You can’t help but wonder what the voting members of the International Olympic Committee, whose charter seeks to place “sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind,” thought of the bombastic “AMERICA FIRST, AMERICA FIRST” message in the Xenophobe-in-Chief’s inaugural address last Friday.
You also can’t help but wonder if Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who is pretty much the anti-Trump on every issue, has found a tailor to help him cut his conscience in a suitable fashion to continue currying the new U.S. president's support for his city's 2024 Summer Olympic bid.
And you also can’t help but wonder if the sickening idea that Marine Le Pen becomes president of France could boost L.A. 2024, given that Paris is Los Angeles’ chief rival for the 2024 Summer Games and Le Pen’s politics are even more offensively exclusionary and jingoistic than Trump’s.
You have to feel sorry that Los Angeles is saddled with a U.S. president who wants to build fences rather than bridges, to close our country rather than leave it open and welcoming, who uses slogans that recall World War II isolationism. Why sorry? Because the L.A. bid committee has done everything right since the city’s previous mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, told the U.S. Olympic Committee in 2013 that it was interested in the 2024 Olympics.
On L.A.’s part, that included gracious acceptance when the USOC board of directors allowed itself to be snookered by the suasion of two Boston-based members, Olympians Whitney Ping and Angela Ruggiero. The USOC picked Boston as the 2024 U.S. candidate without having done due diligence on just how much opposition there was to the bid in Boston and its surrounding area.
When that massive opposition presented itself, leading Boston to withdraw its candidacy in July 2015, Los Angeles immediately stepped in with a bid that it has made better, stronger and more sensible in each iteration. The L.A. project, with strong public support, has been perfectly tailored to fulfill Agenda 2020, the IOC’s plan to reduce the cost of bidding for and staging the Games.
(Of course, that economic impact report the bid committee released earlier this month is a mite optimistic, projecting an economic output increase from a Los Angeles 2024 Summer Games as 11.2 billion for the city and $18.3 billion for the nation. But I can forgive them that as part of the game. Economists have jokingly suggested to me in the past that all such studies are prepared by the same company, which changes its name as it gives client candidate cities around the globe Pollyanna predictions of the economic benefits of having the Games. Serious studies have shown such benefits to be negligible with the likelihood of debt much greater, although the L.A. bid, with no building of an Olympic Village or major venues, seems to involve almost no financial risk. Emphasis on seems.)
Last July, when the chance of Trump becoming president was generally dismissed, Garcetti told the Associated Press:
"I think for some of the IOC members they would say, 'Wait a second, can we go to a country like that, where we've heard things that we take offense to?. . . Everything that we're going through right now in the United States politically, I don't want us to be a country that turns into itself. I think we have to look outward to the world."
That is exactly the opposite of Trump’s approach, both in his campaign and since his inauguration. The threat to ban Muslims from entering the United States; the border wall with Mexico he insisted again this week Mexicans will pay for (an idea immediately rejected by Mexico’s current and former Presidents, the latter quite profanely, the former in cancelling a meeting with Trump scheduled for next Tuesday); the attempts to undermine NATO; and Trump’s risking a trade war with China aren’t exactly looking outward.
The Prevaricator-in-Chief's protectionist saber-rattling with China comes just a few days after the Chinese company Alibaba signed an Olympic sponsorship deal reportedly worth $800 million and Chinese President Xi Jinping made a 40-mile side trip from Geneva to meet with IOC President Thomas Bach at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne (call it the mountain coming to Muhammad.)
China, which will have the 2022 Winter Olympics, is an ever-more-important partner for the IOC. The IOC president may not vote in host city elections, but his influence on the vote is undeniable.
And then there is Trump’s ending U.S. participation in the Trans Pacific Partnership. No matter what one thinks of that agreement, the U.S. pullout impacts 11 other countries that have 10 of the IOC’s current 95 voting members. (Add to that China’s three members.) No matter that members are supposed to represent the IOC in their home country rather than vice-versa, and no matter that host city votes are secret, many members are likely to do their national government’s bidding or at least hew to its suggestion.
In May, Garcetti said of Trump: “He’s a racist. He’s a bigot. He’s sexist.” Two weeks after the election, Garcetti spoke with Trump by phone, and the mayor's office said the new president would support the L.A. bid, according news reports.
IOC members would reject out of hand any bid that does not have at least the stated support of the bid city’s national government. And some of the petty panjandrums in the IOC membership might even love Trump, given the IOC’s attraction to authoritarian leaders.
One thing we know already: Trump’s reaction to the 2024 vote, no matter the outcome. Should L.A. win, he will claim credit. Should it lose, he will claim it was a rigged election.
Of course, former President Obama told New York Magazine last October that Chicago’s 2016 bid failed because the IOC vote was “cooked.” And he was right, at least in the sense of Rio’s victory having been all but predetermined. Former IOC President Jacques Rogge wanted his legacy to include sending the Olympics to South America for the first time, and the members – even some with duplicity so naked they dissimulated support for Chicago - made that wish a done deal.
Right now, the best scenario for L.A. 2024 is for the IOC to adopt the bandied-about idea that its vote in September be not just on 2024 but on the 2024 and 2028 Summer Games at the same time. That would allow Paris to have 2024 – the centenary of its last Summer Games – and L.A. 2028, when, thankfully, there is no chance Trump can still be president.