BidWeek, Reporting From Toronto, Canada – Heading into America’s Presidential Election Tuesday, amid scandal, FBI investigations and flip-flopping polls that seem to change by the hour – so much remains uncertain. But what is undeniable, the single unwavering fact that simply cannot be questioned – a victory by Republican Donald Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton will spin the Los Angeles 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games bid into damage control mode and irreparably distort the focus of the remainder of the Olympic bid campaign.
Indeed, should the Xenophobic Trump accomplish what was once thought to be unlikeliest of goals and rise victorious after polls close and the sun sets beyond Los Angeles, the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) itself may struggle to retain its favorable position within Olympic circles that it spent seven years to build.
As the dust settles over a Trump-governed America, amid declining stock markets and the construction of walls, Los Angeles’ Olympic bid will have fallen into a deep hole.
It’s simple. Trump’s policies and vision are in direct conflict with the values set out and expected by the Olympic movement. Too, national leaders behind winning bids typically play an integral role in delivering the campaign’s message and setting the tone of a future seven-year partnership.
And finally, the voting members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), an eclectic group of leaders, visionaries and thought leaders representing all regions and cultures on the planet, have been off-put by Trump’s rhetoric and would likely be reluctant to support him by awarding his nation an Olympic Games.
There will be less than 100 voters choosing from among Los Angeles, Budapest and Paris on September 13 and margins of victory in races as tight as the 2024 campaign has been positioned can usually be counted on one hand. A swing of just two or three voters could be fateful.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told me at the Rio Olympics in August that the election would not have any impact on the bid.
He said “this bid does not depend on any election,” though earlier in the month he had expressed concerns about a Trump victory.
“I was asked the question and I talked about what I heard from IOC members – I relayed what they said,” Garcetti clarified.
“We will continue no matter what [the outcome of the election].
“Bids should be outside of politics, so I feel very strongly this transcends it. And I think that no matter who the politicians are, sometimes the Olympic spirit catches them. Whoever happens to be our President then, I think we will engage them.”
LA 2024 officials have since been reticent about a potential Trump victory, yet there have been private concerns in the inner-circles of the bid and the USOC.
The USOC learned an important lesson seven years ago when U.S. President Barack Obama traveled to Copenhagen to support a Chicago 2016 bid, one that was the odds-on favorite to win the right to host. Amid stunned gasps across the convention hall, the U.S. city was eliminated first among four competing cities.
Several postmortem reports suggested that the USOC had fallen out of favor with the IOC membership due to a lopsided revenue-sharing agreement that was deemed unfair to other National Olympic Committees (NOC), and because of a contentious relationship between the leadership of the IOC and USOC.
Privately, IOC members expressed resentment at Obama and his secret service contingent after they were forced to wait in buses outside of the convention centre during the President’s arrival that required a full security sweep. Many IOC members come complete with oversized egos, and being overshadowed by the needs of the President at their own annual marquee event would certainly have amounted to Chicago 2016 vote losses.
The USOC effectively leveraged their lessons-learned to completely rebuild from within, appoint new leadership and negotiate a more amicable revenue-sharing arrangement as part of a march towards a solid bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games. There was a ‘slight’ hiccup when the USOC unexpectedly selected Boston to bid, but when Los Angeles was instead nominated after Massachusetts residents overwhelmingly rejected the opportunity – all was on track. The USOC found a balance with the IOC it had worked so hard to achieve.
But the emergence of Trump and his rapid rise in the Republican primaries until eventually being named the party’s nominee has caused a wrinkle in America’s Olympic plans. An election victory Tuesday could rip those dreams apart.
While Trump’s vision is divisive and inward looking – a strategy of building walls and cutting ties to be “great”, the IOC and its President Thomas Bach aim to use sport to foster peace and tolerance – to build bridges and embrace “unity in diversity.” This message is key to Olympism and the Olympic Movement, and any rhetoric to the contrary is an assault on the organization’s core values and an insult to the members who work hard to protect their international treasure.
Campaigning this election season has already led to a few jabs at the IOC that will have not gone unnoticed by the influencial organization.
In an April policy speech Trump underscored Obama’s failed support of Chicago 2016 and alluded that he would instead have had the upper-hand in a campaign to win the bid.
Trump said “[Obama] should have known the result before making such an embarrassing commitment. We were laughed at all over the world as we have been many, many times. The list of humiliations go on, and on, and on.”
“It’s called no respect. Absolutely no respect.”
Yet it was Obama himself who volleyed the greatest insult at the IOC as part of an interview in October with New York Magazine. In a comment that most certainly drew the ire of all IOC members, he compared them to those of FIFA – the world football organization recently fraught with corruption charges where members were apprehended in early morning hotel police raids.
Obama said “subsequently, I think we’ve learned that IOC’s decisions are similar to FIFA’s decisions: a little bit cooked. We didn’t even make the first cut, despite the fact that, by all the objective metrics, the American bid was the best.”
This 2016 Presidential race is being viewed internationally as a watershed moment for America that may define the nation for years to come. The IOC, in the process of choosing a critical partner in which to organize the 2024 Olympic Games over the next eight years, will be very interested in what direction the relationship may go during that period – and they’ll be looking for some sense of stability.
Trump supporters are looking for quite the opposite. They are looking to shake things up in the hopes that when the pieces land they’ll form positive change.
With 10 months remaining in the Olympic bid campaign due to be decided September 13 at the IOC’s all-members session hosted in Lima, Peru, it is clearly Hilary Clinton who is capable of stabilizing and perhaps improving any political damage caused by election rhetoric.
The Clintons (including President Bill Clinton) are friends to the Olympic movement, having been positively involved in Atlanta’s 1996 Games. As a Senator, Hillary Clinton campaigned for New York’s failed 2012 bid and was well-received when she traveled to Singapore in 2005 to lobby and attend that bid’s final presentation.
Meanwhile, Trump’s contribution to his home city’s campaign to host the Games was a “project” on his television show The Apprentice where athletes were showcased to raise domestic support for the bid. The event was deemed a failure by Trump himself leading him to fire project manager Tana Goertz from the show. Goertz was since “re-hired” by Trump and has been a Senior Campaign Advisor to the Trump campaign in Iowa.
In any context, LA 2024 would most likely distance itself from a Trump Presidency but embrace Clinton as President – using her where possible to deliver her message of support. This support cannot be underestimated.
At the same meeting where Clinton advocated for New York 2012, it was Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair who met with IOC members and was credited with catapulting London from behind to narrowly defeat Paris for the win. Russia’s Vladimir Putin, with a rare speech in English at the final presentation, helped push Sochi’s 2014 bid across the finish line.
And President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil made an empassioned speech, in Portuguese, at the Rio 2016 final presentation which helped earn that city a resounding victory over Tokyo and Madrid, relegating Chicago to last place.
L.A.’s Mayor Garcetti knows this all to be true, he said “the importance of the Olympics being in the United States can help us be a country that opens the world, that does engage with the world, that doesn’t build walls but builds bridges.”
Indeed, LA 2024 officials will be watching the election results closely, readying two possible post-election narratives that will be markedly different. A Trump victory would force Los Angeles on to a defensive, damage-control footing for the remainder of the race, distorting its admirable message of a revolutionary sustainable Games plan that could help re-energize the Olympic movement, as the city did in 1984.