Category Archives: los angeles olympic bid

Olympic Tomorrowland


Coming (not so) soon: The Los Angeles Olympics.

In 2028!

There could be a robot uprising against humans by then, according to flamboyant inventor Elon Musk. There could be people settling a colony on Mars. There could be genetic doping in elite sports, Six Million Dollar Man stuff. A book and movie predict curtains for the whole world in 2028.

The time gap is so disorienting—the first Games to be awarded to a host city more than seven years in advance—that the typically sluggish buildup in Olympic interest is even more conspicuous, with an occasional drift into fantasy.

The New York Times reacted to the news by having its Los Angeles-based reporters imagine new Olympic events tailored to La-La Land culture, and came up with “most rides on ‘It’s a Small World’ without a nervous breakdown,” “least original movie idea” and “fastest out of Dodger Stadium to beat the crowds (and traffic),” among other snarky proposals.

Me? I think of a more logical L.A. cliché which has been around since the first Games in that city in 1932: Let the auditions begin for another Hollywood cattle call.

Tarzan movies long ago fell out of favor, but a 2030s action-film star very well could emerge from among the ’28 Games’ competitors, discovered by the people in dark glasses and canvas chairs. With all those hunks on the Olympic playing fields, ready to make a muscle; all those female gymnasts flying around in leotards like Superwoman, someone is bound to catch the eye of movie talent scouts.

Such gold medal-to-silver screen possibilities certainly were a topic of discussion going into the most recent Los Angeles Olympics, in 1984, when American boxer Tyrell Biggs predicted he would win the super heavyweight gold medal (he did), “and they’ll cut to my commercial right after the National Anthem….that’s good American stuff.”

It had happened something like that in 1932 to one Clarence Linden Crabbe, whose gold medal in the 400-meter swimming freestyle served as a screen test, leading Crabbe to ditch his law studies, change his name to Buster and put on a loin cloth for the cameras.

Based on that formula, Biggs was asked in ’84 if he could swim. “I can dance,” he assured. And while he never starred in a musical, turning immediately to a 14-year professional boxing career that included three world-title bouts (all losses), Biggs did appear on the small screen in television’s American Gladiator series in the 1990s. And a documentary of his life reportedly is currently in production.

But, back to the future.

By 2028, might the choking traffic on L.A.’s infamous freeways consist entirely of driverless cars? How much sunnier might perpetually sunny Los Angeles be amid advancing climate change? What about the U.S. Geological Survey’s recent study that southern California already is overdue for a major earthquake? (During the ’84 Olympics, there was “earthquake repellent” aerosol spray on sale around L.A. It seemed to work.)

It isn’t clear just how much sweating of the details should be held in abeyance until, say, 2027. It has been duly reported that International Olympic Committee officials chose to nail down a 2028 site so far in advance out of concern that the pool of host cities continues to dry up. (L.A.’s bid technically was for 2024, against favored Paris, but the IOC reasoned that it had better lock up both candidates now, while they were willing.)

Polls repeatedly have indicated Angelenos’ substantial public support for staging the Games, although—in the grand Olympic tradition of NIMBY dissent—there also is a NOlympics group agitating to scuttle the 2028 plans. Given L.A.’s abundance of competition-ready facilities and college dorms available to house the world’s athletes, there is a Bloomberg News suggestion that the IOC should consider placing all future Summer Games in Los Angeles. Or that L.A. at least be incorporated forever in a rotation of three or four permanent Olympic sites.

Such a reasonable approach would be far more cost-effective and rational than the current system, which makes every subsequent Games organizing team a collection of Olympic rookies. But when a similar idea was floated more than 20 years ago for the Winter Olympics, then-IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch dismissed it out of hand, declaring that “the Games belong to the entire world”—and therefore should continue to foster the exorbitant cost, daunting organizational challenges and political trap doors of competitive bidding.

At this point, it’s sounds like we have a winner for that least original idea for a movie.


Los Angeles as the Olympic savior (again?)

(Newsday, March 1, 1979)

What if we updated that headline by 40 years? Will the 2024 Olympics Be the Last?

Los Angeles wound up staging the 1984 Summer Games because no other city wanted them. Now, a decision by the International Olympic Committee executive board, proposing that both the 2024 and 2028 Games be awarded simultaneously later this year, essentially has acknowledged that L.A. likely is the only possible host for ’28.

