Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti

The International Olympic Committee announced on Monday, July 31, 2017, that Los Angeles, California will be the host to the 2028 Summer Olympics. They are also the second city to be awarded the Olympics three times. London, which last hosted in 2012, also held the Olympics in 1908 and 1948. When Paris is given the official nod for 2020, the City of Lights will be the third city with the right to host three Olympiads.

The announcement on Monday was no surprise as the IOC has been quite public about its attempt to get Paris and LA to agree to hosting either 2024 and 2028. This allows the IOC to skip a (potentially painful) selection cycle that would have started in 2021. This deal buys the IOC time to persuade candidate cities in the future that the Olympics doesn’t have to be such a tremendous burden on the host nation.

What’s interesting about Los Angeles is that in all three cases – 1932, 1984, 2028 – they won the bid without competition.

Paris insisted on 2024, and explained that the land reserved for the new Olympic Village would not be available if they had to wait for 2028. LA would have 2028 if they wanted it. The IOC sweetened the pot financially, and LA willingly sunk their hands in it.

In 1978, two years removed from the financial debacle that was the Montreal Olympics, and only six years after the terror of the Munich Olympics, only two cities were in the hunt for 1984 – LA and Tehran. Tehran was likely feeling the rumbles of the Iranian Revolution, which exploded a year later, so pulled out of its bid, leaving Los Angeles as the only choice.

 

Iranian Revolution
The Iranian Revolution

 

In 1932, it is said, that newly appointed IOC member representing the United States, William May Garland, attended the IOC’s twenty first session in Rome in 1923, and swept the committee off its feet. Garland was a wealthy Californian real estate magnate who saw the Olympics in Los Angeles as drama worthy of Hollywood. According to the book The Games: A Global History of the Olympics, by David Goldblatt, Garland “pitched” the Olympics like a movie script. Goldberg cites the Official Report to the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics as the kind of rhetoric that Garland may have used:

An excited whisper runs like a flash across the stadium.

And then hush.

A voice that fills every corner of the vast bowl breaks forth from the huge electoral announcer.

‘Ladies and Gentlemen, the Vice-President of the United States is arriving to officially open the Games.’

The Vic-President arrives at his box and for the first time is clearly identified to the audience. He waves his hand to acknowledge a renewed outburst of cheers.

His gesture brings a hush to the babble of noises.

The time-table on the daily programme is hastily consulted. What comes next?

Garland sat at the intersection of realtors, oil companies and movie magnates, who, as Goldblatt writes, “in the early twentieth century, as the region’s great historian, Carey McWilliams, put it, ‘began to organize Southern California as one of the greatest promotions the world has ever known’, selling the California good life, the new Mediterranean, paradise on the Pacific. In his letters and interviews with the press, Garland often referred to the athletes as actors and the Olympics as a celebration or a show, the sport itself seemingly ancillary.”

Apparently Garland’s vision was so compelling that, according to the book, The Olympics – A History of the Modern Games, by Allen Guttman, “the members accepted the bid by acclamation.”

william may garland
William May Garland
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Garcetti Bach Hidalgo
Eric Garcetti, IOC President Thomas Bach, and Anne Hidalgo

Most Olympians who do not win a gold medal are happy to receive a silver or bronze medal. But in the dramatic selection process, in which IOC members choose an Olympic host city through a series of votes that thousands of people in candidate cities watch with hands clasped in prayer, there has been no silver medal.

Years of planning and millions of dollars spent in putting together a powerful bid can go to waste as a city’s mayor watches powerlessly in a winner-take-all vote by the IOC.

But this year, the mayors of the two top bids for the 2024 Summer Olympics, Anne Hidalgo of Paris and Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, have an opportunity to do something that no other mayor has had: to choose when their city holds an Olympic Games. The choices, albeit, are not that broad – the IOC voted on July 11, 2017 to accept the bids of both Paris and LA for 2024 and 2028.

The bids of both cities were too strong to drop either of them. And the fear of having fewer cities bidding down the road was too great, as cities like Hamburg, Rome and Budapest pulled themselves out of the campaign to host in 2024. They withdrew primarily due to growing local unpopularity of hosting expensive big-tent events. For those reasons, the IOC decided – yes, we have two gold medal winners.

According to this BBC article, “The IOC wants….the cities to reach an agreement on who hosts in 2028 by then.” And if the two cities don’t agree to who hosts in 2028, then the IOC reverts back to the original plan of voting death-match at the 131st IOC session on September 13 in Lima, Peru.

Most pundits are saying that a likely scenario is Paris going first. Both cities have many of the major venues and much of the critical infrastructure in place, unlike Rio and Sochi in recent years. But Paris does not yet have an Olympic Village, and keeping the property available for the building of the Village for a period beyond 2024 would be difficult, Paris organizers say.

According to this ESPN article, the mayors Hidalgo and Garcetti understand that this is a historic moment, when the mayors have the decision in their hands, and that they are willing to work together to make it work.

The IOC is lucky in the sense that it wound up with two 2024 bid committees capable of cooperating and a pair of mayors who have an established relationship. What if the only cities left standing had come from countries with hostile relations or diametrically opposed forms of government? How likely is a repeat of this juxtaposition of two urban areas capable of handling and absorbing the unwieldy event and possibly — an important qualifier — emerging without serious post-Games issues?

 

Mayor Mike Bloomberg talking about NYC2012
Mayor Michael Bloomberg pitching NYC2012.

 

It was November, 2011, only a few months after the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, and Michael Bloomberg was elected the new mayor of this broken metropolis, the wounds of 9-11 were still exposed and bleeding.

And yet, with Bloomberg’s appointment of Daniel L. Doctoroff as Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and Rebuilding, the mayor triggered the start of a massive and well organized urban renewal development process that leveraged the Olympic Candidate bidding process to transform the city.

When he was an investment banker on Wall Street, Doctoroff was astonished to see the World Cup hosted in the United States at Giants Stadium in 1994, and how well received it was. He saw how one of the biggest events in the world was so welcome in New York City, one of the most diverse cities in the world. Since that time, Doctoroff had been on a mission to bring the Summer Olympic Games to New York City, and finally got the podium and the means to do so in the Bloomberg administration.

According to the report by Mitchell L. Moss Director of the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management, Doctoroff’s strategy was to bring together all of the independent development ideas and plans for various parts of New York City and see whether they could all be put to use in the service of an Olympics. In Moss’ fascinating report, “How New York City Won The Olympics” (yes, I stole his title), all of these independent development projects were meandering along until Doctoroff argued for simultaneous fulfilment of these projects using the idea of an Olympic Games in New York City as a driving vision.

The NYC2012 team built upon previous studies by municipal agencies and civic groups. What was perhaps unprecedented, was the effort to aggregate all these areas in an overall development plan. The Olympic presentation offered a broad five-borough agenda for future development that gave priority to these neglected areas for comprehensive City action. No comparable city-wide plan for short-term action, involving a broad range of targeted areas in all five boroughs, had ever been presented or carried out in the modern history of New York City.

2012 candidate city logos

Doctoroff was also able to use the Olympic Games candidate city bid process as a way to drive a planning cadence and a sense of urgency.

The Bloomberg Administration now sought to use the pressure of the fixed, Olympic bid timetable to push forward the legal and technical review and approval of these projects on an accelerated schedule so that by the time of the IOC decision in mid-2005, they would be positioned to go forward regardless of whether New York City’s bid was successful.

As you are aware, the 2012 Olympics went to London, and NYC finished fourth behind Paris and Madrid. Perhaps New York City was never really in the running. The official reasons were that the Winter Olympics would be in Vancouver in 2010, so they couldn’t have two Olympics in a row in North America – a fairly weak reason considering that from 2018 to 2022 three straight Olympics will be held in Asia. Perhaps the US invasion of Iraq, and the memories of 9-11 left a tiny tingling fear in the amygdala of the IOC members.

Regardless of the bid vote, the Bloomberg administration was committed, in the aftermath of 9-11, to revitalize New York City across all five boroughs in a way unprecedented since the Robert Moses years. And as you can read in Part 4, many of the development plans designed for the NYC2012 Candidate bid were pushed forward.

