Sports

Olympics, in future, will test local support before awarding Games

IOC Session in Lausanne, Switzerland - 26 Jun 2019
International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach speaks during a news conference Wednesday in Lausanne, Switzerland.
(Jean-Christophe Bott / EPA/Shutterstock)

Less than two years after Los Angeles was chosen to host the 2028 Summer Games without any public vote on the matter, the International Olympic Committee is suggesting that future candidate cities might be required to hold an advance referendum.

The recommendation was included in a number of modifications to the traditional bidding process that were announced at an IOC session in Switzerland on Wednesday.

Olympic leaders acknowledged they were forced to make changes because too many potential hosts have been scared away by the cost of staging the Games or have withdrawn bids amid public backlash.

“We can’t, I suggest, continue to be damaged as we have in the past,” IOC member John Coates of Australia said. “I don’t think it’s unreasonable to require referenda.”

A local, grass-roots group called for such a vote in L.A. well before the 2028 Games were awarded.

“Now the IOC is saying what we’ve been saying all along,” said Anne Orchier, an activist with NOlympics LA. “If this is the new standard, what does that say about what happened here?”

The IOC reforms represent another step away from an old-style process that often saw candidates trying to outdo each other with exorbitant spending on new stadiums and arenas and other construction.

Some previous hosts amassed substantial debt. As recently as 2014, Russia spent an estimated $51 billion on venues and infrastructure surrounding the Sochi Winter Games.

The IOC said it would now recruit cities able to stage the Olympics at less cost. That could lead to only one candidate being put before membership, thereby skipping the customary drama of the host city vote.

Olympic leaders also resolved to continue a trend of encouraging candidates to save money by using existing venues and, in some cases, combining bids with adjacent cities or countries.

The Games won’t necessarily be awarded seven years in advance, as is customary.

“We have to be more flexible, the times have changed,” said Andrew Parsons, an IOC member and president of the International Paralympic Committee. “The races we have seen in the past, I believe they are counterproductive to moving forward.”

The referendum issue was central to L.A.’s bid for the Games in a couple of ways.

Back in 2015, the U.S. Olympic Committee initially chose Boston as its official candidate for the 2024 Games, only to have that city withdraw after months of dealing with opposition groups and anemic public support.

When L.A. stepped in, polls conducted by the IOC and Loyola Marymount showed that between 78% and 83% of residents were in favor of hosting.

But according to a NOlympics LA poll released in late 2018, 45% of respondents from Los Angeles County and 47% from across California were opposed.

“Unlike the bid committee, we’re out there every day talking to people about this, going into neighborhoods,” Orchier said. “People don’t want the Games.”

Paris was ultimately awarded the 2024 Games and Los Angeles was chosen to host in 2028.

Not all potential hosts would be affected by the referendum recommendation. There would be no vote expected in nondemocratic nations such as China, site of the 2008 Summer Games and the upcoming 2022 Winter Games.

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Long-time IOC member Dick Pound questioned how referenda would be managed.

“We’ve seen, in particular in the developed democracies, where 25% of the people are against everything all the time,” the Canadian official said. “You’re playing with an uncommitted three-quarters, and even if you have a two-to-one majority you’re only back to 50-50.”

The predicted cost of staging the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics has risen to $6.9 billion, according to an updated budget released in April.

The IOC is expected to contribute a $1.5-billion share of its international revenues. Organizers have said they can cover all remaining expenses through domestic sponsorships, ticket sales, merchandising and other sources.

david.wharton@latimes.com

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