By Karolos Grohmann
SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - From a cheaper bidding process to hosting Games in more than one city, the International Olympic Committee opened the floor to suggestions on Wednesday as it looks to keep the world's biggest multi-sports event popular and profitable in the years ahead.
The IOC reaps massive profits from the Games but the organization is alarmed at dwindling numbers of candidates for host cities, rising costs and social opposition to the Olympics.
The Sochi Games, which open on Friday, are the most expensive Olympics ever with a price tag of more than $50 billion but questions are being asked if the huge investment is worth it.
Ratings agency Moody's said in a report on Wednesday that the Sochi Games were unlikely to provide much of a boost to the Russian economy.
President Vladimir Putin has staked his personal and political prestige on hosting a successful Games and turning the Black Sea resort into a more attractive tourism destination.
Several cities have already pulled out of the race to host the 2022 Winter Games amid concerns about rising costs, while protests in Brazil ahead of this year's World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympics have further highlighted the problems associated with hosting mega sports events.
Starting with the Olympic bidding process itself, IOC members said revisions were needed.
"We believe we should do more to support better bid cities in their engagement," IOC Vice President John Coates said at the start of the organization's session in Sochi.
"Are we not asking too much too soon (from bid cities)? Should the bidding procedure be more an invitation of potential bidders rather than a tender for a franchise? The cost of the bids concerns us all."
The discussions are part of the IOC's Olympic Agenda 2020, launched by President Thomas Bach after his election in September, to revamp the Games.
Members also discussed the feasibility of staging Games in two cities, or even more than one country, and the possibility of subsidizing bids that can cost close to $100 million.
Most, however, believed that staging a Games in two different cities would affect the "uniqueness" of the event and have an impact on the overall atmosphere.
Many spoke in favor of reinstating city visits for IOC members, which were banned following the Salt Lake City bribery scandal where members received gifts in return for votes in favor of the American city to host the 2002 Olympics.
Israeli IOC member Alex Gilady said members "could not look themselves in the mirror" voting for a city they did not visit.
Currently, only an appointed evaluation commission is allowed to visit candidate cities on behalf of the IOC.
Discussions also touched on how to ensure candidate cities did not carry hidden risks.
Sochi, which did not have any of the venues ready when it bid for this year's Games, has been under almost constant criticism since being awarded the Olympics in 2007 over costs, allegations of corruption, and its proximity to the volatile North Caucasus region.
Russia has also faced criticism over its human rights record and a recent anti-gay propaganda law which opponents say curtails the rights of homosexuals in the country.
Several world leaders have decided not to travel to the Black Sea resort, prompting IOC President Bach to say on Tuesday the Sochi Games were a purely sporting event which should not be used by uninvited guests to score political points.
French President Francois Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron and German President Joachim Gauck, among others, announced they would not attend the February 7-23 Games without providing a reason.
The United States, which is sending lower-ranking officials than in recent Olympics, has in its delegation to Sochi three openly gay members including former tennis champion Billie Jean King.
The IOC will also discuss raising the number of sports in the Games and whether changes should be made to a seven-year waiting period for their introduction.
Decisions will be taken at an extraordinary session in December.
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann)