What's really what: from Doha, LA's why


In the aftermath of last week’s U.S. presidential elections, the news has been filled with, among other things, journalistic autopsies: how did so much of the media miss something so obvious?

Same Tuesday in a different political arena — the race for the 2024 Summer Games, and the first presentations by the three bid cities to significant numbers of International Olympic Committee members amid a meeting in Doha, Qatar, of the 205-member Assn. of National Olympic Committees.

Los Angeles, Paris and Budapest got their 20 minutes apiece, and the focus afterward in media accounts from all over was on the LA presentation and U.S. president-elect Donald Trump.

Evoking the same regrettable horse-race style coverage that dominated the election reporting, that made for “news” tied to the first major Olympic gathering since last Tuesday’s balloting.

So what? It had nothing to do with what really happened.

Be sure key Olympic officials, and others with a sense of the dynamics of bid-city campaigns, understand this all too well.

Every Olympic bid has to have two essential qualities — how and why.

LA on Tuesday put forward its why.

A little background first about the how:

— There’s nothing in memory like the LA how. With the IOC confronting widespread dissatisfaction in Europe and Asia over the ballooning costs of the Games, the LA proposal is simple: with the exception of a canoe venue, everything else is or will be built in a city already alive with dynamism, downtown in particular exploding with construction cranes. That means no crazy infrastructure costs.

Atop the spire that's now the tallest building west of the Mississippi River, Korean Air's $1.2 billion Wilshire Grand // Korean Air

Mayor Eric Garcetti at a recent event, the LA Times building in the background // Gary Leonard

— Further, LA mayor Eric Garcetti is a real person. He for sure is one smart dude. He also is personable and relatable. A recent picture of the mayor on a skateboard is surely a first in the history of Olympic campaigns.

For LA, how was thus always the easy part.

The hard part, seemingly: the why. On Tuesday, the LA people made that easy, too, and by taking on the really hard stuff:

America is not perfect. Far from it. The Games — they can help.

To expand:

The United States is a nation of immigrants. Most came willingly. A significant number, not. We are all in this together, the LA bid made plain Tuesday — a connection with the very essence of the Olympic message in our world.

An African-American athlete, Allyson Felix, the most decorated U.S. female track and field star in Olympic history, offered up real talk Tuesday, no spin, about the most vexing dilemma that has been at the core of the American experience from the beginning.

Allyson Felix at the lectern // ANOC and LA 24

Here is the gist of her remarks and because they are of such import, at some length:

“I’m here,” she said, “to talk about America.

“I want to tell you about the America that I love, and the America that needs the Games to help make our nation better — now, more than ever.

“America is diverse. We are a nation of people whose descendants came from all over the world for a better life. 

“But we’re also a nation with individuals like me — descendants of people who came to America not of their own free will but against it. 

“But we’re not a nation that clings to our past, no matter how glorious – or how painful. Americans rush towards the future.

“We just finished our presidential election, and some of you may question America’s commitment to its founding principles. 

“I have one message for you: please don't doubt us. America’s diversity is our greatest strength.

“Diversity is not easy.

“Diversity is a leap of faith — that embraces all faiths. 

“And that’s why I believe LA is a perfect choice for the 2024 Games, because the face of our city reflects the face of the Olympic movement itself.”

This had — correction, has — zero to do with Trump.

Yes, Felix acknowledged the election.

No, she did not mention Trump.

If Felix had wanted to say the words “president-elect” or “Trump,” she surely could and would have. How do you know this?

Because from among dozens of Olympic bids over the past 20 years, there have been a grand total of two that have cut the BS and told the members straight-up what was what. If you really insist on U.S. presidential politics, to borrow from John McCain and 2008 — the Straight Talk Express.

The first such bid: Almaty, two years ago, which straightforwardly made its case for the 2022 Winter Games, losing narrowly to Beijing.

And, now, LA.

If Garcetti — a political veteran — had wanted to mention Trump, he too surely could have. Instead, Garcetti said:

“… What I’m going to say is a little bit radical, and I’m pretty sure it’s the first time you’ve ever heard it from an Olympic bid. 

“We believe our campaign isn’t just about the Games in our city in 2024.  We believe this bid is about ensuring that the Games are sustainable beyond 2024 as well.

“In other words, this bid isn’t only about LA’s future – it’s about our collective future. This is a stark and unique difference about our bid.”

Look, most bids feature warm and fuzzy videos along with officials and politicians talking about kids and dreams and getting a couch filled with kids off that comfy couch. No one says what’s really what. This, not incidentally, is how the IOC got in the mess it’s in now — with cities all over western Europe abandoning Olympic bids for 2022, 2024 and even 2028.

Here is where this column acknowledges one more obvious piece: I live in Los Angeles. But I have no — zero — affiliation with the bid. At the same time, having covered every Olympic campaign since 1999, it's time now to get to it plainly. Here is what's what:

— This 2024 bid is it for Los Angeles and the United States. The time is now. If the IOC opts to go to Paris or Budapest, good luck, and enjoy the run afterward of Games in places like Doha and Baku, because the Europeans are already squeamish, the next three Games are in Asia (2018, 2020, 2022) amid financial and other challenges and the Americans won’t be coming back for a long, long time — not if the IOC were to turn down the three biggest cities in the United States, New York (2012), Chicago (2016) and then, in sequence, LA.

“We have learned many lessons from our previous bids,” USOC board chair Larry Probst said at Tuesday’s meeting, “and failure can be a great teacher.”

— Unlike in other nations, an American bid has no government money. None. It must all be privately funded. With that in mind, there is no chance — zero — that Casey Wasserman, the LA bid leader, can go back to the assorted business leaders who in just a few days donated the likes of $35 million toward this 2024 effort and gin up enthusiasm for another round.

— Oh, and if LA gets dinged, good luck with sponsor and broadcast interest going forward, too.

These things are by no means threats. There’s no gauntlet. But unless we are all willing — together — to speak, and hear, the truth, the IOC and Olympic movement assume serious if not critical danger of losing their relevance.

That is the real news from Tuesday in Doha.

When he was 13, Garcetti told the ANOC assembly on Tuesday, the 1984 Olympics came to LA. Here is what he said next, and again at length, because these words are not just heartfelt — they need to be heard:

“I saw the face of the world on the streets of Los Angeles and I became a believer in the power of the Olympic movement to transform the world. 

“I still believe that today, more than ever. My first act as mayor on my first day serving,” three years ago, “was to write a letter to the IOC to pursue the 2024 Games.

“My vision of America is a country that is informed by that vision.

“I see an America that is outward-looking, ready to play its role alongside the community of nations to address our world’s most pressing challenges.

“Choose LA 2024 and help us show a new generation of Americans that our strength is being with the world, not turning our backs to it.”