BidWeek, Reporting from Toronto, Canada – This week I stumbled upon a report published in GamesBids.com eleven years ago – May 11, 2005. At the time New York City was in the final lap as America’s bid in what I then dubbed the “battle of the world capitals” – the 2012 Olympic Games bid.
It certainly was an epic challenge for the cities involved that also included eventual winner London as well as Paris, Madrid and Moscow.
The crux of the piece had America’s 2012 Olympic bid by New York being held at the mercy of one man who could decide its fate with a simple yea or nay to the proposed stadium plans, while another man was using his goodwill to boost the bid, at least from a marketing perspective.
How things have changed!
This week in 2005, as described in the report, New York’s campaign was teetering at the whim of an obscure state zoning control board that owned the approval of a proposed new Manhattan stadium for the New York Jets football team that would become the Olympic Stadium should New York win the bid. Without this approval just weeks before the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was due to vote for the 2012 host city, New York’s plans would fall apart.
Key to this approval was then Democratic speaker of the New York Assembly Sheldon Silver who was positioned to have the final say. He believed that the decision needed more time and that it could be made after the IOC vote scheduled for June 6 that year. Days later when pressed for an answer in advance he failed to give the stadium his blessing, sending New York’s bid into a spiral from which it couldn’t recover.
And speaking of downward spirals, just last week the 72-year-old Silver was sentenced to 12 years in prison on various corruption charges related to his 38 years of service in the state assembly. He was in the habit of taking kickbacks for services provided to the state – but apparently none were given for the Jets Stadium.
Silver claimed his decision to deny the stadium was based on his doubts that New York would win the bid and he referenced GamesBids.com’s Bidindex, that on May 10 placed New York fourth in the five-bid race, for his assessment. For context – New York ended the campaign fourth when the vote in Singapore took place.
At the time I wrote a weekly column for the New York Sun, a conservative and influential Manhattan-based newspaper, in which I journalized the New York bid with an experienced and realistic perspective. It provided a controversial view of the bid when juxtaposed with the other major dailies that had editorially partnered with NYC2012. The day prior to the GamesBids.com report about Silver, the New York Sun published front-page coverage of BidIndex and further details were provided in my May 11 column, apparently giving Silver the ammunition he needed.
New Yorkers were expecting a better result and bid chief Daniel Doctoroff dismissed BidIndex when peppered with questions from reporters on the steps of city hall. He said that only the final IOC vote counted.
That 2005 report continues with some lighter NYC2012 news that may have even more relevance today than eleven years ago.
New York real estate mogul turned reality television star Donald Trump was culminating the third season of his hit television show “The Apprentice” with a final-two contestants challenge that featured an athletic event supporting NYC2012. Previously he had supported the bid with an event at Trump Tower while the IOC Evaluation Commission came to town.
Trump, a successful and iconic New Yorker who was seen as a key asset to NYC2012 and presumably the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), assigned cosmetic seller and eventual Apprentice Season three runner-up Tana Goertz to manage the event that was hosted by Olympic Decathlon Champion Bruce Jenner and included decorated Olympians Michael Phelps, Justin Gatlin, Nadia Comaneci, and Bart Conner. I’m not making this up.
The event’s ultimate failure was aired on highly-rated national prime-time television causing Trump to fire Goertz – at least in the context of the TV show.
Today the mere mention of Trump to leaders of the Los Angeles 2024 Olympic bid, the USOC or even to President of the IOC Thomas Bach, results in uneasy smiles and no comments. The Presumptive Republican Nominee (I believe that’s his correct role at the moment) has proposed policies that are contrary to the Olympic Charter – and his strategies have not only been described as un-American, but also un-Olympic.
Meanwhile Iowan-native Goertz is now Trump’s Senior Campaign Advisor and Caitlyn (formerly Bruce) Jenner is making headlines for very different reasons, including a possible nude cover on Sports Illustrated magazine this summer. Comaneci and Conner are actively supporting the current LA 2024 Olympic bid.
Though not mentioned in the May 11 report, plans for Democrat Senator Hillary Clinton were in the works to lobby for New York 2012 during the final push in Singapore and to show high-level government support. She had her work cut out for her as national leaders from rival bids were in attendance including Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair, French President Jacques Chirac, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.
Blair’s hands-on lobbying and his personal style have been widely credited with the last-minute narrow victory by London over Paris for the 2012 Games, setting a model for all subsequent and future bids.
Today Clinton is the leading Democratic Presidential Candidate, and a victory by her in November’s general election would be the best possible outcome for LA’s Olympic bid. A Trump victory could spell disaster.
Though much has changed, so much is still the same since 2005 for American Olympic bidding interests. Los Angeles is the new New York.
In addition to its stadium debacle, New York’s failure can be linked to internationally disdained U.S. President George Bush and anti-Americanism associated with wars in the Middle East. Chicago’s subsequent failed 2016 Olympic bid revealed underlying resentment against the USOC in general, in connection to the organization and what many believed to be an unfair Olympic revenue sharing structure that favored U.S. interests.
The USOC has made several changes since Chicago, bringing the organization more in line with the IOC. Though the new relationship is still untested through any membership vote (such as a Games bid), prospects are seen as better for LA and the U.S. But would a Trump election victory unravel all of the goodwill that has been earned by the USOC in the past seven years? Stay tuned.
For LA, the stadium situation is its most positive issue instead of a liability as it was with NYC. Required modifications to the LA Coliseum – a venue that has already hosted the Games twice – are already planned and financed, and there is even a “bonus stadium” available for use that is set for construction as the new home for the returning LA Rams football team.
Paris as the primary rival is back – this time desperately trying to end a three bid losing streak. In 2012 the French capital was the odds-on favorite but was stung by surging London in the final hours of the campaign.
The Apprentice is still on the air, but with Trump on the campaign trail instead former California Governor, actor and LA-area resident Arnold Schwarzenegger will host season 15 of The Celebrity Apprentice set to premier during the 2016-2017 television season. Will he organize an LA 2024 event for the show?
I’ll end this week’s column the same way the 2005 report was wrapped up – with an awkward quote that the most decorated Olympian of all-time uttered while trying to link The Apprentice with The Olympics.
The 22-time Olympic medalist, 18-time Olympic Champion swimmer Michael Phelps said “The Apprentice is a wonderful vehicle to highlight New York’s candidacy for the Games in 2012. Set in this wonderful city and viewed by millions, competition is at the centre of this program and there is no better competitive event than the Olympic Games”.
What could Phelps have been thinking when some public relations guru told him to compare a competition that sometimes involves selling the most pancakes, with the accomplishments of an Olympic athlete?