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Few cities were comfortable with finances of 2024 bid

Los Angeles will use a lot of existing facilities if it gets the 2024 Olympics, such as the Staples Center.
Los Angeles will use a lot of existing facilities if it gets the 2024 Olympics, such as the Staples Center.Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Toronto said thanks anyway but maybe next time. Doha said not again, as did Baku, albeit with prompting from Lausanne. Neither of the South African potentials — Johannesburg and Durban — deemed a candidacy possible.

Thus, in a year when the International Olympic Committee did everything but offer toaster ovens to get cities to bid for the 2024 Summer Games, the formal list of candidates ended up at five: Paris, Rome, Los Angeles, Hamburg, and Budapest. That's half as many as it was for 2008, when everyone from Havana to Bangkok had five-ringed fever.

And that's with IOC president Thomas Bach promising $1.7 billion in guaranteed cash and services and declaring that "every organizing committee can be confident to have a profit." Olympic profits, of course, are a matter of creative bookkeeping, of shifting costs from the operating budget to the construction budget. That's how Beijing turned a "profit" of $146 million on Games that cost $40 billion and how Sochi made $53 million on its $50 billion outlay.

The numbers that jump off the ledger sheet and that kept all but two of the interested 2022 winter candidates on the sidelines are the ones with 11 figures. That's why the IOC, in last year's Agenda 2020 reforms, made a point of saying that cities could use existing, temporary, and demountable facilities to save cash.

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But at last week's deadline, the entrants were the same number as they were for the 2020 Games that went to Tokyo, and three of them were previous hosts. "This competition is about quality, not quantity," Bach declared. Historically the IOC has chopped the original field to a manageable size, but the volatile and unpredictable state of the planet seems to have taken care of that.

Few cities can look seven years into the future with enough clarity and certainty to feel comfortable taking on the colossal financial challenge that the Games have become. For most bidders, they're a global sideshow for a massive urban renewal project, the reason to fast-forward every expensive infrastructure item that has been delayed for decades.

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It's not the velodrome and natatorium that bust the budget. It's the upgraded airport, the expanded transit system, the new expressways. That's what jacked Beijing's and Sochi's numbers into the stratosphere. That's what culls the herd of quadrennial wannabes who can't tap the taxpayers for $15 billion. That's why Los Angeles can hold its own against four European rivals. Most of what it would need, it already has.

That was the case in 1984, when only the pool and velodrome had to be built from scratch and the organizers got McDonald's and 7-Eleven to pay for them. That wouldn't change much for 2024, when the big-ticket item would be the Olympic village. Los Angeles used the dorms at USC and UCLA last time but would rely on a private developer to invest $1 billion building athlete housing on the site of the Union Pacific rail yard that it could sell later.

Los Angeles will renovate the Coliseum and plunk down a temporary pool next door and use a bunch of existing facilities like Staples Center, Pauley Pavilion, and the Forum. No city on earth has more suitable stadia and arenas than Los Angeles, which is why it's a formidable challenger to Paris, the consensus favorite.

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Hamburg, a first-time bidder, would have to build the stadium and village on an island in the Elbe. The city's audit office warned that hosting the Games "bears considerable risks" and frets that the November referendum is "too early for an irrevocable decision."

While Rome still has usable sites from the 1960 Games such as the Stadio Olimpico in the Foro Italico, the Eternal City pulled out of the 2020 race because the national government wouldn't underwrite the cost and could be a casualty again if the Italian economy slides back into recession. And Budapest, which joined the chase because of Agenda 2020's promise of cheaper, simpler alternatives, won't be able to stay in if things get pricey, which they invariably do around Olympus.

At a time when Europe is facing social upheaval, a humanitarian crisis, and a wobbly euro, an American candidate, particularly one that has staged the Games twice, is exceptionally attractive. That's why the IOC was willing to give the USOC a mulligan when the Boston bid was yanked abruptly. But Bach made it clear that the Americans had made a commitment to step up to the plate this time. Fortunately, they had an experienced pinch hitter on deck.

Not that the timing is ideal. Paris, the 11-8 favorite by London oddsmakers, already has a working stadium with a track and picture-postcard venues such as the Grand Palais and the Champ de Mars. It has bid three times since Los Angeles was chosen by walkover and would be celebrating the centennial of its last Games.

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The pragmatic play for the US would have been to opt out again, let Europe host, and get the 2028 edition all but by acclamation. But after two dozen years without an American summer host, the IOC was in no mood to wait.

What helps LA is that the members of four continents with no contenders are up for grabs and that its rivals will divvy up the European votes. That would have been true for Boston as well, but the Hub was a riskier choice and the IOC has a new appreciation for risk, which is why it chose snowless Beijing over Almaty for 2022. In a day where quality trumps quantity, a twice-used Coliseum is a better bet than a Hungarian castle in the sky.


John Powers can be reached at jpowers@globe.com.