When can LA host the Olympics again?

Last week the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) met and unveiled some of the considerable progress they are making under new president Scott Blackmun. Naturally, one of the questions that came up was whether a U.S. city could bid for the 2020 Olympic Games. USOC chairman Larry Probst had some interesting comments about Chicago.

"I think it would be challenging for any other city to organize a bid in that time frame but not impossible," Probst told the Chicago Tribune in an article headlined "Chicago likely USOC's strongest candid for U.S. bid for 2020 Olympics."

The comments probably raised a few eyebrows here in Los Angeles where the Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games is always ready for a bid. Despite Probst's comments, Los Angeles is the most Olympic-ready city in the United States.

I say this with some knowledge, as I worked for New York's 2012 Olympic bid and was a consultant for Chicago's 2016 bid. That's not to say that Chicago could not host an excellent Olympics, because it could. Their plan for 2016 was first-rate, and they deserved to go well past the first round in voting. But in order for Chicago to bid again, they would need to find political and community support, and the city still needs to build an Olympic Stadium, an Olympic Village, and several other venues.

Conversely, Los Angeles can host the Olympics using entirely existing venues. And unlike virtually every other bold proposal in this city, an Olympic bid is the one thing that has broad political and community support because of the great success of the 1984 Games.

I will get into how a Los Angeles Olympic Games would work later in this column, but this LA vs. Chicago argument may be moot because the United States is unlikely to host the Summer Olympics any time soon.

While the United States is obviously in a different continent from South America, many IOC members consider the Americas to be one region. After being in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, the IOC will not want to go back to the Western Hemisphere in 2020. Additionally, the USOC still has a long ways to go in order to rebuild its reputation in the international Olympic community. Scott Blackmun has made progress on a wide variety of issues, particularly distribution of marketing and television revenues, but the USOC still needs to work on building relationships with IOC members, and other "sports politicians" around the world.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley was particularly pessimistic about the US's chances.

"If it's a political decision, they have to go to India, they have to go to Africa, they have to go to the Middle East," Daley offered as advice to the next mayor. "You can't participate. So be careful how much money you spend.

"Whoever it is (serving as mayor) has to figure that out," he said. "You just can't bid for it and all of a sudden, say, 'Johannesburg or Cape Town's going to get it. They're going to get it. New Delhi, they're going to get it. Someplace in the Middle East, they should get it.' That's the same reason they give for Rio de Janeiro."

There's some truth to what Daley is saying, but he's not completely right. Early signs point to the 2020 Olympic bid contest shaping up to be a two-horse race between Rome and a South Africa city - most likely Durban. New Delhi was supposed to use the 2010 Commonwealth Games as a springboard to an Olympic bid, but those Games have been a disaster.

It will be a long time before India is able to prove to the IOC that it is capable of hosting an Olympic Games. And despite Daley's comments, many IOC members are still not comfortable with the idea of a Middle East Olympics. Most recently, Doha in Qatar bid for 2016 and failed to pass the technical stage. One of the main reasons cited was weather, as hot temperatures would have led Doha to stage the Games in October, later than the IOC would like. Doha's population is relatively small for an Olympic host city.

Dubai in U.A.E. has announced its intention to bid for 2020, but the city has the same weather concerns as Doha. Additionally, Dubai is facing significant problems with its debt, and when I went there last year, even local sports officials acknowledged they were years away from being able to mount a realistic Olympic bid.

Conversely, the relatively positive feedback on the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa has boosted that nation's hopes. The entire IOC will be in Durban next year to vote on the host for the 2018 Winter Olympics (where PyeongChang, South Korea is currently favored over Munich, Germany and Annecy, France). That's an incredible advantage for any bid city. Since the Salt Lake City scandal, there have been significant travel restrictions placed on IOC members during bid campaigns, so this is a real coup for Durban.

There are several Asian cities that could bid for 2020, but none of their prospects are bright. Busan, South Korea has shown interest, but if PyeongChang wins for 2018, then that would end Busan's chances. Tokyo and Hiroshima have expressed interest, but after Tokyo's second round exit for 2016, it's unclear if enough enthusiasm exists for a second straight Japanese bid.

In Europe, Istanbul has made it clear that it will bid for 2020, but it has bid multiple times and not come close to winning. Budapest, Bucharest, Lisbon, and St. Petersburg have made murmurs about bidding, but Rome is the continent's only city that seems truly organized to this point.

It's still extremely early, but the success of the 2010 World Cup, the sentiment that Africa should host its first Olympics, and the IOC session next year, all seem to make Durban the current favorite for 2020. Additionally, the IOC has never held three consecutive Olympics outside of Europe. Knowing this, European members who want the 2024 Games in their country will vote for Durban.

Whichever city loses between Durban and a European city will likely be the favorite in 2024. By that bidding cycle, it figures that Madrid could mount a viable campaign after strong bids for 2012 and 2016. Paris might also have a good chance, since it would be the 100th anniversary of the famed "Chariots of Fire" Games, which are considered one of the greatest ever. A U.S. city could bid for 2024, but they would be the underdogs against an African bid or a European bid.

