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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)

A new two-phase process was introduced to decide the host of the 2008 Summer Olympics and subsequent winter and summer games. This new process came out of the 110th International Olympic Committee (IOC) session in December 1999. The reason for the new process was so that interested cities could be judged initially by the IOC and if they were deemed to be insufficiently prepared to hold the games, they would not have to incur unnecessary expenditure.

The first phase of the new process is the applicant city stage. If a city is interested in holding the games, it prepares an application, gets it endorsed by their National Olympic Committee, and sends it to the IOC. Applicant cities for the 2008 games were four Asian cities of Bangkok, Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, and Osaka, three European cities of Istanbul, Paris, and Seville, North American cities of Havana and Toronto, and the African city of Cairo. Each city’s basic technical requirements are assessed by an expert team which then reports to the IOC’s executive board. The board reviews the findings and decides on a shortlist of candidates. For the 2008 games, the cities that made it through to the second, or candidate city, stage were Beijing, Istanbul, Osaka, Paris, and Toronto. This was announced at a meeting in Lausanne on 29 August 2000.

As soon as the IOC announces its acceptance of candidate cities, each city may commence its promotional campaign. A candidate city creates an emblem that has the five rings of the Olympic symbol plus a second element that represents the city. The emblem has to be submitted to and approved by the IOC before any public campaigning. The IOC is acutely aware of the Olympic image, and cities are under scrutiny to be conscious of costs, targeting the right audience, and not making vague promises, or setting unrealistic goals during the promotional campaign, so as not to bring damaging criticism from the public, sponsors, and media.

A drawing of lots is conducted by the IOC’s executive board to determine the order in which the cities give their presentation to the board. The draw takes place a few weeks after the initial announcement of candidate cities. For the 2008 games, this took place in Sydney on 13 September 2000, just before the Sydney Olympics which were held from 15 September to 1 October. An information meeting takes place between the IOC and the candidate cities. This was on 25 September in 2000. A few months later, a ten minute presentation is made to the board in Lausanne, which doesn’t seem much time for something so complex. This was held on 13 December in 2000.

Candidate cities then have to submit 70 copies of a lengthy questionnaire of over 100 pages to the IOC. For the 2008 games, the deadline for this was 17 January 2001. This candidature file must be accurate and concise, and reflect a candidate city’s current situation as well as its plans for the games. There are sections on national, regional and city characteristics, legal aspects, customs and immigration formalities, environmental protection and meteorology, finance, marketing, general sports concepts, Olympic sports, the Paralympic Games, the Olympic Village, medical and other health services, security, accommodation, transport, technology, communications and media services, Olympism and culture, and guarantees. Answers are to be given in both English and French. Various IOC and other guidelines must be abided by, such as for media, accommodation, marketing, technology, and an Olympic village. Cities also have to meet the requirements of the various international Olympic summer sports federations. A deposit of US$150,000 has to accompany a city’s candidature file. This money is returned to those cities who are not awarded the games.

The IOC studies each candidature file to make sure all information has been included. Further information may be sought from a candidate city. The IOC then authorizes each city to send a copy to each IOC member, honorary member, and various sport and other federations, committees and associations. Candidate cities are then permitted to release their file to the public and the media.

An IOC Evaluation Commission then visits each city, in accordance with the Olympic Charter. Sites are inspected and meetings held with the Candidature Committee and with various experts in all relevant themes. For the 2008 games, visits were conducted in mid February to mid April 2001. The Commission then prepares a report by mid May. This is examined by the IOC. The IOC’s executive board decides which cities proceed to the vote at the following IOC session, which is held about two months after the Evaluation Commission’s report.

At this next session, each candidate city makes a presentation not exceeding 45 minutes. Questions from the floor follow each presentation. Minutes are taken, and all statements made by the candidate city are binding on that city should it be chosen as the host city. After the presentations, the IOC Evaluation Commission delivers a report to the session. IOC members then vote by secret ballot. Each member votes for one city. There are over 100 members but not all of them are allowed to vote. Members from countries with a candidate city are not eligible to vote in the first round but are eligible to vote in subsequent rounds if their city is eliminated.

A city must obtain an absolute majority of votes for it to be awarded the games. If, at the end of the first round, no city has a majority, the city with the least votes is eliminated, and there is a second round of voting. This process continues, with as many rounds of voting as it takes to produce a majority vote for one city. The name of each eliminated city is made public as soon as it occurs.

The final result is given by the IOC president and is televised live. That’s when you see all the delegates of the successful country yelling and cheering, and back-slapping each other. The 112th IOC Session was held in Moscow on 13 July 2001, and this is where Beijing was announced as the host city for the 2008 Summer Olympics. The elected city immediately signs a Host City Contract. A government representative of the host country then signs a confirmation of government support. This process has been repeated to decide the host city at the 2010 Winter Games (Vancouver), the 2012 Summer Games (London), and the 2014 Winter Games (Sochi, Russia).

As you could imagine competition among candidate cities is fierce. There have been various allegations of bribery and other wrongdoing over the years. The Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games was alleged to have offered bribes to the IOC before the host city was picked for the 1996 games. However, committee documents were destroyed before the inquiry. A bribery scandal involved Salt Lake City in 2002, resulting is the expulsion of several IOC members. This was not the only time IOC members have been investigated for allegedly taking bribes. In 2006, candidate city Nagano in Japan spent $4.4 million entertaining IOC members.

Tougher rules have been introduced from time to time, although the process of selecting a city has remained basically the same since 1999, and that is the process described above.