2024 Olympics: Paris looks to build bridges while L.A. has to walk through walls

Paris and Los Angeles treated the start of the international campaign to win the 2024 Summer Olympics very differently Friday.

The French held a press opportunity at a glitzy brasserie with a view of the Eiffel Tower as it glowed and glittered in the projected five colors of the Olympic rings, and the new Paris 2024 slogan, “Made For Sharing,” appeared in the projection.

That was “Made For Sharing” in English only, in both the projection and on the Paris 2024 Facebook page, which has caused some consternation among the French, notably the Trumpian “Make France First” politician Marine Le Pen.  More on that later.

At the same time, the two leaders of the Los Angeles bid, chairman Casey Wasserman and CEO Gene Sykes, were doing a conference call with reporters.

The Paris 2024 press conference, which came only a few hours after an apparent terrorist attack at the Louvre, included the country’s prime minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, who pointedly said France wants to “build bridges, not walls.”

The L.A. conference call, which came just hours after reports that Iran was imposing what amounts to a tit-for-tat ban by prohibiting U.S. freestyle wrestlers from entering Iran for a meet, included Wasserman doing his best to do a tap dance worthy of Fred Astaire around the point Cazeneuve was making.

That point, of course, is that president Trump’s immigration and travel ban and his criticisms of Mexico, China, NATO, Australia, the Trans Pacific Partnership and whomever or whatever else Trump’s puppet master, Steve Bannon, wants to attack next are building walls the Los Angeles bid may find difficult to break down or bridge.

When asked if he were concerned about the political atmosphere in the United States affecting the bid, Wasserman fell back on a scripted answer that made him sound disingenuous.

“When we raised our hand to host the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games, it was because we believe in the power of the (Olympic) movement to unite the world.  And that was the ability to unite the world through sport, not politics,” Wasserman said.

“I agree with the mayor (Eric Garcetti), who said ultimately we will be judged on the merits of our bid, not on politics, because the IOC (International Olympic Committee) has always acted in the interest of sport above politics, and we have no doubt the same will continue with this process.”

If the IOC cared about sport and the “power of the movement” above geopolitics and money, it never would have awarded the 2008 Summer Games to Beijing or the 2014 Winter Olympics to Sochi.  It never would have allowed itself and other Olympic leaders – especially former American Olympic Association (the predecessor of the U.S. Olympic Committee) president Avery Brundage, a notorious anti-Semite and later IOC president - to lick Hitler’s jackboots in 1936.  It never would have heaped laurels on an East German dictator and turned a blind eye to his country’s doping.

Wasserman, a person of formidable intellect and business acumen, undoubtedly knows all that.  He has been put in the discomfiting position of trying to convince the world it would be welcome at a Los Angeles Olympics while the Xenophobe-in-Chief rattles sabers, makes enemies of old friends and begins to turn America into Bannon’s vision of alt-white AmeriKa.

  L.A. 2024 marked Thursday's delivery to the International Olympic Committee of its final Summer Games bid plans with a public celebration at the L.A,. Coliseum.  Photo L.A. 2024.

L.A. 2024 marked Thursday's delivery to the International Olympic Committee of its final Summer Games bid plans with a public celebration at the L.A,. Coliseum.  Photo L.A. 2024.

During the teleconference, I asked Wasserman how he could convince IOC members that what Trump is saying about their nations is not a direct slap in the face at them (or their countries), and that they should vote for LA nevertheless.  His answer was, unsurprisingly, a walk on egg shells.

“We are excited to share the story of our bid,” Wasserman said.  “We are certain the merits of our bid are outstanding, and I am confident that IOC members will see our bid as that.  This is a long process.  Our continued engagement with the members and the movement will continue to be around our bid and our ability to be the right partner for the Olympic movement at the right time.”

Clearly, everyone at L.A. 2024 (and the USOC) is leery of saying anything that might send the Toddler-in-Chief into a Twitter tantrum.  You can’t run an Olympics without the financial and logistical support of the federal government, especially where security is concerned, and any Trump disavowal of the L.A. bid might be reason for some IOC members to reject it.

But there could be some IOC members who would want to stand behind anything Trump dislikes.  It remains hard to imagine any of them voting in September for something Trump is supporting.

The USOC would tell you its anodyne statements about Trump’s ban on travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries owe to its need to work with the administration.  LA 2024 feels a similar obligation to the people and companies who have donated time and millions of dollars for its bid.  Both explanations are logical, expedient and morally equivocal.

After all, as the USOC is quick to point out, it is also the only national Olympic committee in the world that gets no federal funding for its operations and athlete support.  Having an Olympics in the United States would briefly boost that funding, but U.S. teams have done just fine in the Olympic arena since the last Olympics in this county – Salt Lake’s 2002 Winter Games.

There is one thing Wasserman did say in his prepared remarks that sounded problematic in a different way.

  The L.A. 2024 logo, based on its slogan, "Follow The Sun."

The L.A. 2024 logo, based on its slogan, "Follow The Sun."

“L.A. 2024 wants to set a sustainable precedent that will serve the Olympic movement for decades,” he said.  “We want to show that the culture of imagination and creativity that exists in L.A. and California can help connect the Olympic and Paralympic Games to the future.”

Implicit in that, it seemed, was the attitude that the United States has all the answers, and we are going to be nice enough to give them to you.  Such an attitude, expressed in a different way by recent failed Paris bids (“You’re lucky we want to be an Olympic host”), was classic French hauteur:  We have the best food, the best culture, the best architecture, the best language, some of which (other than the language part) might have both been arrogant and true in the 19th Century, but times have changed.

French is an official Olympic language, but Paris 2024 is making its case in English, the lingua franca of the 21st Century world.  That builds a bridge and shows humility that was lacking in the French bids for 2012 and 2008.

Wasserman and Sykes insisted their ideas about creating a sustainable precedent should not be seen as evidence of similar U.S. vanity – a vanity Trump displays at every opportunity.

“This is not about the United States trying to teach the Olympic movement,” Wasserman said.  “This is about the Olympic movement and Los Angeles working together to provide a solid foundation for Games going forward.”

“A lot of the features of our approach to sustainability are features or technologies that have been developed away from the United States,” Sykes said.

“I don’t think we’re saying you have to do it our way.  In many cases, we’re doing it the way other people have shown us how to do it.  The track we put into the (L.A.) Coliseum is based on a design used in Glasgow in Scotland. . .We don’t think it’s about the U.S. teaching the rest of the world anything as much as adapting things the world provides.”

Maybe L.A. could follow suit as well as the sun and add “Made By Sharing” to its slogan.