Economist Andrew Zimbalist has written a fascinating book on the economics of Big Tent sporting events like the Olympics called Circus Maximus – The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup. He writes eloquently about how often the economic impact on host cities is negative. But Zimbalist cites the 1992 Barcelona Olympics as the poster child for how to do it right. And as you can see in his advice, New York City followed the Barcelona template:

In 1983, city planners put out a preliminary report on the feasibility of hosting the Olympics and concluded that the refurbishment of the 1936 stadium in Montjuic (which became the Olympic Stadium) and the construction of the Sports Palace and Swimming facility would be undertaken whether or not the city was selected to host the games. Of the thirty-seven sports facilities ultimately used during the 1992 Olympics, twenty-seven were already built and another five were under construction at the time Spain was selected to host the games in 1986. Thus a central feature of the Barcelona experience is that the plan preceded the games, and hence the games were put at the service of the preexisting plan, rather than the typical pattern of the city development plan being put at the service of the games.

 

Hudson Yards circa 2004
Hudson Yards circa 2004

In late 2004, New York City wasn’t seen as having much of a chance to win the right to host the 2012 Summer Olympics, at least by bookmakers in London. According to a November 16, 2004 Newsday article, Paris was viewed as 1-2 favorites – in other words, for every $2 you put down on Paris, you’d win $1 assuming Paris won. London and Madrid were seen as good chances as well, at 3-1 and 4-1 respectively. New York City was considered unlikely at 14-1, although Moscow seemed out of the running with 33-1 odds. Europe appeared to have a lock on the 2012 Games.

New York City had advantages: a modern metropolis with world-class facilities in a compact area, a diverse and energetic populace, financial feasibility, as well as a powerful PR man in Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The organizers of the Paris Olympic bid were dismissive of the bid coming out of the US. After all, Paris is not only the birthplace of the modern Olympics, it had hosted the Olympics three times, and had more recently built up credibility over two previous bids. New York City, on the other hand, was the biggest city in the increasingly unpopular United States and President George Bush, who led the surprising charge into Iraq. With America fighting such an unpopular war, what is to stop terrorists from targeting New York City again during the Olympic Games?

As Jean-Paul Huchon, the vice president of the Paris Olympic bidding committee put it, “The position of the French government on the international scene, especially after the re-election of George Bush, is going to allow us to have more unity around the French candidacy,” he said in a November 18, 2004 International Herald Tribune article. “This is indisputable. If these are supposed to be the Games of brotherhood and solidarity, this would be more easily achieved in Paris.”

Perhaps that issue weighed heavily in the minds of the International Olympic Committee. Perhaps not. It’s possible that the bigger advantage that Paris had over NYC was that Paris had The Stade de France – a newly built stadium that seated over 81,000 in the center of Paris. At the last stage in the bidding process in February, 2004, New York City still did not have a definitive plan for a stadium.

Proposed West Side Stadium for the New York Jets
Proposed West Side Stadium for the New York Jets

This was New York’s 20th century West Side Story.

And strangely enough, it involved The Jets.

In the 26-acre area squared in by 30th and 42nd streets, and Tenth Avenue and the Hudson River, is the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) train terminal where trains departing Penn Station a few blocks away rest. It has been an open air eyesore in a poorly developed part of Manhattan, that had been a target for development and reinvigoration by city planners for decades. The fact that there was no subway service to that area, among other reasons, made it a challenging decision to give he go ahead to further develop this massive plot.

But when the Daniel L. Doctoroff, the deputy mayor, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg teamed up for a vision of an Olympics across all five boroughs of New York City, its center in Manhattan, momentum began to build for the establishment of an Olympic Stadium in area called the West Side, but they began to call the Hudson Yards. The American football team – the New York Jets – were bought by Woody Johnson four years previously. His Jets were sharing a stadium with the New York Giants in New Jersey, and so Johnson wanted to have a stadium exclusively for his team. Thus was hatched a plan for The New York Jets to spend $800 million for a stadium on the West Side, with the city and state governments providing another $600 million to fund the construction of the platform that would cover the trains and tracks of the terminal.

The vision included the stadium’s linkage to the aging Jacob Javits convention center, which was the city’s premier convention center, but tiny compared to the centers in other major cities. The new stadium would include a roof that would open up a massive amount of space for conventions, and thus potentially attract significant business and visitors to the Big Apple.