All this means, that Los Angeles or any other U.S. city might have to wait until 2028 to host the Summer Olympics, a mere 32 years after Atlanta. Of course, that could be further delayed if Denver or Reno/Tahoe realize their dreams of hosting the Winter Olympics in either 2022 or 2026. It's not clear yet if the USOC wants to entertain Winter bids, or made a stronger effort at Summer bids.

2028 might sound ridiculously far away, but that would basically mean that Blackmun and Probst would have 11 years to repair the damage wrought by past USOC instability. Olympics are awarded seven years in advance. If Blackmun can stay in his current position for that long, then the U.S. would be primed to win by then.

As for which U.S. city could win, the real question on this site is whether it could be Los Angeles. The USOC has basically made it clear that only Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and possibly San Francisco have a realistic shot at being the official U.S. Candidate City. San Francisco is too spread out though, and there are too many political landmines at this time.

The IOC would love to be in New York for the first time, but there is no obvious site for an Olympic Stadium. A stadium proposal on the West Side of Manhattan died in 2005, and the Jets (who would have used the facility) now share a brand new stadium in New Jersey with the Giants. A second stadium proposal is now Citi Field, home of the Mets, and the team would have to agree to move out for a year or more while the venue is temporarily changed for the Olympics. Another stadium site has yet to emerge, and building any sports facility in New York is notoriously difficult.

That basically leaves Los Angeles and Chicago as the most likely future candidates to host the next Olympic Games in the United States. While Chicago doesn't have an Olympic Stadium or a Village, they at least have a blueprint for a bid. It's possible that later this decade the city could regenerate the political and community support that frayed close to the end of their bid.

On the other hand, Los Angeles's biggest challenge will be to form a compelling reason as to why the city should get to host the Olympics a third time, and not too long after the 1984 Games (in Olympic time). As Alan Abrahamson likes to say, every bid needs a "why." Arguing that Los Angeles saved the Olympic Movement in 1984 and therefore deserves the Games again, will not work with the IOC. Even though it's basically true, some IOC members look at that statement as arrogant and several other IOC members like to think they saved the Olympic Movement themselves.

Additionally, pointing out the low cost of a Los Angeles Olympic Games is not necessarily appealing to some IOC members. It may help win over the Finance Commission, but often times IOC members like to see the Games as a mechanism to build grandiose facilities for sports they love. They also want to see the Games as an opportunity to advance a particular cause or promote a certain sport in an area where it needs a boost.

Los Angeles could appeal to the IOC through celebrity. The ability to align Hollywood with certain IOC members' causes or favorite sports would win over some members. Additionally, Los Angeles' diversity is a strength, as many athletes from around the world could compete before a virtual "hometown crowd" here. The terrific weather here is also appealing, particularly to members of the Athletes Commission. Los Angeles is already a great place for athletes to workout and there is an excellent sports culture here.

So how would a Los Angeles Olympics work? Well, L.A. is already in the fortunate position where it would not need to build a single new venue. The city's official Bid Book for the 2016 Games outlines a bid that uses existing facilities. Very few of them were even used in 1984 because of the stadium construction done in LA by AEG and others over the past 25 years.

Effectively, there would be three Olympic clusters. The main cluster would extend from Downtown to the Coliseum with events taking place at the Convention Center, STAPLES Center, L.A. Live, and then on down to USC and Exposition Park. A second cluster would include all of the facilities in Carson at Home Depot Center. And a third major cluster would be in Long Beach where aquatics facilities exist and sailing and rowing could take place. The Honda Center in Anaheim would need to be used for either gymnastics or basketball, and other venues like the Forum, Pauley Pavilion, Santa Anita (for equestrian), the Pomona Fairplex (for shooting), and Raging Waters (for whitewater canoeing) would be used as well.

Golf and rugby sevens have been added to the Olympic program, but those would not be difficult to accommodate. LA has several world-class golf courses including Riviera and Trump National. The Home Depot Center seems like a natural fit for rugby sevens, but even Dodger or Angel Stadium could be used (since baseball and softball have been eliminated from the Olympic program).

Traffic was not problematic in 1984, and it would not be problematic again because of Olympic priority lanes and the addition of a real subway system.

There would still probably need to be additional slight modifications to the 2016 plan for Los Angeles to win. Originally, the LA bid team planned a $112 million renovation of the Coliseum that would have reinstalled a track and included the building of luxury suites. But having gone to several USC football games in recent years, I think the Coliseum will need a more thorough renovation to win over the IOC. That could be paid for using Games revenue. (Of course a new LA NFL stadium could change everything, but it doesn't look like the City of Industry site will have space for a track, and we don't know much yet about a proposed downtown stadium.)

Another issue is the Olympic Village. While USC and UCLA dorms worked in 1984, today's standard of Olympic Villages is so high-tech and luxurious that the LA bid team would need to find land to build a residential facility that could house over 12,000 athletes, and even more coaches. Since the IOC prefers a compact bid, the Village would have to be near Downtown.

All of this is fun to speculate about, but again, it may be a while before LA can host the Games again.


More by Phil Wallace:
USC fires Lane Kiffin
Hollywood Park back in the picture
HBO's Real Sports highlights Chivas USA's troubles
Don't get too excited about the Lakers' cap space
How Jim Buss ruined the Lakers
Previous Native Intelligence story: Stephen J. Cannell, RIP

Next Native Intelligence story: Zell Hell

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