When the International Olympic Committee decides the site of the 2008 Summer Games on Friday, there will be much more at stake than the backdrop for an international sports tournament.
The city that wins will be guaranteed a boom in revenue — at least $1.2 billion from the sale of television rights and sponsorships alone, according to the IOC.
Plus, the chosen city will also benefit from the IOC's long-running sponsorship contracts with blue-chip companies like Coca-Cola, Kodak and McDonald's — deals that will guarantee around $300 million in revenue.
The decision also gives the chosen city a degree of global recognition, and may even represent a nod of acceptance from the rest of the world.
But even as tourists rush to their travel agents with their credit cards at the ready, few people understand how and why a certain city comes to be chosen.
It's a decision that involves dozens of members of an elite club, and considers everything from the candidate city's financial situation, to its traditions of "Olympism and Culture."
China's Singular Situation
The IOC says it evaluates 18 themes, which vary from the logistical, like transportation and security, to the subjective — plans for an Olympic village, for example.
Dan Doctoroff, the president of NYC2012, an organization working to bring the summer games to New York in 2012, says cities that have made it to the final vote typically have fulfilled the basic criteria to the satisfaction of the IOC.
They're largely eligible to host the Games, he says. It's a second dimension, whether or not they're right to host them, which makes them the choice of the IOC. And "there's no guidebook for that second dimension," he said.
"The IOC typically selects a city that it thinks will advance the various interests and ideals of the Olympic culture," he said. "It's the one opportunity the IOC has where the entire world watches and is present at the Games."
With Beijing considered the front-runner among candidates Toronto, Paris, Osaka in Japan and Istanbul, Turkey, one of those ideals likely to be in the spotlight is human rights. China has long been criticized for its practices, which were said to be one of the reasons it lost the 2000 Summer Games to Sydney.
Olympic sources say the IOC is attracted to the prospect of hosting the Games in China in 2008 because it would be the first such event in the world's most populous country, and such a move would appeal to Olympics' sponsors looking for new markets.
Outgoing IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch is also said to support Beijing, and even though he doesn't have a vote, his 21 years at the helm of the IOC is expected to translate into substantial influence.
On Tuesday, one of the leaders of the Sydney's 2000 bid accused the IOC of trying to "have a bit both ways."
"On the one hand … [the IOC] speaks on the floor of the United Nations, it wants to be a respected international body," Rod McGeogh told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio. "If you take that as the stand, then I just can't see how you can ignore the human rights issues in China and I can't see how the IOC could say, 'Well look, that's a domestic matter, it's of no concern to us.'"
Finishing First Counts for Something
Other cities derive confidence from other factors.
Bid officials from Toronto are quick to point out that the front-runner is seldom the winner — citing Athens' victory over Rome for the 2004 Summer Games and Turin, Italy's triumph over Sion, Switzerland, for the 2006 Winter Games.
"If you take a look at the history of voting in the IOC, five out of six of the front-runners going into the last stage of selection have not been the winner coming out," Toronto 2008 Olympic Bid Chief Operating Officer Bob Richardson told reporters on Monday.
Meanwhile, Beijing has constructed few of its proposed venues, while Paris, Osaka and Toronto say they already have many of the structures built.
Paris has plans to use its the 75,000-seat Stade de France, site of the championship game in the 1998 World Cup, for the Olympic Stadium.
Osaka Mayor Takafumi Isomura said, "The IOC has acknowledged the reality of Osaka's bid as opposed to plans expressed merely through computer graphics."
Outside of the running, Doctoroff was neutral and hopeful for every Olympic candidate: "They don't insist on every city being perfect," he said. "I think it's actually quite a rational, well thought-out process."
A Process of Elimination
The 122 members of the IOC are the only ones who can vote in Friday's selection.
Honorary members, honor members and suspended members do not have the right to vote. Members who are from the same country as a candidate city must refrain from taking part.
The members vote for one of the five candidate cities submitting a bid, and the first city to receive a simple majority wins.
If the majority is not won in the first round, the candidate city with the least votes is removed and the vote is taken again. It is rare for a city to win a majority in the first round of voting.