BidWeek: Race Not To Host the 2028 Games Is On As Olympic Bids Navigate New Twist

BidWeek, Reporting from Toronto, Canada – Campaigns to host the 2024 Olympic Games by Paris and Los Angeles are quickly realizing that their key to winning may be to first “lose” the 2028 Games.

IOC President Thomas Bach at Executive Board Meeting in PyeongChang March 17, 2017 (IOC Photo)
IOC President Thomas Bach at Executive Board Meeting in PyeongChang March 17, 2017 (IOC Photo)

The announcement last week by International Olympic Committee (IOC) Chief Thomas Bach outlining the new committee he has established to study the possibility of awarding the Summer Games to both Paris and Los Angeles later this year – among other bid reforms – could have been great news for the two cities with deep Olympic heritage.

If the four IOC Vice Presidents who were appointed to examine the possibility endorse the proposal, the Games could return to both cities over the next decade.

It’s win-win, right?  Fireworks over the Eiffel Tower, a parade down Hollywood Boulevard – celebrations until dawn marking the realization of dreams in both nations?

Not so much.

The irony is clear:  the biggest and most significant differentiator that LA has, one that the bid has been banking on to win in 2024, is the same one Paris is leveraging to win the top prize.

For Paris, this achievement would be monumental.  The French Capital hosted the Games in 1900 and 1924, helping the modern Olympic Games gain traction and become the event it is today.  But since 1985 the city has yearned for more and has since had bids defeated for the 1992, 2008 and 2012 Games, the latter a narrow and heartbreaking defeat to rival London.

For America, a Los Angeles victory would be similarly significant, confirming a comeback of sorts.  Bids by New York for 2012 and Chicago for 2016 were soundly defeated sending a subtle message, it seemed, that there was a rift between the IOC and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) on political issues.  A Games in LA would mark a fresh start.

But while either city could simply agree to accept the 2028 event as a consolation prize, and walk away with a Games they’ve worked so hard and so long to host – they both instead perceive the runner-up “opportunity” to be a threat to their primary goal of hosting in 2024.

It has launched an un-bidding war, an exchange of words and actions designed to de-emphasize the value of hosting the 2028 Games in the same city that is so perfect instead, they say, for the 2024 Games.

LA has been more subtle, yet direct, in its laser-focussed approach to the 2024 Games.  The message by the bid, simply put, is that the project is fine-tailored for 2024 and it’s a Games that the IOC needs to organize right now to help re-build confidence in the premise of hosting the quadrennial event for other cities that hope to host in the future.

IOC President Thomas Bach practices soccer with students at UCLA (LA 2024 Facebook Photo)
IOC President Thomas Bach practices soccer with students at UCLA campus – proposed Athletes’ Village (LA 2024 Facebook Photo)

“We present a unique stability here,” LA Mayor Eric Garcetti told insidethegames Tuesday on his bid’s unique plan to organize the Games with no permanent venue construction at a time when the IOC has zero tolerance for risk.

“I would love to visit my friends in Paris in 2028,” he said.

But Paris 2024 Co-Chair Tony Estanguet said later “we will not come back for ’28.”

“2024 is now or never for us,” he added.

“We can’t host the Games in 2028 because we don’t have the project available for 2028.”

Estanguet is referring primarily to the Olympic Village concept that requires construction in Seine-Saint-Denis, a venue that is typically the most costly, risky and difficult to plan with a viable legacy.  Contracts and agreements, the bid says, are only valid for the 2024 Games.

Whether this is an intentionally self-imposed restriction designed to artificially boost the urgency for 2024, or if there is actually no wiggle room to allow the agreements to be redrafted to accommodate the 2028 Games instead, is not really known.

But the irony is clear:  the biggest and most significant differentiator that LA has, one that the bid has been banking on to win in 2024, is the same one Paris is leveraging to win the top prize.

Los Angeles’ proposed Olympic Athletes’ Village at UCLA is already built and in use on a regular basis.  The bid touted the venue’s “test event” last year while students were moving into the facility in September, en masse, emulating what would happen with athletes during the Games.  Of course, legacy here would not be an issue.

It would be as close to zero-risk as anything Olympics-related could possibly be.

Paris has planned a new Olympic Village that will be funded by both public and private sources and will require transport infrastructure upgrades.  It will be built from scratch on a site that is partially owned by public entities but where additional land needs to be purchased from private businesses.

“Offices and private businesses will be relocated with the support of the developer and a public real estate institution to other nearby sites,” the Paris 2024 bid book states.

Artist rendering of proposed Paris 2024 Athletes' Village (Paris 2024)
Artist rendering of proposed Paris 2024 Athletes’ Village (Paris 2024)

This scenario, though common when organizing Games, presents typical risks.  And according to Paris 2024 officials without much explanation, is only available in 2024 even if a guarantee of a 2028 Games were made today.

Advantage Paris?

It seems so if the IOC’s masterplan of locking in two megacities to host the Games in two successive quadrennials is to play out as imagined.

But you can imagine why LA may not be willing to play along.

Now it has become a non-Olympic kind of game – poker.  But who’s bluffing?

Will the IOC Vice Presidents ante-up by moving forward with the 24 / 28 joint awarding of the Games, or play it safe and keep the status quo?

Will LA, if Paris is awarded the 2024 Games, agree to host in 2028 – or instead bid for the event if the IOC skips the double-awarding?  For reference, neither New York nor Chicago had appetites to follow-up their recently lost campaigns.  LA 2024 is privately financed, and while those investors want the Olympic Games, they may not be interested in the IOC’s political games.

Can Paris’ project, though the committee says is not available for 2028, be adjusted to work that year instead?  If there is no double-award and the French Capital loses its fourth consecutive bid, will the city have the fortitude to engage in a fifth?

IOC Vice President Juan Antonio Samaranch, who will be part of the panel studying the joint awarding of the Games said Wednesday that any decision to move forward with the plan would require consensus with the two cities.  In that case, the decision-making would become a game of chess.

Stay tuned!

A senior producer and award-winning journalist covering Olympic bid business as founder of as well as providing freelance support for print and Web publications around the world. Robert Livingstone is a member of the Olympic Journalists Association and the International Society of Olympic Historians.

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