And They Call This Work?

The Olympic evaluation team's tough job: Getting wined, dined, and wooed by deep-pocketed cities hoping to host the Games in 2012

By Ciro Scotti

In the Nice-Work-If-You-Can-Get-It Dept., who has the best job on the planet? Sure, Hilary Swank was a contender. But while winning the Oscar for Best Actress is certainly a rush, she had to pound the heavy bag and run her sweats off for months to play a boxer in Million Dollar Baby.

Nah. Way too much work.

How about Donald Trump? He has just married a gorgeous woman and gets paid a lot of money for allegedly being a business genius. And even though his casino empire is in bankruptcy, he gets to keep his job, and a judge has just ruled that he still gets to take home a $2 million-a-year salary. Plus, he's into the second season of a hit TV show.

Sounds like the most absolutely amazing, terrific, classiest job in the whole wide world. But Trump still has to walk around with that Woody Woodpecker comb-over.


  That narrows it down to the Bid Evaluation Commission of the XXX Olympiad -- aka the gang from the International Olympic Committee that in the space of 43 days will have had the cities of Madrid, London, New York, Paris, and Moscow kissing its 26 collective feet.

How sweet does it get traipsing around the globe to decide which hungering burg gets to host the 2012 Summer Olympics? Oh, it's a grueling, grueling triathlon of lunches, receptions, and dinners that's only somewhat offset by the knowledge that after touring Wimbledon or shooting baskets at Madison Square Garden, you'll be able to curl up in a posh hotel like New York's Plaza (with a view of those flapping saffron Gates in Central Park). A little shut-eye, and then on to the next round of adulation.

Back in the good old bad days before the Salt Lake City Olympics scandal, hordes of the 117-member IOC were wined, dined, lavished with gifts, and, in some cases, offered graft (we refer to the allegations of expense-paid plastic surgery, of course) when they went on a venue search. But that's all behind us, buried in the snows of Utah. In the virtuous new century, all of the commission's expenses are paid by the IOC.


  These days, cities on the hunt for the Olympics are allowed only one extravagant night when the much-downsized IOC contingent comes to town. But what a night. In Madrid, which has taken the lowest-key approach to date, the 13 members of the evaluation commission shared a meal with King Juan Carlos. In London, they had sea bass and breast of duck at an "intimate" Buckingham Palace dinner with Queen Elizabeth, Princess Anne (an Olympic equestrian and IOC member), and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

In New York, it was a homemade turkey feast at the little bitty townhouse of billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg. But if the fare was humble, the guest list wasn't: It included Whoopi Goldberg, Matt Damon, Henry Kissinger, Meryl Streep, Barbara Walters, and, of course, those indefatigable curtain hangers Jeanne-Claude and Christo. Paul Simon sang.

Paris won't be so nouveau when the commission rock-stars in on Mar. 9. Its members will break baguettes at the Elysée Palace with President Jacques Chirac and Socialist Mayor Bertrand Delanoe. No Depardieu or Deneuve in sight.

Yet, Paris isn't exactly stinting on its bid. Its $36.5 million campaign includes huge "Paris 2012" lights on the Eiffel Tower and banners along the Champs Elysées. London, which is spending $54 million on its bid, had both Big Ben and Tower Bridge adorned with massive gold medals.


  Robert Livingstone, producer of Web site, which is devoted to Olympics bidding, guesses that New York will spend at least $50 million to take a shot at the Games. And that doesn't include "value in kind" gifts probably worth another $50 million and hidden costs, such as police security for the evaluation commission.

Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff told the New York Post that the four-day visit would wind up costing NYC2012, the privately funded Olympic committee that he founded, about $1 million -- plus $2 million more in donated good and services.

Why is so much money being spent? Since Salt Lake City, the officials in cities vying for the Games have little or no interaction with the IOC members who will decide the competition. That, says Livingstone, results in "ridiculously inefficient marketing" such as the "NYC2012" signs on 13,000 taxis, 4,000 subway cars, and 7,000 buses. "The irony," says Livingstone, "is that it's costing more than when [cities] had to bribe everybody."

But while free Super Bowl tickets and scholarships for the kids are no longer under the welcome mat, unless you've got allergies, Paris is spring is nothing to sneeze at. And what about the prospect of going to Moscow and coaxing a forced smile out of President Vladimir Putin? Priceless.

With Laura Cohn in London and Rachel Tiplady in Paris

Scotti is a senior editor for BusinessWeek in New York and offers his views in A Not-So-Neutral Corner, only for BusinessWeek Online