Agenda 2020 Course # 101

Terrence Burns ©2015

In my most recent post, I referred to an esteemed American Professor of Economics’ podcast comments regarding the IOC Agenda 2020 reforms.

Essentially, he asserted that Agenda 2020 “lacked substance”. I politely disagreed and still do, even more so now.

Here are a few more points to consider, which I believe bolster my contention that the professor is off the mark – by a mile or so.

I recently sat through the IOC Evaluation Commission’s visit to Almaty, Kazakhstan, where a team of IOC experts and IOC members reviewed that city’s bid for the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

I will state for the record that I am a paid consultant to the Almaty 2022 bid, and that this was not the first IOC Evaluation Commission visit in which I participated as a consultant to a bid city.

I will also state for the record that this was the first IOC Evaluation Commission visit where an unprecedented, extraordinary spirit of cooperation and open exchange took place, and where words gave way to actual deeds.

Agenda 2020 works.

What do I mean by that?

Item 1. After five full days of consultation and review, the Almaty 2022 bid committee revised its already excellent Games Concept – on the spot. Almaty optimized its Concept in real-time, making it even more affordable, even more efficient and even more sustainable. The changes were possible because of the new “flexibility” of Agenda 2020.

In the clearest terms, the Almaty 2022 bid is the first tangible example that represents the power and impact of Agenda 2020’s true potential.

Let me be even clearer. The IOC Evaluation Commission did not instruct or dictate any changes to Almaty’s plans; they simply listened, engaged in honest conversation and let the Almaty 2022 bid team draw its own conclusions as to how or if it should improve its bid concept. Prior to President Bach’s Agenda 2020 reforms, this would have not happened in this manner, if at all.

What was the result? Now, Almaty 2022 has a revised plan that saves over half a billion US dollars from its original plan; and, it has an even better operational plan for the most important stakeholders of the Games: the Athletes. It’s not just about money.

Agenda 2020 – 1        Economics Professor – 0

Item 2. The Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee just announced sweeping changes to its Games Concept, also guided by the Agenda 2020 reforms. These changes will generate one billion US dollars in savings from the Organizing Committee’s original plan.

Again, prior to Agenda 2020, this would not have happened in this manner, if at all. I would call one billion US dollars in savings very “substantive” in any economics discussion.

Agenda 2020 – 2       Economics Professor – 0

Item 3. Remember all the angst about Rio’s preparations for the 2016 Olympic Games? Well, apparently our friends in PyeongChang are experiencing similar problems as they prepare for the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. But rather than simply criticize and wring their hands, or wait until the last possible moment to offer support, the IOC just created a dedicated team of Olympic Games experts to work alongside the PyeongChang team in order to get the 2018 Winter Games back on track.

That is called “putting your money where your mouth is”, or, “having skin in the game”. This approach definitely would not have happened prior to Agenda 2020. In economic terms, professor, this is a case of the franchisor intervening to protect its master brand by assisting a struggling franchisee.

Agenda 2020 – 3       Economics Professor – 0

For those of us who work in this Movement and have dedicated our professional lives to its health and welfare, Agenda 2020 is an idea (a set of ideas, actually) that came along at the perfect time/just in time with the prefect leadership.

I only provided three recent examples (one very personal) of Agenda 2020’s impact on the Olympic Movement in the past few weeks. Two of these three examples saved Olympic Organizers (and their cities) over 1.5 billion US dollars.  How’s that for “substance”? I am certain that there are many, if not dozens of other examples taking place all around the world right now.

If you love the Olympic Games, then you should educate yourself about what Agenda 2020 is doing for sport, and don’t be shy about telling the world about it. Without facts, even well-educated, esteemed professors can make up their own versions of reality; we all do, it’s human to doubt what you do not understand  – or trust.

It is easy to pontificate, but it is hard to actually make things happen.

The IOC is actually making things happen.

The score is 3:0, and counting.

All Things Must Pass

Terrence Burns ©2015

I heard a podcast the other day by an esteemed economics professor in the US, stating that the President Bach’s Agenda 2020 reforms seem to “lack substance”. Perhaps his views are skewed towards the launch of his new book, but I will give him the benefit of doubt and assume his comments are his true perspective. He certainly did his homework, and then some, and a healthy debate benefits everyone.

I’d like to offer, however, another, more personal perspective.

The first time I set foot in the IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland was in early September, 1996. I’d just joined a new company, Meridian Management SA, which was the then new marketing agency for the IOC, charged with managing the global TOP Sponsorship Program. It was a heady moment and a heady time.

I stayed with Meridian for almost five years, and I must say, it was probably the best job I ever had. Why did I leave? I get asked that a lot. At the time, I felt that the organization (the IOC) was structured in such a way that I could not be as effective as I wanted to be – or needed to be – in order to really make a positive difference assisting the IOC’s TOP Partners in their Olympic marketing efforts. In those days, the speed of decision making at the IOC was as slow as the Rhone Glacier that feeds the magnificent Lac Léman.