The IOC should have seen around this corner a long time ago, as Olympic candidates are increasingly shying away from the financial demands and public doubts of staging an elaborate 17-day festival that leaves behind far more debt and white elephants than global goodwill. Only L.A. and Paris remain in the exhaustive, expensive campaign for ’24 after Boston, Hamburg, Rome and Budapest withdrew prematurely, just as Oslo and Stockholm changed their minds about trying for the 2022 Winter Games.

So, rather than be stuck without a 2028 suitor, the IOC proclaimed both L.A. and Paris will get the next two Summer Games after Tokyo hosts in 2020. The loser in ’24—widely assumed to be Los Angeles, because Paris is “due” after losing bids in 1992, 2008 and 2012 and would be celebrating the centennial of its last Olympics in 1924—will be left with the ’28 consolation prize.

If, in fact, it can be considered a prize to operate an event that fills the IOC coffers while having to assume all cost overruns, as per IOC custom. To accept the 2028 Games, instead of the preferred 2024 event, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti suggested there should be a multi-million dollar IOC investment into his city’s youth sports programs. To which IOC president Thomas Bach haughtily replied, “You don’t need to reward somebody if you give them a present.”

Maybe that is what Los Angeles gets for having declared itself “an eternal Olympic city,” always ready with a solvent plan of existing venues and “unwavering public support.” But Bach has been around long enough—he was part of West Germany’s gold-medal Olympic fencing team in 1976—to know it was L.A. that gave the IOC the ultimate present in 1984. By keeping the Olympics alive.

It was on March 1, 1979 that the IOC formally signed the contract to put the ’84 Games in L.A., long after the only other bid city—Tehran, Iran—dropped out of the race. Days earlier, I had been in the office of 37-year-old Los Angeles lawyer John Argue, the man who had finally succeeded in pitching L.A.’s Olympic candidacy after years of trying. Though by default. The financial disaster of 1976, when Montreal left a $1.5 million debt that took 30 years to pay off, came “really close” to killing the Olympics, Argue said then.

“I honestly believe the Games are very much in jeopardy,” he said. “Three cities bid for the ’76 Games. Two bid for the ’80 Games. And only us for ’84. There truly were no other bid cities. We heard the Games were not welcome in Munich, Montreal, Mexico City”—the previous three summer hosts.

Attention had to be paid to the disasters in each of those cities—the Mexican government killing at least 250 unarmed demonstrators days before the ’68 Mexico City Games; Palestinian terrorists murdering 11 members of the Israeli Olympic delegation in Munich in ’72; the wasteful spending and corrupt leadership of Montreal organizers in ’76.

Still, the IOC stubbornly insisted that Los Angeles abide by its “Rule No. 4,” which required host cities to bear all financial responsibility for the operation of the Games. And the U.S. Olympic Committee originally dismissed Argue’s massive money-saving plan to use USC and UCLA dorms to house the world’s competitors, rather than spend more than $100 million on the traditional athletes village. “The first reaction of the USOC,” Argue said, “was, ‘impossible. The IOC will want a village.’

“We were eyeball-to-eyeball,” Argue said. “And [the IOC] blinked. In a way, they were playing brinksmanship with the Olympics—which they really didn’t have to do.”

Argue, after all, was about to save their bacon. He was a passionate Olympic patriot. He was born in 1932, the year L.A. staged its first Olympics, the son of a 1924 Olympic pentathlete, and followed his father as chairman of the Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games, which was formed in 1939 and had been agitating to return the Games to L.A. ever since.

Argue’s group hired as L.A.’s Olympic organizing chief an unknown travel executive named Peter Ueberroth, whose deft guidance of the Games got him named Time magazine’s Man of the Year and led to a turn as Major League Baseball commissioner. Under Ueberroth, Los Angeles established the gold standard for Olympic efficiency, marketing and fiscal sanity.

L.A. created the first “official sponsorships” of the Games, the first “unified look” of branding, and used 40 percent of its record $223 million surplus to fund the LA84Foundation, which doled out more than $185 million in donations to more than 1,000 southern California sports organizations over the next 25 years—including to a youth program that nurtured the likes of tennis superstars Serena and Venus Williams.

John Argue died in 2002, at 70. And what he prioritized in 1979 for the ’84 L.A. Games—that “we must demonstrate to the world that you don’t have to go broke staging the Olympics”—was so successful that it not only saved the Games but, through its ability to raise big money, also released the beasts of profligate spending at future Olympics. So that now we may be coming full cycle, back to the Montreal problem.

Neither the 2014 Sochi Winter Games nor last summer’s Rio Olympics did anything to restore economic sense. Television ratings, already slipping, won’t be helped by the next three Olympics being played out in Far East time zones—2018 Winter in Pyeongchang, South Korea; 2020 Summer in Tokyo, 2022 Winter in Beijing.

