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What is the Process for Determining the Location of the Olympic Games?

By Jan Maxwell
Updated May 23, 2024
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The selection of a city to host each Olympic Games is made by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). A host city typically is selected seven years before those particular games are scheduled to be held. This time buffer is intended to provide ample time for the chosen city to plan and prepare for the Olympics, which can be a daunting task given their enormity. The process for determining the location of the Olympic Games consists of two main phases, which involve cities applying for consideration and a smaller number of cities being selected as finalists, after which the winning city is chosen.

Phase 1: Applicant Cities

There are more than 200 National Olympic Committees (NOCs) representing countries, commonwealths, geographical areas, protectorates and territories. If a city wants to host the Olympics, a formal proposal must be made through its respective NOC. After the proposal has been received by the IOC, the city is placed on a list with other applicant cities.

Each applicant city receives a questionnaire from the IOC. The city's officials must respond in writing to a variety of topics, such as their motivation for hosting the Olympics and what venues they intend to use or build for each event. Each city also must list the kinds of accommodations that will be available and what types of transportation will be provided for athletes and spectators.

Applications are reviewed by IOC members and other experts to determine each city’s potential to host the Olympics. After reading all of the questionnaires, the IOC selects a group of cities — usually about four or five — that will continue on in the process. These cities are known as candidate cities.

Phase 2: Candidate Cities

Officials from each of the candidate cities has to respond to a new questionnaire about their plans to host the Olympics. The new questionnaire is more than 250 pages long and covers such topics as media operations, marketing and the structure and workings of the athlete’s Olympic Village, which is where competitors stay during the Olympic Games. After all of the completed questionnaires have been received, an evaluation commission within the IOC reviews the detailed documents and visits each potential host city for several days.

The Selection

In the final part of the second phase, the IOC's evaluation commission prepares a report listing its recommendations. The report is made public one month before the final selection of a host city for the Olympics is made. A meeting of the IOC general assembly members is then held — in a place not on the list of candidate cities — to make the final selection.

Each active member of the IOC gets one vote to choose the location of the Olympic Games. Members who reside in a country that has a city on the final list cannot participate in the voting process as long as that city is in contention.

A first round of secret votes is taken. If no city wins a majority of votes, the city that received the fewest votes is removed from the list of candidates, and the members vote again. The results of each vote are made public as soon as the votes are counted. Voting continues in this manner until a selection is made and announced.

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Discussion Comments
By Ana1234 — On Jan 04, 2014

@pastanaga - Frankly, it's well known that the Olympics hardly ever make money. Countries are generally considered to be lucky if they manage to break even.

And what's worse is that often afterwards the stadiums are left to rot because there is no other use for them. Which is particularly aggravating because they were often built on land that was forcibly taken from whoever was there before the country decided they needed to impress everyone.

There are a lot of good things about the Olympics, but the execution of the games often leaves a great deal to be desired and I'd certainly never want them to be hosted in my city.

By pastanaga — On Jan 04, 2014

@KoiwiGal - Well, it must bring in a lot of money for the host city. I mean there would be thousands of people flooding in to watch the athletes and their city would be filmed and shown across the world as well. If it's a city that isn't particularly well known overseas that could lead to further revenue down the line as people become more familiar with it and are more likely to want to visit.

And it gives them a chance to build a lot of new facilities. If it is one particular city that would be hosting, they would appreciate that because otherwise the taxes of the country could be used elsewhere.

Plus, the international community really does care about prestige. The Olympics give you a chance to showcase the best things about your country. You might not get the best Olympics results, but it doesn't matter if you put on an amazing show.

By KoiwiGal — On Jan 03, 2014

Honestly, I've never been able to understand why cities want to host the Olympic Games or the Winter Olympics. The host city always comes under so much criticism and they often seem to finish their work only just on time. And the whole place basically has to shut down for weeks to accommodate the athletes and spectators.

I mean, I can understand with a country like China who might feel like they have something to prove to the world. But I don't see why the majority of cities would want that kind of hassle.

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