Fast-forward fifteen years. This week I attended two days of client meetings at the very same IOC headquarters. Nostalgia is a funny thing: it’s often well-intentioned but usually disappointing. This time, it did not disappoint – it blew me away.

The IOC headquarters and offices I visited were literally bursting with energy, momentum and a zeal for change that frankly, astonished me. Everyone looked under 30. Everyone was focused. Everyone was doing something else I’d never seen at the IOC headquarters – they were having fun. And, everyone was quoting president Bach and how telling us how each of their roles and responsibilities specifically tied to the Agenda 2020 reforms. I can assure the good professor, there is form AND substance going on at Chateau Vidy.

I left the meetings with my head spinning for a few reasons. One, it appears I was about 19 years too early when I first joined the IOC marketing team; timing, as they say, is everything (yes, I miss it). Second, if desire, activity and action are progress, then Agenda 2020 is well on its way. And lastly, I really, really envy those smiling, earnest, happy young faces working for the greatest brand in the world. I know how you feel, still.

I have no doubt they will get it right. Godspeed.



In Defense of the IOC (Really)

Terrence Burns ©2014

The 2022 Winter Games Bid Campaign is not exactly what everyone wanted – or intended. But, like a slightly ugly baby it’s here, and we have to love it.

What happened?

Here are some facts:

Lviv pulled out of the race due to the instability of the Ukrainian government during a time of national crisis.

Krakow pulled out the race due to a national referendum, the citizens citing Games size and cost versus legacy as a concern.

Stockholm pulled out of the race, it citizens citing Games size and cost versus legacy. Our Swedish friends are now having second thoughts. Personally, I think the IOC should put the Winter Games brand – which by any metric is hurting –  before the IOC’s process in terms of priority and consider letting Stockholm back in.

Oslo pulled out of the race due to a national referendum, the citizens citing Games size and cost versus legacy and the IOC’s image and reputation as concerns.

Munich chose to not even bid (unfortunately) citing Games size and cost and the IOC’s image and reputation as concerns.

What is interesting, even fascinating, is that not one of these cities cited “the cost of bidding” as a reason to withdraw or not bid.

Not one.


Cities choose to spend whatever they wish to spend in order to bid on the Games. The figures range from the incredible $US150 million that Tokyo 2020 supposedly spent to the relatively responsible $US43 million attributed to the Munich 2018 bid.

Why the wide gap?

Because cities want to host the Olympic Games, badly, and there is no universal standard for fiscal sobriety. It is up to the cities to determine how much they want to invest – or waste. The IOC does not dictate it; in fact they try to minimize it.

For the 2020 Games campaign the IOC wisely reduced the number of continental presentations Bid Cities had to attend and present their bids.

For the 2018 Winter Games race there were ten or so such presentations, ranging from traveling to French Polynesia to present to a hand full of people for fifteen minutes (I got some great pictures, though), to Togo, to Belgrade, to London, to Acapulco, to Seoul, to Guangzhou, to Lausanne and finally to Durban. That wasn’t cheap and frankly, it wasn’t necessary.

So the IOC changed it. No one seemed to notice and no one said, “Thanks IOC, that makes sense”. (You know, like Madrid Made Sense – fiscally responsible)

The real concern for potential bid cities is the size, scope and cost of hosting the Games versus the associated legacy. Period.

The Olympic Movement’s inclination (and exasperation in that no one seems to understand this) is to explain that there are really two costs involved with hosting the Games – the operational budget to host the Games for 17 days, and the budget necessary to build out the needed infrastructure which will serve the Host City and region for generations to come. I gave up on the “OCOG versus Non-OCOG” nomenclature for civilians a long time ago.

Here is an analogy that might help. The total four year tuition costs to attend university, a good one in the United States, are about $US160,000 – 200,000+. That is what it takes to “be there” for four years. The return on that investment however is calculated over the student’s lifetime – not during the four years of attendance. It’s an investment in the future.

Similarly, the infrastructure costs required to host a Games, normally $US5 – 10 billion (a guess), are for things such as airports, facilities, power plants, water treatment plants, roads, etc., that will improve the quality of life for the Host City for generations. The government and the citizens of the Host City and nation pay for these costs.

The point here is that these cities and nations would eventually incur these type costs, regardless of the Games. I call it the “3:1 ratio rule”; i.e., in 7 years cities build 21 years worth of (hopefully) needed infrastructure.

The total 17 days operating costs for the Games  – ranging from $US2.2 for winter to over $3 billion for summer – are meant to be offset by revenues generated by the Games. Most Host Cities claim to break even or make a small profit (what else would they say – it’s like grading yourself on a final exam). The local Olympic Organizing Committee manages and pays for the costs associated with this budget from revenues raised through sponsorship, television rights fees, licensing, etc.

Ok – so we all know that Russia spent a reported $US51 billion to build a new city for the Sochi 2014 Winter Games. Here’s the thing: it was their choice to do so and it was their money that was spent.

The $US51 billion figure may prove to be the most maligned number in sports history. It is a figure thrown about to illustrate the supposed pomposity of the IOC, the absurdity of hosting an Olympic Games and a oblique criticism of “everything Russia.” Including Putin.