And yet, this was not a vision universally approved. For one, James Dolan, the owner of Cablevision and Madison Square Garden, objected to a rival sports complex opening literally blocks away from his own. Dolan not only aired critical ads against the proposed stadium, he eventually fought back by offering the Metropolitan Transit Authority a bid to compete with the new York Jets’ bid.

Additionally, voices were vociferously raised against the stadium by people living in the surrounding neighborhoods, as well as the nearby theater district, who saw the increased construction and traffic as a problem worth protesting.

west side stadium

So even before the IOC voted on which city to select for 2012, a New York State board called the Public Authorities Control Board (PACB), put a dagger in the heart of the New York City bid. The PACB represents the New York State governor and the leaders of the State Senate and Assembly, and they voted to not approve the plans for the stadium and the convention center extension, perhaps reluctant to use significant state funds for a massive city project.

In the end, the London bookies were right – the winning money was indeed on London. The Jets would remain in New Jersey. And New Yorkers would get on with their lives. Fuhgetaboutit.

 

Christo and Jean Claude The Gates._Plaza Hoteljpg
The Gates by Christo and Jean Claude, in front of thePlaza Hotel

It was February, 2005. The International Olympic Committee’s evaluation commission was in New York City, checked in at the prestigious Plaza Hotel, overlooking a picturesque Central Park draped in snow. The once-in-a-lifetime Christo and Jean-Claude exhibition known simply as The Gates – massive saffron-colored banners dotting the walkways of the park.

To this IOC commission, the one that would decide whether New York City, Paris, London, Madrid or Moscow would win the right to host the 2012 Olympics, the messaging was consistent. There’s no place like New York City. And there’s no better place to host the Summer Olympics than the Big Apple.

New_York_City_2012_Olympic_bid_logo.svg

Picture this, they likely said to the commission members:

  • See the iconic Batman symbol of Gotham City, see the Olympic Rings shining in the New York night.
  • Imagine athletes of the world floating down the Hudson River in an armada, their procession leading them to the Olympic Stadium on the newly revitalized West Side.
  • Know that the world’s best athletes would compete in iconic, world-renown venues: basketball at Madison Square Garden, baseball at Yankees Stadium, tennis at Arthur Ashe Stadium (where the US Open is held), soccer at Giants Stadium, the triathlon in Central Park!
  • How about a closing ceremonies that includes a massive ticker tape parade down Broadway and the Canyon of Heroes.

And don’t forget that New York City is a microcosm of the world. The Statue of Liberty has welcomed the world for over a century. As the NYC2012 slogans stated, “Every Country Gets Home Field Advantage” and “Every Flag Will Wave”.

At this time, I had just moved from Bangkok, Thailand to Tokyo, Japan. My mind was filled with the tsunami that had just hit Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia, and my relocation to Japan. I had no idea what was going on in my hometown of New York City. But if I had been aware, I’m sure I would have been on the bandwagon.

I could see that vision. I can still see that vision. It is worthy of New York City.

 

President Thomas Bach
IOC President Thomas Bach
In July, 2015, there were only two cities vying for the 2022 Winter Games: Almaty, Kazakhstan and Beijing, China. Just 10 months before, Oslo, Norway, the host of the 1952 Winter Olympics, pulled out of the running. Sochi a year before famously cost $50 billion, and the Norwegian government was expecting the cost for their city to be billions more than they had an appetite for.

That left Almaty, a city generally unknown, and Beijing, a well-known city that gets very little snow.

With the ugly photos coming out of Rio de Janeiro of the crumbling Olympic infrastructure after only some 7 months, more and more city denizens and governments are convinced they don’t want an Olympics in their metropolis. In fact, Budapest, Hungary, which submitted a strong bid for the 2024 Summer Games, withdrew its bid a week ago on March 1.

So like the 2022 bid, now there are only two for the 2024 Games.

This must be causing considerable heartburn for leaders of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The bidding process has resulted not in a celebration of city pride with the hopes of bringing the biggest sports tent their way, but in opportunities for large numbers of people to publicly and loudly proclaim their disenchantment, if not diffidence with having the Olympics in their back yard.

