If USOC finds a new city, Boston debacle could be forgotten
Embarrassing as the debacle in Boston may have been, chances are it will be nothing more than a distant memory when the vote for the 2024 Olympics finally rolls around.
That’s still more than two years away, and the U.S. Olympic Committee has seven weeks to replace Boston with a more willing candidate — one that shows more enthusiasm for hosting the games, and can withstand the criticism and questions that will invariably come in a contest against Paris, Rome, Budapest and others.
Odds are that city would be Los Angeles, where Mayor Eric Garcetti has already expressed a willingness to listen if the USOC does call. San Francisco and Washington were also on the short list of the USOC’s group of domestic candidates.
“We live in an age where people have pretty short memories,” said Chuck Wielgus, the executive director of USA Swimming. “I think there’s a great desire among people within international sport to see the Olympics come back to the U.S.”
Putting a U.S. city in play still seemed like a popular idea among those gathered in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where international Olympic leaders were meeting to vote on where to hold the 2022 Winter Games. Because the official deadline to enter a city for the 2024 Games isn’t until Sept. 15, the news about Boston wasn’t taken as a sign the U.S. was out of the game.
“We always would welcome a bid from the States. It’s been a long time since they had a good candidate,” said IOC executive board member Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., of Spain.
The last two candidates have faltered under the weight of their own missteps, combined with the USOC’s sometimes-toxic relationship with the IOC. New York finished fourth out of five finalists for the 2012 Olympics. Chicago was last in the running for 2016.
The USOC skipped the 2020 bid to make sure it got things right this time around. At a meeting in January, the board went with Boston, choosing the new, never-done-this-before candidate over Los Angeles, which has hosted the Olympics in 1932 and 1984. San Francisco and Washington were not in the mix at the end.
It was a grand — some say, inexcusable — miscalculation. How could the USOC not have gauged the unsteadiness of the bid and the amount of opposition in Boston?
But the leadership tried to salvage things by cutting ties in time to get another city on board.
“In some ways, the USOC said, ‘Let’s see if this works,’” USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny said of the Boston selection. “They went down that road. It didn’t pan out like they hoped. But they’re saying, ‘We could still salvage something here and put a decent bid out there.’”
Los Angeles’ proposal incorporated many of the area’s most famous sites: Santa Monica beach, Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, the Rose Bowl, the Hollywood sign. The centerpiece would be an expanded Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which stands as a rarity in the United States since it was designed to be ringed by a running track.
There would be hurdles to overcome.
“There is very little appetite in California for public funding of sports facilities,” said Mark Fabiani, an attorney for the San Diego Chargers.
But most of the key venues that would be used at an L.A. Olympics are already built. And by 2024, there’s a good chance an NFL team or teams will have built at least one stadium that could be up and running.
There could be opposition, though the lack of an organized group when the city was first in the mix for 2024 stood in stark contrast to Boston, where a protest group was already active and even showed up at a USOC meeting to hang a banner.
Details have been vague both about how the city would fund an Olympics and whether Garcetti would be willing to sign the host city contract that government leaders in Boston balked at.
The USOC has contacted Los Angeles and a meeting is expected soon.
“If we bid, our city’s existing world class venues would make an Olympics in Los Angeles profitable just as in 1984 and 1932,” Jeff Millman, a senior adviser to the mayor, said in statement.
Despite those hurdles, Los Angeles is not a city that needs to be sold on the Olympics. It has, on the whole, embraced its previous role as host, and much has been made about its ability to run the games on a surplus and with a minimum of public financing. The 1984 Olympic torch remains on display at City Hall.
“L.A. is, by its nature, a global city,” said Los Angeles Councilman Bob Blumenfield. “It’s a natural fit for something like the Olympics.”
And if Los Angeles is the USOC’s choice, then that’s what the IOC voters will be talking about come September 2017, when the vote goes down.
“We need to close this chapter,” Wielgus said, “and quickly move to the next chapter.”
Associated Press reporters Stephen Wilson contributed from Kuala Lumpur, and Michael R. Blood contributed from Los Angeles.
This story has been corrected to delete a reference to Mark Fabiani working for Tom Bradley’s administration during the Olympics. He went to work for Bradley’s administration the following year.