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Practical Politics

The politics of winning the Olympics bid-who wants it?

David L. Horne, PH.D. | 8/4/2016, midnight

The 2024 Summer Olympics may be headed for Los Angeles. The first phase of the application process has been completed, and L.A. is still in it. In fact, it is now the front runner to be awarded the Games. That would make Los Angeles very unique. It would be one of the very, very few cities to ever hold the Olympics—Summer or Winter—three times. That world honor would be shared only with London, England (1908, 1948 and 2012).

Los Angeles’ competition this time around is Paris, Rome, and Budapest (Hungary). Hamburg, Germany, had initially applied, then withdrew, as a result of a recent referendum against using any public funds for the Games. Rome’s new mayor has recently said her city may follow suit—she is dead set against incurring a huge public debt for the city when other local financial issues are more pressing. The example of Athens, Greece, is also instructive in this case, because most Europeans believe the major financial debt Greece had to take on in order to host the 2004 Summer Olympics, was a major cause of the Greek bankruptcy of the last few years. Greece spent more than 9 billion euro on the Games, 7 billion of that from public funds, and incurred a debilitating debt that, along with other fiscal problems, put it on the verge of bankruptcy and public humiliation afterwards. It still has many “new” buildings and stadiums built for the Olympics that remain vacant, worthless, and unusable.

In fact, hosting the Olympic Games has become a straightforward path towards insolvency and financial peril for most cities and countries. But not Los Angeles. Both times the city has hosted the Olympics, the local management group made a profit for the city. The 1984 Games, which made then-Mayor Tom Bradley and businessman Peter Ueberroth, head of the L.A. organizing group, world famous, remains the most profitable Olympics Games ever held.

Too bad most of the cities which have hosted the Games since did not study the L.A. model sufficiently. Virtually all of them have spent and lost more money than the Games they hosted brought in. The recent Games in Beijing, China, and Sochi, Russia, are prime examples. While each put on a spectacular event, the giant venues and custom-made buildings erected specifically for the Games, now sit vacant, rotting and creepy, and each country still maintains a sizeable Olympics debt to pay off. From recent reports, Rio will not be any different.

However, the Los Angeles model remains available for study. It is also true that the new L.A. application for the 2024 Olympics plans to dust off that LA84 model. The organizers and plan presenters for LA2024 do not envision a number of new Olympic structures; rather, they are advocating the up-dated usage of the L.A. Coliseum, the Olympic pool at USC, the velodrome in Carson (on the campus of Cal State Dominguez Hills), the Rose Bowl, and other such L.A. regional landmarks. In short, they plan on being budget-conscious and as frugal as possible in order to host a spectacular Los Angeles Olympic Games that will be as profitable, or even more profitable, than the 1984 Games.