October 26, 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) For the first time in more than two decades, the world's national Olympic committees are holding their annual congress in the United States. In the nation's capital, no less.

The symbolism and timing of this week's gathering in Washington of sports leaders from more than 200 countries is highly significant for U.S. Olympic interests.

It's a sign of how the U.S. Olympic Committee is forging closer links with the rest of the world after years of isolation, and comes at a time when Los Angeles is bidding to host the 2024 Games.

''For us, this is part of not just a longer-term plan but a change in our orientation,'' U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun told The Associated Press. ''We want to be more active and engaged. Hosting this meeting is one of the things that you need to do.''

More than 1,000 delegates from 206 nations are expected to attend the general assembly of the Association of National Olympic Committees on Thursday and Friday.

IOC President Thomas Bach, dozens of IOC members and sports federation leaders, organizers of the next three Olympics and representatives from the five bid cities for the 2024 Games will also be on hand.

Many delegates started arriving Monday ahead of preliminary meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday.

While no earth-shaking decisions are expected, the meetings bring most of the world's key Olympic players together under one roof, offering a platform for bilateral talks and backstage lobbying and networking.

Bach is expected to meet with USOC officials about the development of the digital Olympic Channel, which may launch next year. The project - aimed at promoting the Olympics 24 hours a day, 365 days a year - will rely heavily on the backing and involvement of NBC and U.S. sponsors.

Overseeing the week's events will be ANOC's influential president, Kuwaiti Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, one of the top powerbrokers in the Olympic world. The sheikh is also a new executive committee member of FIFA, and has been at the center of the behind-the-scenes politicking involving the presidential race at the scandal-scarred soccer body.

Blackmun said he and USOC chairman Larry Probst met with Sheikh Ahmad in 2012 shortly after he took over ANOC, and got a clear message.

''From the very beginning he asked us to be more involved,'' Blackmun said. ''He made us feel that bids for U.S. hosted events would be welcome.''

The last time the ANOC assembly was held in the U.S. was in 1994 in Atlanta, two years before the 1996 Olympics. That's also the last time the Summer Games have been held in the U.S.

After New York and Chicago were rejected by the IOC for the 2012 and 2016 Games, respectively, the U.S. is back in the bid game with Los Angeles. The California metropolis was selected by the USOC after Boston's bid collapsed amid a lack of public and political support. Washington had also been a contender for the U.S. nomination.

Los Angeles, which hosted the games in 1932 and 1984, is up against four European cities: Paris; Rome; Hamburg, Germany; and Budapest, Hungary. The two-year campaign kicked off last month. The IOC will select the host city in 2017.

The ANOC meeting marks the first time the five bid cities will be in the same place at the same time. Each city is allowed six delegates. The Los Angeles team includes Mayor Eric Garcetti and bid leader Casey Wasserman.

The bids won't be making presentations or launching major promotional campaigns this week, but they will be able to meet with delegates and start spreading their message. Los Angeles is viewed as an early favorite, along with Paris.

One decision this week involves another California city: San Diego is expected to be announced as the host of ANOC's inaugural World Beach Games in 2017. The multi-sport event includes beach versions of soccer, volleyball and flag football.

Still unclear is which U.S. government representative will address the opening of the assembly on Thursday. Vice President Joe Biden is considered a possibility.

ANOC is also holding a gala awards ceremony at the DAR Constitution Hall on Thursday night to recognize top athletes from each continent.

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