I haven't given a lot of talk on this site to the Olympics yet, as I launched it just eleven months ago and the next Olympics are still 34 months away. However, with the Olympics being the focal point of modern international hockey, I figure the actions of the finalists for the 2018 Winter Olympics are a worthy story for this site.
While the hockey world still needs confirmation about NHL player participation for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi (Russia), likely to be part of next year's CBA negotiation, the International Olympic Committee is getting ready to decide who will be the hosts of the Games after that. On July 6, the announcement of the winning bid will be made from Durban, South Africa, and the three finalists are all currently courting IOC voting members as part of the final stage of the campaign. The three finalists are as follows (click the links for their Google Maps location):
So how would hockey be affected? It's no secret that the NHL feels the exposure of the Olympics, when the Games are held outside of North America, is a little lacking. South Korea is in the same time zone as Nagano, Japan (GMT +9), so you if you recall at what hour the hockey games were broadcast back in 1998, you might be doing the same thing on the 20th anniversary of the first Olympics to allow NHL players. Not only that, but South Korea would be the lowest ranked hockey nation to host the event, and would be allowed to have their national men's and women's teams compete in the twelve team tournament (if current format holds). It will be interesting to see how the IIHF and IOC would incorporate the South Korean team, who are improving as a hockey nation (finished 25th last year at the World Championships) but are still quite a ways behind the Olympic level.
From a hockey standpoint, there would be little issue with either France or Germany winning the bid. France competes in the World Championships every year, and while getting a bump to the top 12 is a bit of a boost, the difference between France and Norway isn't terribly great. Germany has qualified for every Olympics since NHL players were allowed, so there again would be little issue with their automatic inclusion.
The 2018 Campaigns
Karolos Grohmann from Reuters has done a series of articles on the 2018 bids in recent days, as all three campaigns came through London as they try and drum up support. Munich's bid, led by former Olympic gold medallist Katarina Witt, seems to be touting the large amount of corporate sponsorship going into winter sports in Germany:
"Germany brings in 50 percent of (sponsorship) finance for the seven international winter sports federations," the twice Olympic figure skating champion told a small group of reporters on the sidelines of an international sports business convention.
"There is much more room to grow," she said, adding that BMW board member Ian Robertson would also back the bid in the British capital.
German companies contribute 2.6 billion euros ($3.7 billion) per year in winter sports and summer sports sponsorship, Witt said.
Germany could do worse than to tout the financial windfall that having the Winter Games in Munich could provide, and Munich offers a large urban centre to base the games around, much like Vancouver. Winter Olympics have traditionally been held in mountain resorts, but the costs of hosting has made major cities more attractive. If Munich were to win, it would be the first city to host both the Winter and Summer Games, and there's no doubt that hosting a successful Olympics would be a psychological boost considering the terrorist attacks that marred the 1972 Olympics. Meanwhile, the resort city of Garmisch is having a vote on May 8 about Olympic participation, as they will likely play host the alpine events. In 1936, Garmisch hosted the Winter Olympics while Germany was under Nazi rule.
The Annecy bid is perhaps the most stylish of the three. The setting is an obvious focal point for the bid, with views of Mont-Blanc taking prominence and Lac d'Annecy staking claim to being 'Europe's clenest lake.' While Annecy is a smaller centre, it is located less than 50 km south of Geneva, Switzerland, so getting there is not a huge concern. What could be a huge concern for the bid is that Annecy is also less than 50 km away from Albertville, the hosts of the 1992 Winter Olympics, and 300 km away from Torino, Italy, the 2006 hosts. Annecy looks like the longshot of the three, but they've set up an impressive website, and hope to have President Nicolas Sarkozy on hand to schmooze the IOC delegates in South Africa.
Pyeongchang, South Korea is considered the frontrunner. Having lost out on both the 2010 and 2014 bids, the bid looks on track for a successful bid this year. While Germany is positioning itself as the safe bet financially, Pyeongchang is offering up hope that only new money from growing markets can bring:
"We cannot deny there is a big winter sports market in the United States and Europe but we are offering a way to diversify financial support for winter sports," Pyeongchang bid chief, Cho Yang-ho told a small group of agency reporters.
"More than one billion people live within a two-hour flight from Pyeongchang," added Cho, who is also the Korean Air chairman and CEO.
"Asian economies are growing fast and the IOC is well aware of that," said Cho. "We are looking for the new potential and the new growth. In Asia more and more young people are turning to winter sports and they are growing fast."
This strategy appears to be working. With their bid being the most scrutinized of the three finalists, they've taken a new approach and focused less on the lovey-dovey aspects of the previous bids (focusing on unifying the Koreas) and have gone straight to the type of hope and optimism that strong finances bring.
BidIndex has pegged the Pyeongchang the favourite, pulling further ahead of Munich with these recent updates, while Annecy lags far behind. A lot can change in the meantime, and a positive vote by the residents of Garmisch could help Munich's case considerably, but for now it appears that after going to the Black Sea resort of Sochi in 2014, the Winter Olympics will be heading to the Far East four years later.
If that happens, then we can get to the details of conducting the hockey tournament. I'd have to think it'd be set up differently.