Mme. Anne Hidalgo
Place de l’Hôtel de Ville
Dear Mme. Hidalgo:
In American pick-up basketball, we have an expression: who’s got next?
On Sunday, Emmanuel Macron took office as French president. Surely in recent days you noticed how M. Macron was out front in expressing support to the International Olympic Committee for the Paris 2024 project. Just guessing here since you and he have had what might be described as a frosty relationship: you must have been thinking to yourself — dude, really?
More specifically: you’ve been doing this for months and now this guy steps into the limelight? Cutting right to it: in five years that could be you — you! — as president of the republic and that would be you dealing with the IOC if the Games were in Paris in 2024.
As many before you in many different countries: you are leveraging the Olympic spotlight in a bid to boost your political career. In this instance, what if in 2022 you — you! — could become the next president of France?
As the old saying goes: be careful, Madame Mayor, what you wish for.
Since this 2024 Olympic thing got underway, a lot has changed.
Have any of your advisors gotten you into a quiet place at a calm moment and walked you in a straight-talk manner through the logical and political realities?
Should Paris win this September for 2024, there indisputably would be a moment of glory for all involved, including you. Then, though, comes reality. And reality bites.
Before that 2022 presidential election, you would have five long years of construction woes, cost overruns, budget headaches, protestors, social media agitation, awful and unrelenting headlines.
Moreover, and here is the thing that has everyone in the Olympic movement scared to death, the Voldemort they dare not speak of: if the Paris project were starting from scratch, it is all but certain it would have to be put to a referendum, and Olympic insiders don’t think it would win. Ah. And there is the greater danger to both Paris and 2024 should it be awarded those Games: it would run into a Denver — that is, a déjà vu all over again of the way Colorado voters, after being given the 1976 Winter Games, voted them away.
Guess who would get the blame, and appropriately, for all of that?
You. For emphasis, and just so everybody is abundantly clear about this: you.
In case there would be any doubt: the Paris24 plan contemplates the creation of a government delivery agency, to be called Solideo. It was announced Sunday that you would be in charge. A predictable parade of untoward news about an Olympic construction money pit — did you see that report Friday in the monthly economics magazine Capital detailing the municipal budget? — and you could lose your mayoral re-election bid in March 2020.
There is, Madame Mayor, a better way, for your city and for you.
It’s 2028 for Paris and the Olympics.
Madame Hidalgo, I fully acknowledge I am American and, more, I am from Los Angeles, Paris’ rival for the 2024 Games, With that in mind, you may be tempted to dismiss these comments as the musings of Public Enemy No. 1. In the media workroom here, just up the hill from the Eiffel Tower, there are some who — I know this is true — see me as a spy. That is not true. It’s also hilarious.
I have no connection whatsoever with the LA24 bid. I have, however, covered every Olympic campaign for nearly 20 years, first with the LA Times, then with NBC, for the past seven years at this website. For what it’s worth, I grew up in the middle of the United States, in Ohio, in a household where my father not only ran for elected office every four years but had the pleasure of getting beaten up by the local newspaper for this or that, so maybe I understand a nuance or two about politics.
As an American, I get the tired trope you traded on when, in your opening remarks Sunday to the IOC, you said, “We believe that the Games are so much more than just a business opportunity.” What I don’t get, though, is why so chippy? Is that really you, or your consultants? The LA people didn’t take any shots at Paris during three full days with the IOC.
We both understand that three cities have fallen away from the 2024 race: Budapest, Hamburg and Rome. That leaves Paris and LA.
We also both know full well that the IOC is exploring whether a deal can be done so that Paris and LA split 2024 and 2028. In which order: unclear.
For public purposes, the IOC maintains that Paris and LA are both capable of staging the 2024 Games and it is in the enviable position of choosing between two winners.
That is politics talking. Cool.
There is a vivid difference between the LA and Paris plans, and that is the athletes’ village. It exists in Los Angeles — the dorms at UCLA. In Paris, it would have to be built, in Seine-Saint Denis, at a projected cost of $1.6 billion. Add in the aquatics center and media housing, and we’re talking $2 billion. Sorry for talking in dollars instead of euros.
During the evaluation tour that wrapped up Friday in LA, the IOC described the venues with words like spectacular, impressive and mind-blowing.
This village thing is a real problem for the Paris bid. The Paris24 people really don’t have good answers for this problem. That’s because there aren’t good answers.
In a news conference Sunday morning, Michael Aloisio, the Paris24 deputy director, asserted that the village that doesn’t exist is really a “strong point” because designers “started from a blank sheet” and could, for instance, “have inclines for handicapped people.”
This is absurd.
He added, “So we didn’t have to deal with existing structures, where you have to kind of make do and kind of repair them — so we started from scratch.”
That’s even funnier.
The real challenge is that, as we both know, Madame Mayor, construction projects always run over budget and behind schedule. Anyone who has ever done something as comparatively simple as a home remodel knows this.
We haven’t even gotten to what the soil remediation experts might find out there. And the connection to the metro system that’s supposed to be part of all this? Like that’s going to be seamless?
Madame Mayor, in politics and in journalism we recognize that stuff has to be said. But there is what is said and then the way things really play out.
This is the crux of the problem with the IOC and with government-backed and -funded Olympic projects.
Let’s just, for a second consider, Sochi. That one turned out to be $51 billion.
Not fair because Russia is a special case?
