How L.A. could save the Olympics (again)

If the United States Olympics Committee wants the Olympics, it should nominate Los Angeles. But who knows what it will do?

There is reason to suspect the motives of the U.S. Olympic Committee. Since 1995, the U.S. city bidding process has been riddled with scandal, embarrassment, and failure. As a result, the United States has not come close to hosting an Olympic games since the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. In light of the somewhat predictable news that Boston will withdraw its 2024 bid, the United States seemingly will not host a games in the foreseeable future. Unless it nominates Los Angeles.

A classic Time magazine cover from the 1984 L.A. Olympics. Source:
A classic Time magazine cover from the 1984 L.A. Olympics. Source:

Every time the USOC meets to select its nominee to host the Olympic Games, experts the world over will handicap Los Angeles as the favorite – and with good reason. The city has the infrastructure already in place; it has the technical know-how, the public support, the political will, and an Olympic tradition. It’s a ready-made Olympic city – it could conceivably host the games tomorrow if need be. It’s a cosmopolitan city that attracts more international diversity than any other modern host. It was the city that saved the modern Olympic games in 1984 and ushered in the new era of the spectacle we now enjoy today. The list of cons against the city hosting the games is quicker to list than the many pros. And yet every time a bid has come up, and every time the experts extol the virtues of Los Angeles’s obvious candidacy, the USOC chooses another city. Not just another city, but typically the worst options of the available cities.

  • In 2002, the USOC chose New York to be the nominee for the 2012 Olympic Games. It was the second city to be eliminated from contention, as the city couldn’t secure funding for the centerpiece of the bid – the West Side Stadium. But at least it allowed Donald Trump to exploit the games for an episode of The Apprentice.
  • In 2006, the USOC (led by L.A. Olympic hero Pete Ueberroth) chose Chicago to be the nominee for the 2016 Olympic Games. It featured a $300 million temporary stadium, that would have been destroyed as soon as the Olympics had finished (that’s one way to get rid of White Elephants). The city was the first to be eliminated.
  • The USOC decided not to bid for the 2020 Olympic Games, citing a desire to regroup and rebuild international connections. Had a bid been made, and assuming no negative relationships, the U.S. might have had a great shot against Istanbul and Tokyo (the eventual winner), each of which had its own challenges.
  • In 2015, the USOC chose Boston over D.C., L.A., and the Bay Area, despite high costs and extreme public disapproval for the Olympic Games in the city of Boston.

It’s conceivable that the USOC thought the strength of these bids was greater than they were in reality. There is also something to be said about the bids’ failures not as a result of their merits, but of the extremely poor relations between the USOC and the International Olympic Committee. In that sense, perhaps it may have been good not to waste a bid from L.A. while relations were so poor.

The USOC could have also bid on the Winter Games. The recently decided 2022 games were awarded to Beijing over Almaty, Kazakhstan. But the prestige and appeal of a Summer games are more appealing.

There’s no guarantee that an L.A. bid would succeed. The 2024 bids are shaping to be very competitive – Rome, Toronto (which just successfully hosted the Pan-Am games), Hamburg (in the home country of IOC President Thomas Bach), and Paris, perhaps the current favorite (which would host the 2024 Olympics 100 years after it hosted its last Olympic games).

There is also reasons to suspect the IOC’s process, as well. With memories of the Athens games still present, it awarded the 2012 Winter Olympics to Sochi, which was not ready to host the games, and the 2016 Olympics to Rio, which faces construction and severe pollution issues. The IOC has become very demanding on an almost FIFA-like level in the favors it expects from candidate cities. Boston is far from the first city to reject the Olympics. The IOC has recently enacted reforms meant to, among other things, limit the financial burden of cities bidding on the games. These measures favor fiscally sound bids, of which Los Angeles would lead the pack.

Los Angeles has the potential to reinvent the Olympic games again. The event could be a boon for the USOC, the IOC, and the city itself. L.A. is almost guaranteed not to lose money on an Olympiad. Unlike other cities, L.A. could push back against IOC demands and still provide a monetary and PR success for the IOC (no White Elephants). The games could reshape the USOC’s reputation at home and internationally, and almost assuredly would be the most well attended and well-watched games in history. Finally, the Olympics would spur infrastructure improvements that would benefit the city for decades to come.

At the risk of making an awful pun, a Los Angeles bid would almost certainly mean gold for Team USA. If L.A. is not selected as the USOC bid or performs poorly during the IOC vote, it might be time to seriously question the process by which Olympic games are selected.

Cover Photo: From the 1984 L.A. Olympics. Source: