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Editorial: L.A. 2028? It’s not a booby prize but an opportunity for a better Olympics

At left, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles is lit on Feb. 13, 2008. At right, the Eiffel Tower is lit with colors for Paris 2024 on Feb. 3.
(Associated Press)

Los Angeles will win its bid to host a summer Olympic Games. That much is all but guaranteed after the announcement Friday that the International Olympic Committee’s executive board is recommending awarding the 2024 and 2028 Summer Games simultaneously in September. It’s not hard to predict who the winning hosts will be; there are only two bidders left in the running: Paris and L.A.

But will L.A. get its first pick — the 2024 Games — or will it be offered the Summer Games held four years later? We won’t know for sure until the IOC makes the formal announcement in three months, but the word is that L.A. is likely to be offered the 2028 Games. Comments by LA 2024 Committee Chairman Casey Wasserman on Wednesday indicate that L.A. is open to the idea of hosting in 2028. “LA 2024 has never been only about L.A. or 2024,” he said in an open letter to the IOC.

Would the later date be a snub to L.A. or a commentary on the country’s current shaky political ground, as some people are suggesting? Who knows? Who cares? What’s important is that this uncommon arrangement offers L.A. an extraordinary opportunity. Mayor Eric Garcetti said there’s a chance now to push for concessions from the IOC. We suggest he focus on wrangling better terms in exchange for agreeing to go second.

We have been concerned about the potential costs to the city of putting on such a massive sporting event since Garcetti announced plans in 2015 to bid for the 2024 Summer Games.The IOC requires that bidding cities agree to cover any cost overruns, and every Olympic Games in the last 50 years has had cost overruns.

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Any number of things could go wrong between 2017 and 2028 — earthquakes, riots and recessions, to name just a few of the possible catastrophes.

The high cost of the Games, coupled with the responsibility to cover losses, contributed to withdrawal from the competition of three of the five cities bidding on the 2024 Games — Hamburg, Germany; Budapest, Hungary; and Rome. In fact, the only reason L.A. became the U.S.’ bid team was because Boston dropped out after city residents were hit with sticker shock. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said he was unwilling to put taxpayers on the hook and refused to sign a host city agreement with the cost overruns guarantee.

Garcetti says that things are different in Los Angeles, so there’s no reason to worry. Unlike Boston and recent Olympics host cities, Los Angeles already has much of the infrastructure needed to accommodate the Games. The rest is slated to be built and paid for by others, such as the new Rams football stadium at Hollywood Park in Inglewood, which would be the location of the opening ceremony. That stadium is behind schedule, so waiting until 2028 won’t hurt.

Certainly L.A. is in a much better position to put on an Olympic Games than other host cities, with so many communities and universities around its vast metropolis happy to participate. UCLA has committed to putting up athletes in dorms it plans to build, for example, freeing L.A. from having to spend $1 billion to construct an Olympic athletes’ village.

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Unlike the mayor, however, we can imagine any number of things that could go wrong between 2017 and 2028 — earthquakes, riots and recessions, to name just a few of the possible catastrophes. Any of these could throw a financial wrench in well-laid plans and leave the city with an Olympic-sized bill. California lawmakers promised to pitch in $250 million if the Games go over budget. But considering it takes billions of dollars to host an Olympic Games, that’s small comfort.

Still, if the mayor truly believes the city can’t lose on this Olympic bet, then he should have no trouble selling the IOC on this concession to the city’s financial worrywarts. If the committee balks, it would be a signal to city leaders that perhaps there is something to worry about after all.

Such a waiver is not without precedent. The last and only time the IOC granted one was to L.A. for the 1984 Games. There’s a similar set of circumstances now as well. L.A. was the only city bidding for the 1984 Games after Tehran dropped out, and Mayor Tom Bradley leveraged the IOC’s need for a host city to get a waiver. It turned out well for everyone and is widely considered the most financially successful Games on record.

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The IOC needs L.A. once again to make its dual-award scheme work; the cost of putting on the Games has grown so high, it’s becoming harder for the IOC to line up hosts the caliber of Paris and Los Angeles. This is a rare opportunity that somehow has come to L.A. twice in a lifetime. The city can’t afford to waste it.

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