Just this week, the Olympics’ major sponsor, McDonald’s, ended its 41-year sponsorship of the Games—three years early—a high-profile departure that Toronto Globe and Mail columnist Cathal Kelly cited as “just the latest signal that the Olympic operation is in decline, along with the benefit of being linked to it.”

Another signal is the IOC’s 2024-2028 host-city packaging, clearly uneasy about future efforts to bring this bloated, unbalanced monster in for a landing. Really: Might the 2024 Olympics be the last?

Closing the door on an L.A. Olympics


This is just a guess, but I’d say that any prospect Los Angeles had of staging the 2024 Olympics already has been stopped at the border by Donald Trump’s blindly intolerant (and thoroughly un-American) attempt at a Muslim travel ban. I base this, to some extent, on New York City’s failed bid for the 2012 Games, rolled out during the Bush administration’s war in Iraq when at least some International Olympic Committee voters couldn’t get past the idea of “giving the festival of peace to a nation of pre-emptive strikes.”

Post 9/11 and leading up to the 2005 vote to award the 2012 Olympics, President Bush—unlike Trump now—had declared that he was imposing no religious test with his foreign policy. But there already was an anti-diversity elephant in the room. And this time, it is much worse.

So, while there is no divining some IOC members’ allegiances and prejudices, others’ downright partisan governmental considerations and even others’ well-meaning conviction that they are the United Nations in Sneakers, it’s a safe bet that smuggling this grand embodiment of international respect and goodwill past Trump’s wall of xenophobic scorn simply does not compute.

On Feb. 3, L.A. officials met the International Olympic Committee’s formal bid deadline, throwing their hat into the ring with Paris and Budapest. The vote to determine the 2024 host city won’t come until the IOC’s September meeting in Lima, Peru. But already, in response to Trump targeting of seven Muslim-majority countries, Iran has uninvited American athletes to a world wrestling competition it is hosting this month. That is a dramatic reversal in U.S.-Iran relations in that sport, which have been exceptionally warm for years in spite of the lack of diplomatic ties between the countries. The U.S. Olympic Committee, furthermore, is bracing for disruptions in other international competitions as a result of Trump’s executive order.

Naturally, LA2024 bid chairman Casey Wasserman is trotting out the old argument that sports and politics don’t mix, that the “power of the [Olympic] movement…[is]…to unite the world through sport, not politics,” and that his group will be “judged on the merits of our bid, not on politics” by the IOC.

The L.A. proposal makes a point of highlighting that it is “a city full of creative energy and extraordinarily united—not separated—by its breathtaking cultural diversity.” But neither that, nor Trump’s recent radio appearance claiming he “would love to see the Olympics go to Los Angeles,” plays nearly as well as French prime minister Bernard Cazeneuve’s words, during a Paris bid press conference shortly after a man was caught wielding machetes at the Louvre, that his country prefers to “build bridges, not walls.”

L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti had warned last summer that if Trump were elected president, it could have a disastrous effect on his city’s Olympic chances. And, in a statement issued after Trump’s Jan. 27 announcement of his travel ban, Garcetti said such an action “only fans the flames of hatred that those who wish us harm seek to spread.”

Having covered the Games 11 times, I consider myself an Olympic patriot, with a belief in the possibilities of fellowship through global sport. The Games really do (at least temporarily) put small dents into nationalistic and cultural differences, even though so much about the event is thoroughly political, with all the flags and medal counts.

So I side with Olympic poohbahs who balk at rewarding the politics of exclusion. In the 2005 IOC vote for the 2012 Games, when New York City was one in a murderer’s row of seductive candidates alongside London, Paris, Madrid and Moscow, one of the boosts for eventual winner London was the support it had gotten from the Muslim Council of Britain, representing 400 Muslim organizations.

When that vote was taken in Singapore, British prime minister Tony Blair, French president Jacques Chirac and Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero all attended to schmooze with the IOC, but George W. Bush stayed away. Wisely, I’d say.

Now, the USOC is attempting to dance around the Trump us-against-everybody mindset by proclaiming that, “Like the United States, the Olympic Movement was founded based upon principles of diversity and inclusion, on opportunity and overcoming adversity. As the steward of the Olympic Movement in the United States, we embrace those values. We also acknowledge the difficult task of providing for safety and security of a nation. It is our sincere hope that the executive order as implemented will appropriately recognize the values on which our nation, as well as the Olympic Movement, were founded.”

Fat chance.