Los Angeles awarded Olympics as IOC hits panic button

Dan Wetzel
Columnist

Los Angeles will host the 2028 Summer Olympics, in part because the International Olympic Committee, one of the globe’s greatest con artists, couldn’t guarantee that any other city on Earth would be willing to do it.

You have to credit the IOC here … it certainly know its market. It forecast its future. It had a stretch where it could sell global prestige to the dreamers, the desperate and the despots. It produced ridiculous host cities such as Sochi and Rio and nearly (until they wimped out) Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Back then it could snub its nose at Paris (three times a loser since 1992), Madrid (three times a loser since 2012), New York (2012), Chicago (2016) and others. There was always someone on the edge willing to promise more, spend more, perhaps even grease the skids more.

Those days appear over. The IOC has left a string of past host cities strewn around the globe dealing with decaying facilities and enormous debt. So now the parade of the possible is small and the IOC knows it.

L.A. didn’t even want the 2028 Summer Games, at least originally. It bid on the 2024 Games after Boston, citing public backlash over feared cost overruns, dropped out as the United States’ candidate. The problem with 2024 was the IOC had only one other contender, Paris. It had to choose between Paris and L.A., but feared alienating the other into not bidding again, like in 2028.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is convinced his city will not make the same mistakes other Olympic hosts have in the past. (Getty Images)

So it struck a deal, giving Paris 2024 and L.A. 2028. This was originally deemed a consolation prize. Since it originally lost to Boston, you could say L.A. is the consolation bracket runner-up here. Or a two-time losing champion. Whatever. The deal is done.

Congratulations. Or something like that.

For the IOC, it was a unique, effective play. And it was one born out of terror. By giving each a bid now, it avoided the potential for 2028 embarrassment. So now it has L.A. down for that way ahead of schedule. Bids are generally handed out five to seven years prior to the Games. The 2026 Winter Games, for instance, won’t be decided until 2019.

That’s how scared the IOC was. And that’s why it’s up to both the IOC and Los Angeles to change it.

You can’t blame the rest of the world, or even Americans, for their apprehension and disinterest in hosting the Olympics, which used to be incredible moments of possibility and civic pride. What everyone has discovered is that the politician promises and clear-minded budgets never seem to come true.

The Olympics are a great party. Developers and IOC officials benefit mightily. Then it ends, everything is a mess and the taxpayers are left holding the bag as they survey the crumbling of abandoned, once gold-plated stadiums.

It’s thus essential for Los Angeles to make sure it isn’t another Rio or Sochi or anywhere else.

It’s also imperative that the IOC does its part to assure it too, because its list of suckers is running thin and it can’t afford to have a string of hosts get wiped out due to largesse. If the four-Olympic run of Tokyo (Summer 2020), Beijing (Winter 2022), Paris (Summer 2024) and Los Angeles (Summer 2028) can’t do it, then who the heck can? No small locations there.

That’s how perilous it has gotten.

Hosting the Olympics can, conceivably, work. The USOC still draws funding from the profit the 1984 L.A. Games generated. That was a long time ago, though. Through sheer ego the IOC began demanding more and more from its host cities. Then individual sports federations began demanding world-class facilities even if their sport isn’t popular in the host city.

Rio, for instance, built a PGA-quality golf course even though few Brazilians play golf. Just one year later, the course sits largely empty, overrun with growth. At another point in the process, Rio’s mayor complained about the tennis federation demanding a 20,000-seat venue for the Games, despite, again, few Brazilians playing the game, little ticket demand and no obvious use for it once the torch was extinguished. (The tennis folks denied this and in the end, the actual facility was much smaller and featured more practical temporary construction).

Brazil still overbuilt and is struggling to pay its bills.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has promised his city won’t make the same mistakes. “This moment requires bold new solutions, bold new thinking, and I think Los Angeles is well poised – the best poised – to be able to answer those questions for the Olympic movement today,” he said in trying to win support.

Maracana Stadium, which hosted the opening ceremony in Rio in 2016, is in shambles.

We’ll see. Los Angeles needs to maintain its backbone and the IOC needs to stop demanding and demanding more and more.

And it needs to be realistic. Local organizers claim it will cost $5.3 billion to host the Games. If history is any indication, it will be more. Researchers at Oxford University say the average overrun at every Olympics since 1992 is $5.98 billion (in 2016 dollars).

The L.A. plan maintains global television rights, ticket sales and marketing will cover the bill. If projections are any indication, it won’t.

How anyone can predict the 2028 media landscape is particularly interesting. In 11 years, will the world still be sitting around the family television each night watching the Games, like this was still the 1980s?

L.A. has venues. Lots of them, including a new stadium that will be perfect for the opening ceremony, among other things, being built by private businessman Stan Kroenke.

That cuts down on costs. It eliminates the risk. L.A. thinks it has this figured out, but the IOC always wins in these deals, and the city would be foolish to forget that.

This is the minefield Los Angeles wanted to wade through, though.

And because no one else did, this is what it will get.

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