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Here’s What LA Needs to Learn from the ’84 Olympic Success


SPORTS POLITICS-The 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympic Games marked the last time that the Games produced a profit. But City Hall appears to be ignoring, or forgetting, about three critical decisions that made these Games so successful. 

Following years of secret meetings, Los Angeles decided to apply to host the 2024 Summer Olympic Games. In January of this year, it finished second to Boston. A few weeks ago, Boston’s mayor refused to sign the formal agreement with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) because of the requirement that Boston pay for all cost overruns. 

Given the fact that all Games since 1984 have run in the red, Boston decided that it has more important priorities to spend its money on. 

So the door is open for Los Angeles to be named as the country’s nominee, and compete against other interested international cities. 

LA’s strongest argument is that it has to build and upgrade the fewest venues, and therefore needs to spend less money on construction, except for a velodrome, athlete housing, some upgrading, and a couple of other projects. Since no figures have ever been made public by the city’s organizers, we don’t know what the profit and loss estimates are. 

What we do know is that every Games application in history has exaggerated the costs and the economic benefits. It’s like when a contractor purposely submits an unrealistically low bid in order to win the contract, and then during construction comes back and asks for costly change orders. 

Mayor Tom Bradley and the City Council took three actions to ensure that the 1984 Games would be successful. It would be wise for our city and county leaders to remember them. 

1.  Public Opinion Poll 

In 1977, Mayor Bradley recommended that a public opinion poll be conducted. The results showed that 70% of those surveyed favored a Los Angeles bid. But only 35% said they supported the bid if local tax money were to be used. That second question has never been asked regarding this current bid. 

2.  The City Charter Amendment 

Later in the year, Councilman Bob Ronka proposed that an amendment to the City Charter be placed on the ballot that would prohibit the use of city funds for the Games. The City Council put the measure on the ballot, and an overwhelming 74% of the voters approved it. Today, Los Angeles seems willing to accept responsibility for the inevitable cost overruns. The response to the public seems to be, “Trust us. We’re politicians.” 

3.  Private Organizing Committee 

With the deadline rapidly approaching for the IOC to make a decision, Mayor Bradley formed a committee of business and labor leaders (initially known as the Committee of Seven, and later as the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee) to continue the negotiations with the IOC, which was holding firm with its traditional insistence that the host city pay for any cost overruns. 

The new LAOOC agreed that Los Angeles would withdraw its bid unless the IOC dropped its financial liability rule. The only point that the IOC would give way on was to recognize the private committee as the official city negotiators. 

Having lost patience, Bradley wrote to the IOC president, Lord Killanin, and explained the city’s firm position on the cost overruns, and threatened to withdraw the city’s bid.  

Almost immediately the IOC relented, and the rest is history. 

(Left: photo of Mayor Bradley and Lord Killanin signing contract at the White House.) 

After the Games closed, Bradley said that interference from City Hall would have created so much political posturing that it would have turned into the kind of political circus that would have made quick and correct decisions impossible. 

The problem with City Hall trying to oversee an event such as the Olympic Games is the very likely chance that the politicians will be guided by self-interests, and that’s no way to ensure the success of an event of this magnitude. 

If we’re going to protect the city’s taxpayers and spending priorities, let’s follow Boston’s bold example and resolve that Los Angeles will not pay for overspending.


(Greg Nelson is a former general manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, was instrumental in the creation of the LA Neighborhood Council System, served as chief of staff for former LA City Councilman Joel Wachs … and occasionally writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected].)




Vol 13 Issue 67

Pub: Aug 18, 2015

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