part of the German team.
Towards the end of the press conference, the IOC panel announced another surprise that was omitted from the closing ceremonies: plans to initialize the Spring Olympic Games are soon to follow. The first of these games is set for 2023, with the host yet to be determined. The panel stated that the IOC plans to introduce olympism to Africa with the first of these new set of games. They are to be the final, unifying piece in the Olympic gamut. Events will include sailing and other oceanic or aquatic sports. In fact, the panel disclosed that the Spring Olympics focus on water and the ocean to help raise awareness and anticipate future sporting trends, stating climate change and rising sea levels as the driving force behind this decision.