Did anyone ever consider that Russia chose to use the Olympic Games as a catalyst to improve and upgrade Sochi and the surrounding region – this is no different from say, London 2012’s aspirations, though admittedly the scale was different. The Russians just had the ability – and the cash – to build a new city from scratch in an area that was neglected for, well, forever. So they did it.

But guess what? Sochi’s $US51 billion has nothing whatsoever to do with any city that desires to host a future Olympic Winter Games. Nothing. Zero.

Why is that so hard to understand?

It is hard to understand because 1) no one bothered to explain it properly, and 2) various and numerous entities have used it, very adroitly, and to demonstrate opposition, resentment and disdain for the Olympic Games and the IOC. It was almost too easy not to.

Before you leap, no, I am not blaming the media or the citizens of any of the cities or nations who decided “no thanks, IOC”. I am not. But what I am saying is that because someone did not explain the facts, someone did the world a disservice. And maybe that “someone” is us – those of us who live and work in and alongside this special thing called “The Olympic Movement.”

Did the IOC have a role in this debacle? Sure, but what’s the point of playing the blame game now? It’s easy to criticize after the fact.

At the end of the day the IOC is a private club and the Games is their event. “It’s their rodeo” as we say here in the US. And if one takes the time to review the IOC’s history over the long arc of the Olympic Movement, I strongly believe that the IOC get it right more often than not, in fact a lot more often. If the IOC were a Major League Baseball player with that batting average, he would be in the Hall of Fame.

The real challenge for the IOC is that they sell “perfection” as embodied in the Olympic brand. People expect more from the Olympics, and therefore the IOC’s margin for error is the size of a pinhead versus the football pitch that other entities – such as FIFA – get to stumble around on and make mistakes.

Can the IOC do better?  Of course they can.  Can you?  Look in the mirror.  Let’s stop complaining and let’s start believing again.  The Olympics are worth it.

I’m looking forward to the session in Monaco to see what changes Agenda 2020 will bring; although, it was recently pointed out to me that only the IOC would hold a meeting in Monaco to discuss cost cutting – but that’s for another post.

I’m betting they will get it right – or most of it, and shouldn’t we all want that to happen?


The Heart of the Matter

Terrence Burns ©2014

Last weekend in beautiful Lake Placid, New York (Host City of the 1932 and 1980 Olympic Winter Games) I attended my first USA Luge Association Board Meeting as a newly minted volunteer Independent Board Member.

I’ve had the pleasure and honor to work within virtually every level of the Olympic Movement these past 20-plus years. So when offered, I leapt at the chance to work at the National Governing Body (National Federations for my non-USA friends) level of sport, as this is the one area in which I have little-to-no experience. I realized quite quickly that this is where I should have started my Olympic journey many years ago.

Here is the most important lesson reinforced from the weekend:  the Olympic Movement is a fragile, elegant and eternal dream knitted together by thousands of people who will never see the limelight, whose names will never be mentioned in a press release and who may never even attend a Games, who toil countless hours with very little resources, who will never sit in a T-3 car or complain about “important things” such receiving the desired Games Accreditation or gaining access to the IOC hotel (or lounge).  No, these are the people who constantly wage an exhausting, invisible, seemingly never-ending battle to keep the lights on and train the athletes at the local level.

This is the real Olympic Movement.

The Olympic mantra states that “Athletes are the heart of the Games”; that is correct, they truly are, and forever will be.  But it is the organizations and the people working within them at the bottom rung of the Olympic pyramid, the National Federation level, who are the Olympic Movement’s soul.

As I sat through a day of meetings focused on the long-term survival of Luge in the United States (remember, Olympic sport in the USA receives no government funding), I was surrounded by no fewer than four Olympic medalists and World Cup champions.

Each of these people were giving their time, energy and yes their hearts and souls to the cause of the sport they loved and that changed their lives. Was there a “prima donna” among them? No. Were they living or relying on past accomplishments or success? No. Was anyone taking credit for anyone else’s work or accomplishments, deluding themselves or others of their own importance, exaggerating their experience or skills? No. Was I moved? Yes – beyond words, actually.

Admittedly, my own Olympic experience has been a charmed one and I am very thankful for it. But this past weekend in tiny, humble yet magnificent Lake Placid did more to open my eyes to the beauty and magnificence of the Olympic ideal than any gold medal finish or Opening or Closing Ceremony I’ve ever witnessed. Why? Because I saw sacrifice, desire, honor, persistence and that grandest English verb of all – hope – manifest right before my eyes.

I have no idea where my volunteer Luge odyssey will end or what it will accomplish, but I can tell you this: working alongside these good, honest people who view their sport through the lens of love instead of personal gain is exactly what I needed to see, hear and feel.

So, the next time you receive that inevitable call or email request to donate a few dollars to grass-roots sports, dig deep my friends, dig very deep; for without a solid financial foundation at its core (and you would be very surprised at how much impact just a few dollars can make), future Olympic podiums will be absent of the young men and women who inspire us with wonder, who make us cry with pride and who challenge us all to be better than we really are.