Let’s go to Tokyo. They promised $7.8 billion in the bid book. Now it’s at least $15 billion, maybe a lot more. The IOC is on a big push to use temporary venues. What’s this? Just three days ago, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike agreed that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government would cover the full cost of building about 40 temporary facilities outside the capital where events will be held. Total: roughly $400 million, maybe more. Headline from one English-language outlet: “Koike agrees to foot bill for temporary Olympic facilities but neighbors irked by delays, loose ends”
You are going to have “irked” activists in France, Madame Mayor. They are experts in social media. Ask the mayor of Budapest — along with officials at every level of government in Hungary — how that went for the Budapest 2024 bid.
The French government has pledged $1.1 billion toward Paris24. On Tuesday, M. Macron is expected to meet with the evaluation commission, confirming that pledge. Roughing it out here, the bid’s operational costs are $3.2 billion, infrastructure $3 billion.
History has shown that any bid book infrastructure estimates ought to be treated the way the mayor of Paris would view a Burger King bacon, egg & cheese croissan’wich: a sad joke.
In welcoming the IOC to town, Madame Mayor, you also said the goal was to convince the commission that Paris was the “right city, with the right vision at the right moment … with financial and political stability and support, ready right now.”
With due respect, Madame Mayor, the French state has been under a state of emergency for nearly two years now. The last time the United States was in such a position was perhaps when President Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus, and that was in 1863.
In your comments Sunday to the IOC, you also noted the “massive engagement of all the people … ready to start supporting us, and you, on the road to 2024.”
Remember how in the fall of 2015 the Paris 2024 people, to great fanfare, launched a campaign to help finance the bid by selling bracelets: just 2 euros apiece! (Back to euros.) The goal was 12 million. The campaign quietly closed about six months later after raising only 630,000 euros. Journalists aren’t typically very good at math but I believe that’s roughly 5 percent. My French is passable, not great, but I believe we can both understand this headline from Le Figaro, emphasis on the last word, because it’s stolen from English:
“La campagne de financement participatif de Paris 2024 fait un flop“
Not, Madame Mayor, what you would call emphatic evidence of “massive engagement of all of the people.”
Which leads me to M. Macron. Let him have his moment. The notion that he’s going to make some big difference in this Olympic race is so 2005, and this is 2017. Between us: the world leader who truly might make a difference is Vladimir Putin, who recently said Russia might want to bid for 2028.
It is always interesting to read between the lines with Mr. Putin, who for years has been a strong backer of the IOC president, Thomas Bach (indeed, the very first person to reach Mr. Bach’s cellphone at the IOC session in 2013 just moments after Mr. Bach won). In that same interview, not once mentioning Paris or France, Mr. Putin said this:
“Regarding Los Angeles, it is not for us to estimate the city’s chances. This must be done by the IOC. USA is one of the leading sports countries in the world, and I believe had good chance of getting the honor of hosting the Games. It is well known that LA hosted the games in 1984 and the USSR team unfortunately did not participate – just like the U.S. team which did not come to Moscow in 1980. No one benefited from this.”
Further, it may well be that Mr. Bach, who is collecting heads of state like bobblehead dolls, more than 100 already, will meet this spring or summer with Donald Trump, and perhaps even at the White House — the American president being the one big catch that through four years of his IOC term has so far eluded Mr. Bach.
Now back to you, Madame Mayor, because let’s think about what works for you over the next five years. Already you are positioning yourself to be an alternative to M. Macron. This is obvious. As is the seeming love (not) from Mrs. Macron (blue suit) in this picture you tweeted out Sunday with the caption: “Mr. President, I thank you for your strong words of support for the candidacy of #Paris for the Games of #Paris2024”
— Anne Hidalgo (@Anne_Hidalgo) May 14, 2017
The IOC is talking up this 2024/2028 deal. The people sweet-talking 2024 are the sport people: the French Olympic Committee, the bid leaders Tony Estanguet and Etienne Thobois, the former rugby federation chair Bernard Lapasset. How interesting that in meetings Sunday with the IOC team it was relayed that if Paris wins for 2024 Lapasset would be organizing committee honorary president, Estanguet president, Thobois CEO.
Is that a sign of continuity or presumptuousness? Los Angeles has confirmed no such announcements. Some Olympic organizers have seen continuity, like London 2012. Others, PyeongChang2018 among them, have not.
Here’s some insight, Madame Mayor, that maybe has been shared with you by the Paris24 sport people and maybe hasn’t:
— By 2028, there will be an acceptance of a two- or three- or four-village solution. That will give organizers — and by extension, you — far more flexibility. You won’t have to jam some huge real estate development into one area.
— Sports-wise, there is a big push within the Summer Olympic scene to put more events within the Games. This comes as the IOC insists the number of athletes at a Games stays at 10,500. What this means is that the sports — there is a base number of 28 — are all looking for opportunities to expand what old hands used to call “disciplines” within the sports. Think, Madame Mayor, about something like 3-on-3 basketball. Or mixed-gender synchronized swimming (for real). Things like that.
With that comes an equal push from the IOC. Mr. Bach and his staff are trying to make his Agenda 2020 reforms more than just the paper they’re written on. They’re asking:
Can’t you spend less? Is there another way? Do you really need to build that?
Madame Mayor — do you see where all this is going?
Sure you do: 2028.
I’m in Paris until Wednesday. As we say in LA, have your people call my people. Oops, I don’t have any people. If I were really a spy, maybe I would have people and they would have code names, like Q or M or something. But — it’s just me.