The 2022 Winter Olympics will be held in either Oslo, Norway, Beijing, China, or Almaty, Kazakhstan. Trimming the list of potential host cities to three finalists was easy enough for the IOC, because the other five all decided they don't want the Olympics. (And Oslo is expected to drop out within a couple of months.)

Things are bad, bad, bad for the IOC, which is only now realizing what once-eager bid cities figured out months and years ago—the Olympics, with ever-increasing costs and a trail of white elephants in their wake, are a bad return on an investment.

"That's the lesson from this campaign here — we lost good cities because of the bad perception of the IOC, the bad perception of how the concept could be done," IOC executive director Gilbert Felli said. "We have to learn our lesson. The one to be blamed is the IOC."

Voters in Munich, Krakow, and Davos/St. Moritz have rejected Olympic bids in referendums, while politicians in Stockholm refused to fund the games. Lviv, Ukraine, dropped out last week, given the mess that country is in. The Oslo bid will be decided this fall, when Norwegian politicians vote on funding it—though recent opinion polls show 36 percent of citizens are against it.

Below, our story from May on just how hard it is these days to convince a city to take the Olympics.