Los Angeles is Hosting the 2028 Olympics—But Is That a Good Thing?

July 31st 2017

The Summer Olympics are coming back to the United States for the first time since the 1996 Atlanta Games. In a break with tradition, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has elected to announce the locations for two games at once, according to CNN: Paris will host the 2024 games, and Los Angeles will be home to the 2028 games. 

But is hosting the Olympics a good idea for cities?

Most people would assume that hosting the Olympics is a big moneymaker—from the ticket sales, to the sponsorships, to the throngs of tourists descending on the host city. But in reality, hosting the Olympics often comes with heavy costs. Consider the most recent host, Rio de Janeiro, which, ended up $40 million in debt after the 2016 games, due to unexpected cost overruns. By the time the games started in 2016, Rio was 50 percent—$1.6 billion—over budget. And those cost overruns aren't an anomaly, either. According to Five Thirty Eight, the median cost overrun is even more—90 percent. "Since the 1960 games in Rome, every single edition of the Olympics for which data is available has been more expensive than originally projected," according to Five Thirty Eight.

Olympic Park RioJeff Kern -

The geography of a city.

There's also the havoc that the games wreak on the geography of the city. Hosting the Olympics forces cities to build enormous stadiums, playing fields, and athlete housing—most of which are often underused afterwards. According to the New York Post, Rio's new $800 million park left behind by the games is sparsely attended by the city's residents, and four of the stadiums have yet to find private sector management; ownership has passed to the federal government.

In a city like Los Angeles, with an historic housing crisis underway, members of a grassroots organizations opposing the Olympic bid argue that this will exacerbate the issue. The movement NOlymicsLA writes on its site, "we have seen construction and tourism in recent games lead to accelerated gentrification and displacement of existing residents, particularly low-income and immigrant residents."

L.A. might avoid some of those cost overruns, though. 

L.A. has hosted the games twice before, in 1936 and in 1984. So many of the necessary facilities already exist—though not all of them. The city also plans to use existing arenas like the Staples Center, and is looking to house athletes at University of Southern California and University of California, Los Angeles rather than building expensive villages, which could save on costs. The city also seems to have struck a sweetheart deal, by Olympic standards. According to the Los Angeles Times, the bid committee has estimated it can cover all the costs of staging the games without taxpayer support—through ticket sales and sponsorships. They're also getting a $180 million advance, much of which will go to bolster youth sports programs in the city. As for the cost overruns, the deal seems to take that into account, too. Per the Times, the bid "includes a $487.6 million contingency—money that would be set aside to pay for the sort of cost overruns that have plagued recent Games, leaving hosts with substantial deficits." It the games come in under budget, that contingency would turn to a surplus.

Staples Centermark6mauno -

But it's not all about costs. 

Most people point to the '84 games as a success story, since the organizers of those games netted a $215 million surplus. But the games had consequences outside of profits. According to Jonny Coleman, who is heading up the @NOlympicsLA movement. Much of the LAPD's recent militarization can be traced to the '84 games, according to Coleman.

"The ’84 games were financially successful—but talk to people in South L.A., talk to people in East L.A. There are two different narratives about the ’84 games," he told ATTN:. Citing the Olympic Gang Sweeps of 1984, he said, "that’s when they just rounded up black and brown people without charging them, suspended their civil liberties...The LAPD were sent to Israel and [West] Germany to train with their armies."

And the process has been somewhat less than democratic.

"The normal process of having an Olympic bid takes months and years," says Coleman. Agreements must be reached with state and local officials, contracts must be drawn up with the venues, and then IOC and the city have to sign a finalized contract. The generally long timeline gives the citizens of a city some time to make their voices heard. While citizens of a city don't generally get to vote on whether to host the Olympics, the long run-up guarantees that opposition groups have time to make their case in the public forum.

Not so for Los Angeles, where the rush to nail down the 2028 games 11 years ahead of the event has created a rushed-bid process. "Now that there’s this scramble for 2028, they’re going to try to rush this new plan through the city council and state legislature," says Coleman. "Regardless of how you feel about the Olympics, the hastiness with which we’re approaching this has been really irresponsible."

Before the deal is final, the organizers will have to renegotiate contracts with venues, shifting all the dates to 2028, then the City Council will have to approve it again—they already expressed approval for the 2024 bid—and get state and federal officials on board, as the city will coordinate with them on many aspects of planning. All of this has to happen before mid-September, when the IOC meets again. 

Coleman was blunt about the political realities of the 2028 deal. 

"Eric Garcetti won't be our Mayor in 2028. He’s probably going to be in Sacramento, or on to Washington," Coleman said. "We're the ones who will still be here."

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