The Journey to Hosting the Olympics

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

As the 2014 Winter Olympics begins to wind down, you may wonder how the Olympic host city was chosen. The process began all the way back in 2005, when potential host cities were asked to submit their applications to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). After an extensive two-year process, it all came down to a voting method that produced a surprising upset.

Before reaching the voting stage, applicant and candidate cities must be chosen. In order to be considered as a potential host for the Olympic games, a city must make a bid to be approved by their National Olympic Committees (NOCs), which have the right to choose among several cities in their respective countries. A total of seven cities, endorsed by their NOCs, submitted applications to host the 2014 Winter Olympics. An IOC Working Group reviewed each city’s proposal in order to help the Executive Board members select the cities which became Candidate Cities. On June 22, 2006, the IOC Executive Board accepted three cities to continue on to the second phase of the process. The Candidate Cities were: Sochi (Russian Federation), Sazburg (Austria), and PyeongChang (Republic of Korea). The Candidate Cities had until January 10, 2007 to submit their Candidature File to the IOC. This file was analyzed by the IOC Evaluation Commission, and then was followed up by visits to the three Candidate Cities.

The culmination of the bidding process was the meeting of the 119th IOC Session in Guatemala on July 4, 2007. Prior to voting, each Candidate City had 45 minutes to present their final pitch (which normally includes a combination of speeches, videos, and celebrity endorsements). This is followed by a 15 minute question session. Finally, it is time to vote!

The IOC uses a type of runoff voting known as an exhaustive ballot. Under the exhaustive ballot voting system, each voter casts a single vote for his or her favorite Candidate City. However, if no Candidate City is supported by an overall majority of the voters, the city with the fewest votes is eliminated and another round of voting occurs. This process is repeated for as many rounds as necessary until one Candidate City has a majority.

The voting procedure used to determine the Olympic host city puts a bit of a spin on the classic exhaustive ballot system. The IOC has 105 voting members, but anyone who hails from a potential host country is prohibited from voting in the first round. The votes of members not taking part in a round of voting or who abstain, as well as invalid electronic voting entries, are not taken into account in the calculation of the required majority. If, after the first round of voting, no city obtains the absolute majority of the votes cast, the city with the fewest votes leaves the competition. The name of this city is made public immediately, and the process proceeds with another round of voting. All members from the eliminated city’s country are allowed to vote in all future rounds. This process continues until one city gains the absolute majority of the votes cast, or, if only two cities remain in contention, the one that obtains the greatest number of votes is elected.

This voting format can and has led to surprises, and the voting for the 2014 Winter Olympics host city was no exception. Going into the vote, many believed that PyeongChang’s bid was the favorite of the IOC. In fact, after the first round of voting, PyeongChang was in the lead in terms of votes.


Number of Round 1 Votes









Since no city had an absolute majority of the votes, Salzburg, with the fewest number of votes, was eliminated and another round of voting commenced. In the second round, all IOC members from Austria were allowed to participate.


Number of Round 2 Votes








At this point, Sochi received the majority of the votes, thus winning the bid to host the 2014 Winter Olympics. As can be seen from this example, the exhaustive ballot voting system can produce surprising results. Even though PyeongChang was favored to win prior to voting and was also in the lead after the first round of voting, Sochi won the election! The reason for this surprising upset is due to the multiple rounds of voting.  After their top choice was eliminated in the first round, many of the Salzburg supporters decided to back Sochi. Finally, after a long two-year process, on July 4, 2007, Sochi, Russia was declared the official host city by the IOC President at the Announcement Ceremony, following which the Host City Contract was signed.

Congratulations to all the 2014 Winter Olympians!



2014 Host City Election at

Times Article: How Is the Olympic Host City Chosen?



About Stephanie Blanda

Stephanie is a math Ph.D. student, with a minor in Computational Science, at Penn State University. She obtained a B.S. from Lebanon Valley College, where she double majored in Mathematics and Computer Science. Currently, Stephanie is studying the interface of two viscous fluids under a shear flow, specifically with applications to wind generated ocean waves.
This entry was posted in Math, Math in Pop Culture, Mathematics in Society, News, Voting Theory. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

HTML tags are not allowed.