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Could IOC Award Separate Olympics to L.A. and Paris?

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Dayton Daily News (Ohio)

 

L.A. Memorial Coliseum, which opened in 1923, was used in the Olympics in 1932 and '84.

In more ways than one, the International Olympic Committee finds itself in a familiar position. Six months away from a vote to select the host of the 2024 Games, the IOC is left again with two candidate cities.

The withdrawal of Budapest in February leaves Los Angeles and Paris, a contest that for a second consecutive vote will come down to two bidders.

To be sure, the 2024 candidates - previous hosts from democratic countries - don't present the same concerns as the two final cities for 2022, Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan.

But times have changed for the IOC. Once a booming business, bidding for and hosting the Games has taken a hit as the IOC faces concerns about costs and disappointing Olympic legacies in the host cities.

"The world is entering an era of unprecedented change," LA 2024 chairman Casey Wasserman said in a statement on the departure of Budapest. "This is the 'new reality' for the Olympic movement, and it calls for new thinking."

Since it replaced Boston as the U.S. candidate city in the fall of 2015, Los Angeles has pitched its vision as a new way to imagine the Games. But that vision fits a need precisely because of myriad issues facing the IOC.

A letter from IOC spokesman Mark Adams last month, which was obtained by Inside the Games, acknowledged as much, saying, "The political situation in our fragile world requires us to further adjust the candidature process."

In the last two bid cycles, twice as many cities (eight) have pulled out of the bidding process - thanks largely to opposition or lack of political support - as have remained to the vote (four).

Though Budapest's bid was considered unlikely to succeed against Los Angeles and Paris, the city's departure increased the speculation the IOC could award Games to both remaining cities when it meets in September in Lima, Peru.

In December, IOC President Thomas Bach sparked the debate of a dual award by noting that the bidding process "produces too many losers."

"If they don't select both cities... then you're going to have two cities, both previous host cities, both major markets for sport and Olympic sport in particular, disappointed," said John Murray, the chief bid officer for Chicago's 2016 bid.

"And in the case of the U.S., you're going to have a series over the past 12 years where the top three cities in the country and three of the top markets in the world have put forth high-quality bids and been rejected.

"In the case of Paris, (you're going to have) a world-class city for sport and tradition dating back 100 years and having them be disappointed on a global scale. I think that doesn't bode well for anybody."

INFLATED COST OF HOSTING

The IOC's challenges echo issues it faced in the late 1970s. Los Angeles was the only official bidder in 1984 after the 1972 Munich Games were marred by terrorism, the 1976 Montreal Games by crippling costs and the 1980 Moscow Games by a massive boycott.

Peter Ueberroth emerged to lead the L.A. Olympics, which turned the tide despite a boycott led by the Soviet Union and turned a profit.

"The problem now is different," Olympic historian Bill Mallon said. "There's plenty of money at the IOC, but the Games cost too much."

Every Olympics from 1968 to 2012 cost more than originally estimated, with the median Games 150% over budget, according to a study from economists Robert Baade and Victor Matheson in the Journal of Economic Perspectives last spring.

And many cities, including Rio de Janeiro, have been left with white elephants that have little use beyond the Games.

University of Chicago economist Allen Sanderson worked with The Brattle Group in assessing the Boston bid, laying out the benefits, costs and risks for the government. The city ended its bid within days of getting that report, Sanderson said.

"One shouldn't look at something like the Olympics as an investment," Sanderson said. "It's a three-week party. When you're building infrastructure - whether it's a highway or transportation system or whatever else - that's a 50-year investment, and you can't have the tail wag the dog. And the Olympics are just the tail."

Bach has attempted to rein in the cost of bidding and hosting the Games through Agenda 2020, which seeks to make them sustainable and allow for the use of existing venues. The 2024 bid process is the first under that framework.

Just bidding alone can cost cities $50 million or more.

"It may not be a bad idea at all from the IOC's standpoint to lock in host cities while you can," Matheson said. "That also helps you reduce some of the cost. Why have someone spend tens of millions of dollars on an Olympic bid only get denied and have to do the same thing all over again?"

CHOOSING A 'SAFE BET'

Bach's concern of "too many losers" in the bidding process becomes especially poignant with two candidate cities seeking to host their third Olympics.

For many, there are clear upsides to making both cities winners when the IOC meets in September.

It would allow the IOC to focus on the other issues it faces in the coming years and it would give the IOC an opportunity to regroup and examine the bidding process before selecting a 2032 host in 2025.

"That would be the rationale that would attract my support for such a proposal," IOC member Dick Pound of Canada said. "Whether the IOC or the inner circles are actually thinking about that seriously or simply leaving it out there in case it might resonate, I don't know."

Murray suggested the IOC borrow a political idea and do a sort of listening tour to improve its bidding, allowing it to examine other models, such as a rotation of select cities with infrastructure and venues.

Selecting Los Angeles and Paris as the next two hosts also could allow the IOC to try to keep costs down by coordination of services, like translation and volunteers, Olympic historian David Wallechinsky said.

"It solves a whole bunch of problems for the IOC and Bach," Mallon said.

The idea is not without challenges, however.

The Olympic charter states that "save for exceptional circumstances," the host city is to be selected seven years before the Games. Pound said the IOC would likely have to change the charter to award two at one time.

The notion faces questions from IOC members and potential resistance from cities that might have bid for 2028. Wallechinsky noted Madrid, which bid for 2016 and 2020, might have a complaint.

"Not that there's a lot of cities like that, but there are some," he said.

Perhaps bigger than those is the uncertainty that would come in awarding an Olympics 11 years in advance, with concerns about how a changing economy and political landscape could affect a host.

"Yes, our economies could tank, but if Paris' and Los Angeles' tank, the whole world's going to tank," Mallon said. "I think it's a pretty safe bet with those two cities."

Added Pound, "It's certainly not without its contractual difficulties and risks, but it certainly is a conceivable decision."

FOCUSED ON 2024

To be sure, it would take some internal and external politicking to persuade IOC members and the bidding cities.

Officials from the Los Angeles and Paris bids have said they're focused on 2024, and the USOC has said it's not looking to 2028. Both bids have agreements in place that would need to be changed.

"We believe that now, more than ever, the IOC must focus on selecting a 2024 host city that redefines sustainability, connects the Olympic movement and its benefits to the world's youth like never before and encourages future cities to bid for their Games," Wasserman said.

If the IOC is serious about such a move, it likely would signal so in a proposal from its executive board, Pound said.

Though unusual, such a dual award would not be without precedent, Mallon said. In 1921, the IOC awarded the 1924 Games to Paris because Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, was retiring and wanted to have the Games in his home country. At the same time, the IOC awarded the 1928 Olympics to Amsterdam.

Los Angeles protested and was later selected as host of the 1932 Games.

With two quality bids remaining, and many challenges on other fronts, the IOC could well find refuge with a similar decision.

"In the end, I think the IOC benefits and the cities benefit by adding some clarity to that process and being more transparent about what the process is," Murray said. "Awarding two cities, both cities, so making everyone a winner this time I think allows them an elegant solution to an image problem they're facing."

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March 12, 2017
 
 
 

 

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