Los Angeles always was the saner, simpler choice. Most of the key venues, starting with the Coliseum, are in place. The freeway system already has been proven more than adequate for Olympic demands. And there was strong support from a popular mayor. The only objection to choosing LA as the American candidate for the 2024 Summer Games was that the IOC might not want to sit through another summer re-run from a city that already hosted twice.
Now that the USOC has aborted the Boston candidacy amid lukewarm (at best) public support and the refusal of Mayor Marty Walsh to “mortgage the future of the city away,” the committee’s only choice is Los Angeles now or later. And the question is why LA, after having been snubbed six months ago, would want to bail out the Olympic brass in Lausanne and Colorado Springs, who shoulder most of the blame for this Expressway pileup.
From the start it was a five-ringed fiasco. By going the easy route and picking no-dissent dictatorships as the 2008 Summer and 2014 Winter hosts, the IOC watched the costs for the Games soar to $40 billion (for Beijing) and $50 billion (for Sochi). That scared off what would have been terrific candidacies from Munich and Oslo for the 2022 Games and left the Lords of the Rings with their Beijing-or-Borat choice on Friday. It’s either the Chinese capital, which would have to make its own snow on distant peaks, or the former Kazakhstan capital of Almaty, which has plenty of white stuff but an economy that lives and dies with the price of petroleum.
That’s why the IOC came up with Agenda 2020, which gives host cities the latitude to go with existing and temporary venues and to spread the Games around their countries to save money. That’s also why a Boston candidacy originally looked attractive — a first-time offering from the city that educates and heals the world. But given the number of facilities that needed to be built from scratch in a city that historically won’t spend taxpayer dollars on any sporting venue more elaborate than a neighborhood hockey rink or swimming pool, the Athens of America was an iffy bet from the start.
The fast-forward nature of the process — decide to bid in mid-December, pick the city three weeks later and demand that a new governor and a year-in mayor sign on in July — was fatal when dealing with a city that doesn’t do hurry-up for anyone. If the USOC didn’t know that, it should have.
The change in leadership, the original bid that the public didn’t see until last Friday, the revised version that was an urban renewal project disguised as a track meet, the venues scattered all the way to the Berkshires, the squeeze on City Hall and the State House to get on board sooner rather than later — all of that marked Boston’s quest for death, if not now then after next year’s statewide referendum. The IOC has been living for six years with the romantic sun-and-samba fantasy turned folly that is Rio de Janeiro. It didn’t need any more risky business.
LA may well be reluctant to hop into a doors-open moving car that only will be picking up speed. The submission deadline for 2024 entries is Sept. 15. By January the applicant city files and financial guarantee letters will be due. You may remember that the only city ever to refuse to sign the host city contract was Los Angeles. Had the IOC had another option for 1984, and it didn’t after Tehran withdrew, it would have taken it.
Lausanne has multiple options this time — former hosts Paris and Rome, Hamburg, Budapest, and possibly Toronto, the 2008 runner-up that is coming off a successful Pan American Games. If Los Angeles doesn’t want to subsidize cost overruns, other cities will. Even if LA is game for a third go, there’s no guarantee it will outpoll Paris, which has been bypassed three times since 1992 and has the full backing of the national, regional, and city governments.
When it was tapped for the 1932 and 1984 Games Los Angeles was the unanimous choice because there were no other contenders. Mounting a candidacy, while decidedly cheaper than it used to be, still runs into the millions of dollars. What may make more sense is for LA to say “nolo contendere’’ this time and sit tight until 2028, when a US city probably would win by acclamation. That’s how Olympic geopolitics work.
South America has next year’s Games. Asia (Tokyo) is on for 2020. Africa, which never has held the Olympics, is a non-starter. If a European city wins for 2024 — and by then it will have been 12 years since the London Games — the only likely choices for 2028 would be Oceania (possibly Melbourne), which would be a nightmare for NBC, or North America.
That would give Los Angeles the necessary time to put together a proper package with secure financing and build the public backing that’s mandatory for a successful bid. After Chicago’s devastating first-round exit for 2016, which had more to do with anti-Uncle Sam sentiment and IOC-USOC friction than it did the Windy City’s merits, the USOC said it wouldn’t put forth another candidate until it was confident it could win. While it was an embarrassment to have to pull the plug on Boston after only six months, it had become a doomed enterprise.
The IOC, which badly wanted the Americans back in the game this time, wouldn’t be happy about seeing them back on the sidelines. But the day when Hizzoner signs a blank check for a planetary block party is long past.
John Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.