Rio Swimming Venue Before and After
Rio Swimming Venue Before and After
Fortunately, the 2024 has two solid prospects: Los Angeles and Paris. As Tim Crow writes in this great article, “And Then There Were Two“,

LA is the most compelling, with its vision of Californian sunshine, West Coast tech innovation and Hollywood storytelling power combining to ‘regenerate the Games’ and ‘refresh the Olympic brand around the world’.

Paris is more traditional, a classic piece of Olympic realpolitik, invoking de Coubertin in a ‘new vision of Olympism in action’ in the grand old city, linked to those time-honoured Olympic bid promises of urban regeneration and increased national sports participation.

So, as Crow extrapolates, if the president of the IOC wants to avoid further embarrassment of the citizens of the Great Cities open scorn, at least for a while, he may encourage his fellow leaders to decide the next two Olympic hosts when the IOC meet in Lima, Peru in September, 2017. As has been gossiped about for the past several months, Crow believes the IOC will select either Paris or LA for 2024, and the other one for 2028. By so doing, that would guarantee great Summer Olympic hosts throughout the 2020s, as well as avoid unwanted anti-Olympic discussion that would most certainly lead up to the 2028 process, that is currently scheduled for 2021.

Crow also speculates that the IOC may award the 2024 Summer Games to Paris, and the 2028 Summer Games to Los Angeles. Here are the three reasons why:

  • One, because an LA 2028 Games will give President Bach the ideal timing to play the American market for the IOC’s next US broadcast deal beyond NBC’s current contract.
  • Two, because it will also give Bach significant leverage in his attempts to persuade his six US-based TOP sponsors to extend their current deals, all of which end into 2020, for eight years.
  • But most of all, because it will buy Bach and the IOC both time and two key partners in its battle to find a new relevance and credibility for a new era and a new generation.

That last one is the tricky one. Can the Olympics be saved for the next generation?

donald-trump-carrying-athens-torch-in-ny
Trump carries the torch in New York prior to the 2004 Olympics in Athens Bryan Bedder/Getty

Donald Trump will be the president of the United States from the beginning of 2017. The impact of this surprising and historic election will be particularly clear and significant regarding the role of government, US tax policies and decisions by the Supreme Court. Way down on the list is Trump’s impact on sport.

But this is a sports blog, so here we go.

One of the leading candidates for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games is Los Angeles. The support of US presidents has always been important to the selection committee. But rarely has the character of the president been an issue. The International Olympic Committee (IOC), the body that governs the Olympic Games and is the decision maker for which cities host the Games, is built on the values of diversity and inclusiveness. What president-elect Trump has said during the campaign could come back to haunt the US bid.

IOC president, Thomas Bach, said the following in this BBC article:

“An America that turns inward, like any country that turns inward, isn’t good for world peace, isn’t good for progress, isn’t good for all of us.” Bach also spoke in the summer about a “world of selfishness where certain people claim to be superior to others”. That was seen as a clear reference to Trump’s proposed plans that include potential restrictions on Muslim immigration and the deportation of millions of illegal immigrants.

The mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, who is a Democrat and supporter of Hillary Clinton, Trump’s rival for the presidency, said in August in this Bloomberg article, “For some of the IOC members, they would say, ‘Wait a second, can we go to a country like that, where we’ve heard things that we take offense to?”’

But another IOC member and head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, Craig Reedie, put it this way. “It’s far too early to make any judgment. I would find it hard to believe everything said in a hotly contested election would come to pass. Let’s wait and see.”

There may be more practical issues the IOC may have to take into account, like who will pay for the significant security bill, according to the blog, Inside the Rings. “While Los Angeles doesn’t need the help of the White House to fund construction or other critical projects, the federal government still will need to spend as much as a $1 billion or more for security for the Games. Soon after Trump takes office in January, LA 2024 will need assurances from the new president that he is willing to make that commitment. Given the sharp political differences between Trump and the LA leadership, this is not a certainty.”

Is the American bid for 2024 in trouble? Will Paris or Budapest trump LA? Donald Trump gets inaugurated in January. The IOC votes on the selection of the 2024 Games in September. We shall see.