IOC evaluation committee coming to L.A. this week, but will it matter?
The private committee hoping to bring the 2024 Summer Olympics to Los Angeles has checked all the boxes on its to-do list.
Welcome banners have been hung at the airport. Arrangements have been made to light up buildings across the city in nighttime yellows, blues and purples, the hues of the California sunset.
More important, local sports venues such as the Coliseum and Staples Center have been gussied up.
LA 2024 leaders have spent months preparing for this week’s visit by an International Olympic Committee delegation sent for a final evaluation of their bid.
“For us, it’s a great chance to show off our plan,” said Casey Wasserman, the bid chairman. “And a great chance to show off our city.”
But as this crucial test arrives, some experts who study the Olympic movement wonder: How much will LA 2024’s hard work matter?
The host competition — which has come down to L.A. or Paris — will be decided in September by a diverse group of IOC members casting secret ballots. No one will know for sure if they were swayed by the report the evaluation commission produces.
Will technical merits be paramount? Will some voters have sentimental preferences or play favorites with certain countries for political reasons?
The current bidding cycle is even more complex than usual because Olympic officials have indicated they might take the extraordinary step of naming two winners, giving 2024 to one city and 2028 to the other.
“The IOC is a bit of a wild card,” said Jules Boykoff, who teaches political science at Pacific University in Oregon. “This is a capricious process on top of an already unpredictable scenario.”
History has shown that technical superiority does not always translate into a winning effort.
The original bid for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games reportedly ranked well down the list of submissions, but had the advantage of offering the Olympics an entree into South America.
“At the end of the day, members are free to vote as they see fit,” said Michael Heine, director of the International Centre for Olympic Studies in Canada.
Still, candidate cities must treat their evaluation as a vital part of the two-year bidding process.
With the IOC delegation headed for France next week, Paris officials reportedly asked President-elect Emmanuel Macron to move his election celebration away from the Eiffel Tower, lest the event damage an adjacent park that will be inspected as a potential venue.
LA 2024 has planned a busy schedule for the 13 evaluators who arrive Tuesday. Wednesday and Friday have been earmarked for meetings, bookending a Thursday tour of the proposed venues.
Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has spearheaded the campaign, will play a prominent role. There will be a trip to a Dodgers game and a dinner in Beverly Hills. Celebrities will make cameo appearances along the way.
Perhaps the biggest priority will be a stop at UCLA, which would serve as an athletes village. LA 2024 needs to prove that student housing on the Westwood campus exceeds the traditional image of a bare-bones dorm.
“Don’t just trust us — go look and touch and feel,” Wasserman said.
The evaluation commission’s role has assumed particular significance since late 1999, when Olympic leaders responded to a scandal that saw allegations that some then- IOC members accepted bribes for the vote that resulted in Salt Lake City’s winning the 2002 Winter Games.
Now, members face restrictions in visiting candidate cities.
“There is no process for them to check things out on their own,” Heine said.
As the evaluation team gathers information for its report this week, LA 2024 might also seek to address issues of a non-technical nature.
IOC members have expressed concern about President Trump’s positions on foreign relations and immigration. With Macron defeating Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front party last weekend, the Paris campaign no longer faces such a dilemma.
“Having the IOC embrace a United States bid in the era of Donald Trump is very problematic,” said Derick L. Hulme, author of “The Political Olympics: Moscow, Afghanistan, and the 1980 U.S. Boycott.” “That’s the elephant in the room.”
A potential two-city selection might also affect L.A.’s chances.
With a privately funded plan that relies almost entirely on existing venues, LA 2024 could arguably wait four years if it could renew its working agreement with the Los Angeles City Council and renegotiate contracts with venue owners.
Paris’ bid, which relies more heavily on government funding and requires some major construction, could be seen as vulnerable to the ebbs and flows of political will.
“From the IOC point of view, it might be preferable to have Paris first, then L.A.,” Heine said. “The infrastructure in L.A. will still be there in 2028.”
While Paris had pushed back on accepting the 2028 Games, L.A. officials have merely insisted they remain focused on 2024. They have also urged IOC voters — repeatedly — to consider the bottom line.
Russia spent an estimated $51 billion on the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Last summer, Rio ran short of funds and had to make last-minute cutbacks. The 2020 Tokyo Games have struggled with costs for an extravagant central stadium.
LA 2024 has suggested the Olympic movement needs a fiscally responsible Games as soon as possible.
That could become a primary theme this week.
If nothing else, the uncertainty surrounding the evaluation commission and its role includes some very real numbers: The group has 11 voting members, or about 10% of the IOC electorate.
As Wasserman put it, “That’s a great starting point.”
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