Nevertheless, the IOC persists

BUDAPEST — Amid the rocking splendor of the 2017 FINA swimming championships, there are three parallel threads that dominate conversations at the Duna Arena and the riverfront hotels where Olympic, swim and other international sports personalities have clustered.

Isn’t Budapest awesome? (Yes.)

Isn’t Katie Ledecky awesome? (Yes.)

Why is the International Olympic Committee seemingly so set on giving the 2024 Summer Games to Paris and 2028 to Los Angeles?


To be clear, the 2024/28 arrangement is not — yet — a done deal. Nothing in life is certain until it is, and as is widely known by now, the IOC has given itself until its next general assembly, September 13, in Lima, Peru, to finalize the double allocation.

 Katie Ledecky is so awesome that even the photographers are getting artsy in trying to figure out new ways to show her swimming // Getty Images

Katie Ledecky is so awesome that even the photographers are getting artsy in trying to figure out new ways to show her swimming // Getty Images

Practically, however, the double-double is very likely to get done way before then.

There are — this is what you call fancy lawyer talk here — a jillion details to attend to. More lawyer talk: yep, gotcha, sure thing, dot i’s, cross t’s.

Because, for all the detail, there is an overarching policy reality at work. Or maybe it’s just a big wish. And therein lies the tension animating 2024/28.

Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron seem like the way forward to the kinds of people who want to make it Paris and then LA, not the other way around.

As ever in the IOC, it helps to know a little bit about what’s going on behind the curtain. It perhaps helps more to read the signs going on in broad daylight.

It was on May 14 that Macron was inaugurated French president after a resounding electoral victory. The very next day, Macron went to Berlin, to meet with Merkel, declaring “their determination to salvage European unity,” as the New York Times would put it. The day after that, back at the Élysée Palace, Macron played host to the IOC “evaluation” team visiting Paris.

Come on. Is that so hard to understand?

Then there was the meeting between IOC president Thomas Bach and U.S. president Donald Trump on June 22 at the White House. For sure, this was in general a positive note for the Olympic movement — any time the U.S. president (no matter who) meets the IOC president, that’s good. But when a month later in Budapest, it can be heard, and repeatedly via multiple levels of hearsay (all the more dangerous), that the meeting between the two maybe did not go swimmingly (pun intended), it’s not rocket science to start penciling in LA for 2028.

This, though, is where once again hard questions need to be asked that turn on facts and logic, not the considerable emotion that can be wrapped up in the many issues connected to the American president.

Mr. Macron, it turns out, is suddenly perhaps not the savior he seemed to be in May, when he welcomed the IOC inspection team and the mainstream press all but sanctified him in a way that evokes comparisons to Barack Obama in Grant Park in Chicago on Election Night in 2008.

See how that turned out.

Recent polls have demonstrated a sharp drop in Mr. Macron’s popularity in France. You’d say it was shocking but not really. There’s only one way this can go and, given the intense and unrealistic expectations that accompanied his election, it’s not up.

So how does a Games fit into all this?

First in France came a burst of 2024 jubilation. Then, almost immediately, came some appropriate perspective: like, how much is this going to cost?

Look, a Games is a mega-project, a French Olympics would largely be a state-run affair and France has real budget problems.

The Paris 2024 project is estimated to cost $6.2 billion.

The history of government-run Olympic projects over the past 25 to 30 years, no matter where, has shown that such estimates ought to go in the fiction section. The Tokyo 2020 bid book said $7.8 billion. With Monday marking three years exactly to go until the 2020 opening ceremony, the projection is about $13 billion.

A few days back, the head of the French armed forces resigned in protest at cuts to the defense budget. This signaled the first real opposition Mr. Macron is likely to face as he seeks to cut 60 billion euros, about $70 billion at current exchange rates, over five years to stay within the European Union’s deficit limit.

Mr. Macron’s has precious little wiggle room. The state auditor, according to the Financial Times, warned last month there was a 9 billion euro hole, roughly $10.5 billion, in the country’s finances.

So let’s see. The country is billions in the red already. Yet it wants to spend billions on the Olympics. Isn’t that likely to make taxpayers scream big-time?

Olympic insiders know — they acknowledge, quietly — that turning to Paris for 2024 is all but guaranteed to involve cost overruns, spark political drama, invite security concerns and more, the 1-2-3 laundry list that has agitated taxpayers in western Europe, that has prompted cities across the continent to drop out of 2022, 2024 and 2026 consideration and that, in turn, helped spur the 2024/28 proposal.

They also know that if they go to Paris for 2024 they are likely to be in exactly the same situation they are in now when it comes to attracting would-be Games sites — just eight years down the road. (A cynic would say the current IOC president might look at that and go, that’s for the next president to wrestle with.)

Compare and contrast, as Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti did at the IOC full assembly did earlier this month in Lausanne, Switzerland: if you go to LA for 2024, just like you did in 1984, you are much more likely to have a raft of cities after you in 2025 for 2032, just like you did in 1985 for 1992.

In LA the budget is $5.3 billion. And it would be met. Because it would have to be. Because, like in 1984, it is a privately run enterprise.

To connect all this with a line that gained currency in a different context in recent American politics — nonetheless, the IOC, they persist.

So that Katie Ledecky. She is really awesome, huh?