With the contest for the right to host the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games down to the last two contestants and nearing a final verdict, there may be several good reasons for giving Paris the right to stage the 2024 Olympics while postponing the return of the Games to Los Angeles until four years later. The most compelling of them must surely be that such a decision would put the Olympics out of the reach of Donald Trump’s sticky little fingers.
The two-term limit of the recently inaugurated US president will end in 2025 – unless, that is, Trump decides to follow the example of Julius Caesar and declare himself dictator perpetuo. He might even emulate Caligula by pronouncing himself divine before presiding over the Games on a golden throne. And then why not go all the way? In the Olympics of 67AD, Nero awarded himself an entry in the 10-horse chariot race. Having persuaded the organisers to insert the event into the schedule, Trump could then invent a local rule forcing all competitors who are not heads of state of the host nation to blindfold their horses.
Paris and Los Angeles would both like to be the next in line to host the Games after Tokyo in 2020, and they are the only cities left in the competition after Hamburg, Rome and Budapest withdrew from the original field of five. The first to go, in November 2015, was Hamburg, its withdrawal announced after a referendum in which more than half of voters indicated their disapproval. Rome followed through the exit in October last year; the former Italia 90 boss Luca di Montezemolo had been appointed to run the campaign but the bid was suspended by the city’s mayor, Virginia Raggi. This February, even though Budapest’s candidacy had been approved by the Hungarian parliament, the signatures of almost a quarter of a million residents on a protest petition were enough to persuade the city’s authorities that the money would be more wisely spent on education, health care and transport infrastructure.
This is, very clearly, going to become a problem for the IOC a little further down the line. Given the escalating costs that come with the expectation that each Games has to prove itself worthy of being proclaimed the greatest ever, the number of potential candidates seems likely to continue to decline. In an uncertain future, who will want to spend £9bn, as London did in 2012 during what will surely look in the eye of history like a very brief boom?
In this, as in much else to do with sport and money, Bernie Ecclestone’s Formula One set the tone. If the IOC continues the traditional policy, rather than taking the sensible decision to hold all future Summer Games at a permanent site in Greece, it will probably find itself depending almost entirely on despots wanting to buff up their popularity and dodgy regimes looking to raise their status. But how often in the future is it likely to encounter a man like Vladimir Putin, willing to spend £16bn on the Winter Games in Sochi?
For now, though, it has a choice between a pair of candidates whose proposals are relatively sensible. Paris is offering to use existing facilities such as the Stade de France, the Parc des Princes, the Stade Colombes, Roland-Garros, Bercy and the velodrome at Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, along with the Grand Palais for fencing and the Champs Élysées for road cycling and the marathon.
Los Angeles would call on the recently renovated Memorial Coliseum, the key Olympic site in 1932 and 1984, along with the Staples Center, various UCLA and USC facilities, the Forum, the Rose Bowl in Pasadena – location of the 1994 World Cup final – and the ocean at the end of Sunset Boulevard. Like Paris, LA has plans to build an Olympic village for the athletes; why doesn’t the IOC insist that – unlike London – it must afterwards be handed over in its entirety to social housing for the poor and those on lower incomes?
In the past fortnight the IOC’s evaluation commission has made three-day visits to both cities. In LA, where public support for the bid is said to be running at 88%, they attended a Dodgers game and were told that none of the £4.1bn budget would come from public funds. In Paris they heard France’s new president banish fears that he would not be supporting the bid. The day after his inauguration, Emmanuel Macron met the commission and gave the £3.75bn project his blessing by letting it be known that he will travel with its leaders when both cities formally present their case to the IOC in Lausanne in July.
There will be no sense of novelty when the final decision is announced in September. Paris held the second edition of Pierre de Coubertin’s modern Olympics in 1900 and the Games returned there in 1924. Marking that centenary would be a nice touch – an opportunity that Athens, the venue for the first modern Games, lost when Atlanta hosted the 1996 Games. The Paris committee has its sights fixed on 2024 because, it says, an option on the land in Saint-Denis earmarked for the Olympic village would expire after that date.
As for Los Angeles, it first held the Games in the year in which the products of Hollywood’s studios included The Murders in the Rue Morgue, with Bela Lugosi, and I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, with Paul Muni. The second LA Games came in the year of Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator and Harrison Ford in Indiana Jone s and the Temple of Doom. Like those blockbusters, the 1984 Games managed to use a big budget to turn a profit, despite the boycott by 14 nations of the eastern bloc.
That unexpected financial success was taken as a sign that naked US-style capitalism could redeem the reputation lost when Montreal incurred debts in hosting the 1976 Games so vast that the city was still repaying them 30 years later. Although the budgets for Paris and LA look almost rational, standing not much higher than the Summer Games average (£4bn) since Rome in 1960, the experience of London shows how easily costs can go out of control even in a city that has hosted the Games on two occasions.
But let’s look on the bright side. If the Olympics really do have to keep moving in their quadrennial cycle from one host city to the next, then beach volleyball on the Champs de Mars followed four years later by sailing at Santa Monica really doesn’t sound so terrible.