The news that Boston no longer wants to host the 2024 Summer Olympics isn’t really a shock. Few cities these days do. But the Olympics don’t have to be bad for the host city—and done right, they can actually benefit it. Nowhere is that clearer than Los Angeles, the new frontrunner for 2024. The Olympics would be good for LA, and even more importantly—LA will be good for the Olympics.
These days, hosting the Games is rarely seen as the boon for cities it once was. Just look at our Olympics news over the last few months: Japan canceled its stadium, Rio isn’t ready, Sochi is a ghost town, Greece, well, you’ve heard about Greece. But Los Angeles achieved something special when it hosted the Summer Olympics in 1984—they ended up being the most successful games in history. To give the city another chance to replicate that success would be a very smart thing for the IOC to do.
LA would give the Olympics a clear victory on the global stage and help set a roadmap for how cities might efficiently, sustainably, and responsibly host the games in the future. LA would help the Olympics win back the world’s goodwill. And here’s how that could happen.
The city has hosted the Olympics twice already: Once in 1932, once in 1984. Both times, LA did something remarkable: It made money. In fact, due to smart investing, LA is still making money from the games. Where other cities faced ballooning costs and years—decades, even—of paying off debt, LA achieved the impossible with a smart combination of corporate sponsorships, broadcast rights, and private funds. No Angelenos were taxed for the games, and no government money was used. The strategies that helped LA be successful the first two times around will be employed again to make sure the city stays flush with cash.
Overbuilding giant venues has become a disheartening trend for major sporting events. Just look at the glut of stadiums built specifically for World Cup games in Brazil and Qatar, sometimes at great human cost. In the years after the games, the stadiums are often abandoned or fall into disrepair. In LA, the big events, including the opening and closing ceremonies, would happen at the LA Coliseum in Exposition Park, which was built in 1932 for the first Olympics and reused for the 1984 games as well. Los Angeles’ proposal claims that the only purpose-built development will be some athlete housing which will be reused as affordable housing and office space. This is LA’s big advantage, Barry Sanders, chair of the Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games, told me. “The key element for any proposal for LA is our flexibility. We have no need to build any new permanent venues—we might choose to, but we have no need to. We not only have enough venues, we have more than enough venues.”
One of the most legendary tales of the 1984 Olympics was that people were so afraid of getting trapped in one of LA’s famous traffic jams that everyone stayed home or left town, allowing athletes and spectators to zip around town on empty roads. Officials could scare Angelenos off the road again (remember Carmageddon?) but they likely won’t have to: LA is in the midst of a public transit renaissance, building out several critical rail lines faster than any other American city. An accelerated timeline would mean many of those major lines will be completed right around the time of the Olympics, including a rail connection and people mover to efficiently deliver riders to and from LAX (finally). The plan says it will deliver 80 percent of spectators by transit. I think that’s totally doable.
Speaking of traffic, that’s one of the reasons Boston residents were terrified of hosting the games. Boston’s proposal centered around walking and transit, and yes, everything would have technically been very close and convenient. But that’s actually problem when you look at how dense the city is. Imagine hundreds of thousands of people trying to move around such a limited geographical area—it’s destined to be claustrophobic. Los Angeles is about 400 square miles and the venues will be clustered into four major nodes, some of them 30 miles apart. There won’t be a particular part of the city that will be completely incapacitated due to crowds.
Boston’s leaders might have bid for the games, but its residents didn’t really want them: 50% of the population said they did not support the Olympics. Not every single person wants the Olympics in LA but I would describe the vibe here as generally pro-Olympics. Most importantly, key Angelenos have consistently voiced an emphatic “yes” to the games. Mayor Eric Garcetti issued a statement yesterday saying he’s in: “I would be happy to engage in discussions with the USOC about how to present the strongest and most fiscally responsible bid on behalf of our city and nation.”
The cities that are going to fare the best in the Olympics going forward are the ones that will stand up to the IOC’s jerky rules. LA’s leaders have a proven track record for not being bullied and they have the grounds to tell the IOC to back off and let them do the games their way. The IOC has already introduced some plans for reforming the games, now LA will allow them to show those reforms can help produce even better Olympics.
Sure, the Olympics worked great in 1984, but the city has changed, and so have the way large events are run. Well, you might not know this, but Los Angeles is hosting the Special Olympics World Games right this moment. The opening ceremonies happened over the weekend at the LA Coliseum—the same venue that would will be used again in 2024. The Special Olympics is the largest sporting event happening anywhere on the planet this year: 6,500 athletes and 2,000 coaches representing 165 countries, 30,000 volunteers and 500,000 spectators. All the venues are being tested right now. So far LA is holding up well.
If we had this kind of technology three decades ago, just imagine what we could do in 2024. I mean, really, what else is there to say?