The surest sign that the bid process for hosting the Olympics is broken is actually not the trail of bribe money or crony-rich government contracts at the feet of International Olympic Committee members.
Sure, bribery might – might, maybe, allegedly, perhaps – be how a now abandoned Olympic Village got built in some muddy, bulldozed acreage south of Sochi, Russia, rather than in Salzburg, Austria, home to Mozart, the Sound of Music and postcard pictures.
That's the cause, though, not the effect.
The effect is the bidding for the 2022 Winter Games, which is now down to just two cities. The final vote comes next summer.
There's Beijing, China, which doesn't actually sit within 120 miles of a usable ski mountain, and there's Almaty, Kazakhstan, which in its bid touted itself as "the world's largest landlocked nation."
It's down to these two cities not because the IOC narrowed the field, but because every other city in the entire world said no.
Seriously, every other city said no.
That even includes cities that previously said yes and made it deep into the bidding process only to stare directly into the corrupt, humiliating voting system, not to mention eventual unnecessary construction costs, environmental effects, blown resources and white elephants built to opulent IOC code. They promptly high-tailed it the other way.
Russia said it spent $51 billion hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics. What, no one else is interested in footing that bill?
Certainly not Oslo, Norway, not even at the bargain rate of an estimated $5.4 billion in a nation of just five million people. It once wanted desperately to host the 2022 Winter Olympics and its bid was so perfect that it was considered the favorite to win. Then the country held a vote earlier this year and 55.9 percent of Norwegians opposed.
Wednesday the Norwegian government effectively pulled the bid. Norwegians are known for the ability to cross country ski really fast and being so friendly they beg visitors to come experience their picturesque nation. Since this involved the IOC however, they decided against having visitors come experience their picturesque nation to watch them cross country ski really fast.
They aren't alone. Previous finalist Krakow, Poland, saw 70 percent voter opposition and pulled its application. A majority felt the same way in Germany and Switzerland, killing bids in Munich and St. Moritz respectively. In Sweden the majority party rejected funding the proposed games in Stockholm.
And that doesn't count all the places that didn't even bother to try, including the United States, which isn't sure when it will bid again after Chicago somehow, someway came in fourth in an effort to host the 2016 Summer Games. Rio de Janeiro won and still has practically nothing built, and IOC executives keep complaining nothing will be ready on time. Gee, what a shocker.
Essentially the only places interested in hosting the 2022 games are countries where actual citizens aren't allowed a real say in things – communist China and Kazakhstan, a presidential republic that coincidentally has only had one president since it split from the old USSR in 1989.
Essentially the entire world has told the IOC it's a corrupt joke.
"The vote is not a signal against the sport, but against the non-transparency and the greed for profit of the IOC," Ludwig Hartmann, a German politician said when his country said no. "I think all possible Olympic bids in Germany are now out of question. The IOC has to change first. It's not the venues that have to adapt to the IOC, but the other way around."
Don't hold your breath on that.
It's worth noting there is nothing wrong with finding new places to host the games. The world changes. New nations gain power and money. Not everything has to be in Western Europe. Rising countries will do anything for the exposure. China, for instance, is promising the construction of a super high-speed train to those far off mountains, even though Beijing is littered with abandoned venues from its 2008 Summer Games. Price doesn't matter.
And Almaty actually has a decent, viable and potentially winning bid. It looks like a good place for the Games, at least once you get past the Borat jokes – "Other Central Asian countries have inferior potassium."
Still, these are now the only choices.
If you think this is a crisis for the IOC, you don't know the IOC.
Oh, sure, president Thomas Bach said reform is needed for the bid process but this is a guy who spent his time in Sochi clinking champagne glasses with Vladimir Putin in an effort to help soften Vlad's global image. It worked for a week or so and Putin sent troops into the Ukraine. (How's that working out for you, Thomas?)
The IOC has billions of dollars laying around and billions more coming because to most people the Olympics is just a television show and the ratings are so high that the broadcast rights will never go down. The IOC doesn't pay the athletes. It doesn't share revenue with host countries. It doesn't pay for countries to send their athletes. It doesn't lay out any construction or capital costs. It doesn't pay taxes.
It basically holds caviar rich meetings in five star hotels in the Alps before calling it a day. That and conduct weak investigations into corruption charges of the bidding process, of course. "No evidence uncovered" is on a win streak.
It's a heck of a racket. Only FIFA does it better.
The world has caught on, though, which is why the mere mention of the IOC is toxic to all but the most desperate and totalitarian of governments.
The USOC is a non-governmental body, so unlike just about every other nation, it receives no direct public financing. It would love to host another Olympics, but the bid process is so unpredictable that wasting money and political capital on trying is risky. And then there would certainly be a public cost in the construction and hosting.
You want a good host for the 2022 Winter Olympics? Salt Lake City, which held it in 2002 and has all the venues and infrastructure already in place. There'd be some updating at minimal cost and, bang, a great location.
The IOC is too snooty for that, however. They don't like returning to the same city so soon so they'd prefer either Aspen, Colo., (complete with bullet train from Denver which has no practical use post Olympics) or Reno/Lake Tahoe. That would require billions building all the same stuff Salt Lake City already has in place.
Anyone want to put that up for a vote?
Then there is all the kissing up and glad-handing and who knows what else? Forget just the alleged direct payouts. How petty and ridiculous are these sporting aristocrats? Their actual listed demands are ridiculous, including their own airport entrance, traffic lane and prioritized stoplights. And just providing a five-star hotel suite isn't enough.
"IOC members will be received with a smile on arrival at hotel," the IOC demands.
Instead the world is giving them the middle finger.
So China or Kazakhstan it is, the last two suckers on earth willing to step up to this carnival barker.
One lucky nation will win. The other will host the 2022 Winter Olympics.