Sat, Apr

Sports Politics: Los Angeles Should Be Wary of Incurring Expensive Olympics Debt


GUEST COMMENTARY--As it turns out, Los Angeles’s new love for sports does not end with acquiring the Rams and Chargers to play football.

Los Angeles has its sights set on a bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics, and is in competition with Budapest, California and Paris. It has a solid chance – an Eiffel tower backdrop pales in comparison to one of our city’s smog-blurred sunsets. 

While the prospects of international superstars roaming Westwood is exciting, it is worth noting that Los Angeles was not the first choice of the United States Olympic Committee to put forth an American Olympic bid. Boston was the committees first pick, but the city withdrew its bid due to worry from its citizens after concerns arose about the financial repercussions. Students at UCLA and residents of Los Angeles should be worried about expenses, too.

If the International Olympic Committee demands newer facilities and improvements, the city should withdraw its bid. The debts the event could incur are not worth it and could impede city projects for years to come. Montreal took 30 years to pay off the debt incurred by their 1976 Olympics.

It seems readily apparent that Los Angeles is a logical host for the games, with a bustling city center full of infrastructure and experience handling star-studded events. From demonstrations like the Women’s March to red carpet award shows, the city has demonstrated it can easily work with crowds.

“We know how to do this, nobody is taking a chance that Los Angeles will blow this,” said Zev Yaroslavsky, UCLA alumnus and long-time Los Angeles councilman and city politician. Yaroslavsky has experience with the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, which is still famous for its financial success.

The 1984 Olympics went as smoothly as any other Olympics – something that comes rarely – due to the use of existing facilities and private money. Many modern Olympics, like the ones held in Sochi, Russia in 2014 and Rio de Janeiro in 2016, have indebted their respective cities.

While the citizens of Los Angeles voted to amend the city charter to prevent public spending on the games, the charter has since expired, according to Yaroslavsky.

It appears things are lining up differently for this Olympic bid. In addition to the charter’s expiration, Los Angeles is competing with two impressive cities. If the city does host the Olympics, city officials might not be able to cut as many expensive corners.

This Olympic bid has one important similarity with that of 1984: Los Angeles was not the first pick in 1984. In fact, the city was awarded the host of the 1984 Olympics by default when Tehran, Iran, the only other city in contention, withdrew its bid. This allowed Los Angeles to negotiate with the Olympic committee over terms of hosting the Olympics on even ground, without trying to outdo and outspend competing cities.

With Paris and Budapest also trying to hold the 2024 games, Los Angeles will not be able to have the same bargaining power it did in negotiations for the 1984 Olympics.

The competition for hosting privileges is one of the major drivers of expenses in the Olympics, with some hosts willing to spend millions or even billions to build and update facilities to the newest and most ostentatious configuration possible. Los Angeles does not need to do that; the city has numerous stadiums and arenas, from the Staples Center to our own Pauley Pavilion.

There are stadiums as big as the Coliseum, which can hold over 90,000 people, and can handle the enormous crowds. In comparison, Rio de Janeiro’s own Estadio Olimpico, where track and field events for the 2016 Olympics were held, can only contain 60,000 people.

In 1984, there was not even an Olympic village, with the city instead opting to house athletes in dorms at USC, UCLA, and even UC Santa Barbara. The plan for 2024 is to use UCLA dorms. If the IOC does not accept using existing facilities, the city needs to withdraw rather than plan a more expensive bid. 

The IOC might not be okay with collegiate “villages” when other competitors are offering the beautiful-but-costly facilities and villages associated with the Olympics. Los Angeles could host the Olympics cheaply and effectively, but if that is not what the IOC wants, the city needs to withdraw rather than make more costly plans.

For the city council and politicians though, hosting the Olympics is an impressive opportunity to host something memorable and prestigious. If it is not economically viable, are they willing to walk away?

(Stuart Key blogs at the Daily Bruin … where this perspective was first posted.)



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