Column: IOC must consider serious reforms to save Olympics
And the winner is ... Paris!
Oh, and also ... Los Angeles!
The International Olympic Committee, no stranger to embarrassing predicaments, has devised an unprecedented strategy to avoid - or, at least, put off - the indignity of having an empty queue of cities willing to fork over billions of dollars for the right to host 2 1-2 weeks of badminton, taekwondo and a bunch of other sports no one would pay attention to otherwise.
You see, Paris and Los Angeles are the only ones left standing for the 2024 Summer Olympics, which will be awarded in a few months, and the IOC is keenly aware there's not exactly a long list - zero, to be exact - showing serious interest in pursuing the games that come four years after that.
Therefore, in a move that has been obvious for months and moved closer to reality Friday during a meeting in South Korea, the IOC set the table for the selection of both Paris and Los Angeles as Olympic hosts. The main stumbling block - and it's a big one - will be figuring out which city is awarded the 2024 games and which one has to wait an extra four years.
The guess here: Paris gets 2024, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of its last Olympics, while Los Angeles reluctantly agrees to sit on the sidelines until 2028, probably after very ugly fight and only after the IOC agrees to fork over some financial incentives from its overflowing petty cash box.
''We have two excellent candidates there from two major Olympic countries,'' said IOC president Thomas Bach, presenting his own version of alternative facts. ''This is a position you like to be in.''
No, it's not.
Sure, the IOC is likely to get a two-for-one deal on its multibillion-dollar boondoggle, but the political situation is dicey in both France and the United States, and who knows if either city can truly fulfill its commitments for an Olympics more than a decade away.
More important, the IOC bigwigs better start focusing on ways to make this out-of-control spectacle more palatable to those who've seen the financial devastation wreaked on host countries such as Greece and Brazil.
So far, the much-ballyhooed ''Olympic Agenda 2020'' pushed through a few years ago by Bach, supposedly as a way to rein in costs, has largely been a bust.
The next Summer Games in Tokyo are shaping up to be the biggest ever, complete with elaborate, unnecessary venues (despite some efforts at cutting back) and even more sports (baseball and softball are returning, while karate, surfing and skateboarding will make their debuts).
The situation with the Winter Games is even more troubling, after only two bids for 2022 - both from authoritarian regimes - resulted in Beijing getting another Olympics just 14 years after hosing the summer version. That's not surprising, given the enormous costs (who has snow and the money to build a bobsled track?) for an event that has little appeal in wide swaths of the world.
The 2024 Olympics were supposed to be the first real test of Bach's reforms, and things got off to a promising start when Boston, Budapest, Hamburg, Paris and Rome entered the fray.
The optimism didn't last.
Boston nixed its campaign before it really got started and was hastily replaced by Los Angeles. Hamburg, Rome and Budapest also threw in the towel, leaving the smallest group of candidate cities since Seoul and Nagoya were the only bidders for the 1988 Summer Games.
The IOC must figure out a way to get potential host cities back to the table, and that's going to require drastic changes.
Here are a few ideas to get the conversation started:
CUT, CUT, CUT
The Olympic program must be reduced. Significantly reduced. There is certainly no need for modern pentathlon, but that's an easy one. The potential chopping block should also include sports with little universal appeal, such as water polo (the men's gold medal has never been won by a non-European nation) and table tennis (China has won all but four of 32 gold medals since it was added to the program in 1988). Ditto for those that require enormous venue costs (track cycling, rowing, whitewater canoeing) and those that don't send their best athletes (tell us again why baseball should be in the Olympics without major leaguers).
SPREAD THINGS AROUND
During a 2015 visit to Australia, Bach ruled out the idea of three cities - Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane - co-hosting the games. That's incredibly shortsighted. The Olympics become much more feasible if the IOC was willing to spread things around to several major cities, much like soccer's World Cup. While that would certainly change the Olympic experience for those on the ground, it wouldn't look any different on television, which is how most of the world views the games anyway.
The IOC should consider a permanent group of host cities that already have most venues in place to host the Olympics. Among those that could be part of the rotation: Seoul, Sydney, Beijing, London and Los Angeles. All are previous hosts that still have most of the necessary facilities, especially if a few sports are cut. Athens, as the ancestral home of the Olympics, could also join the mix - and maybe get some use out of dozens of venues that were left to rot after it hosted the financially crippling 2004 Games.
No matter what, the IOC needs to get down to some serious reforms after it doles out the next two Summer Games to Paris and Los Angeles.
The future of the Olympics is at stake.
Paul Newberry is a sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .