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MONACO – The IOC approved a new Olympic bidding process Monday to make the system less costly and more flexible to attract future candidates — including the option of holding events outside the host city or country.
The International Olympic Committee voted in favor of the revised bidding system at the start of a special two-day session to adopt President Thomas Bach's 40-point "Olympic Agenda 2020" reform package, which represents the biggest shake-up in the IOC in decades.
Proposals for a more flexible sports program and creation of an Olympic television channel were also up for vote.
The votes come at a time when many countries have been scared off by the costs of hosting the Olympics, including the reported $51 billion associated with the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. Several cities withdrew from the bidding for the 2022 Winter Olympics, leaving only Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan, in the running.
The system approved Monday will make the process more of an "invitation" and allow prospective candidates to discuss their plans in advance with the IOC to tailor games to their own needs — and keep them affordable.
To cut down on costs and avoid white elephants, cities will be urged to make maximum use of existing and temporary venues.
In the most radical change, cities will be allowed to hold events in both the Summer and Winter Games outside the host city or country, "notably for reasons of geography and sustainability." This opens the door to joint bids by cities, neighboring countries or regions.
Several members raised concerns about the idea during the debate, saying it went against the idea of compact games and would cause extra travel and costs for athletes.
"I am worried that the unique character of the games could be diminished by the recommendation to allow some events to be dispersed over several locations within the same country, or even in a neighboring country," Swiss member Denis Oswald said.
"The Olympic village won't look the same and for isolated athletes (the games) will resemble more a kind of world championship without living a true Olympic experience."
IOC vice president John Coates, who headed the working group on the bidding issue, said holding events outside the host country would only be considered in "exceptional circumstances." He said the idea would have to be raised in the early phase of bidding and would need approval from the IOC executive board.
"The compactness of the bid is always important," Coates said. "The cost and the time for athletes to get form the village to their venues is always going to be relevant, but the compactness of the games has to be weighed up with the cost benefit of being able to use existing venues rather than build new venues."
The measure passed unanimously in the end, with no members raising their hands to show their opposition.
The IOC was voting one by one on each recommendation. Eight IOC members were absent, leaving 96 members eligible to vote.
Bach invited feedback from across the OIympic world over the past year, laying the groundwork for what should be approval on all the proposals.
Bach has moved swiftly since his election in September 2013 to put his stamp on the presidency and rally support for the most sweeping change since the IOC enacted a series of reforms in 1999 after the Salt Lake City bid scandal.
Under one of the proposals, the IOC would abolish the cap of 28 sports for the Summer Games and move to an "events-based" system that would allow new events to come in — a process that could clear the way for baseball and softball to be added to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The reforms also include plans to launch a digital channel — possibly as early as next year — to promote Olympic sports between the games and engage with young viewers. The channel will feature material from the IOC's archives, as well as broadcasts of sports competitions of Olympic sports outside the games.
The IOC also will reword Principle 6 on non-discrimination to include sexual orientation — a move that followed the controversy over Russia's law against gay "propaganda" ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
The new clause says the Olympics should be free of discrimination "of any kind, such as race, color, sex, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status."
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