LIMA, Peru — The teams from Paris and Los Angeles had not yet even taken to the floor to make their formal presentations Wednesday to the members of the International Olympic Committee when, with president Thomas Bach outlining the run of show, he explained how Paris would be getting the 33rd Summer Games in 2024 and Los Angeles the 34th in 2028.
Not yet, Bach said. Not yet.
Even so, ladies and gentlemen, that is pretty much how the 2024 and 2028 Games were awarded.
A little while later, there was a formal vote of sorts, a unanimous raising of hands, just as in July at the IOC assembly in Lausanne, Switzerland, when the IOC gave the go-ahead to this historic double allocation.
What there was not was suspense. There was no envelope, of course. No gasping, no cheering, none of the symbology of the past 25 or so years of high-stakes Olympic bid campaigning — which of course was the point.
Instead, here were the likes of LA mayor Eric Garcetti, 2028 bid chairman Casey Wasserman and the leadership of the U.S. Olympic Committee, chief executive Scott Blackmun and chair Larry Probst, all in grey Nike Air Force 1s.
The IOC doesn’t need rousing climaxes. It needs calm, stability and, most of all, time to figure out what’s what and what’s next, particularly amid a breaking corruption scandal tied to the campaigns for the 2016 and 2020 Games and, as well, profound taxpayer skepticism for the Olympic movement, especially in the IOC’s longtime base, western Europe.
It needs, too, an affirming vision of the sort Garcetti delivered at a Wednesday news conference, flanked by Wasserman and Bach along with Paris 2024 chair Tony Estanguet and Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo:
“This is a pretty radical revolution today,” Garcetti said. “You think about it: It might feel sudden. But usually you have two or three cities crying in the corner. The press comes, ‘How do you feel?’ to the group that has just lost. And one glorious victor.
“But in this world I think we have enough losers today, enough divisions today, enough people who go after their dreams only to have them crushed. Today, we modeled something different — that dreams can come true.”
A moment later, Garcetti added, “What does history feel like? It feels like this. It’s not just the happiness of the win, it’s actually the joy of the beginning. Our beginning starts now.”
How did we get to this history-making beginning? And where -- over the next 11 years -- are we going?
The 1984 LA Games revived the movement, ushering in a sustainable financial underpinning via TV revenues and corporate sponsorship.
The 1992 Barcelona Games showed mayors, governors, prime ministers, presidents and public officials everywhere that the Olympics could serve as catalyst for profound urban transformation.
In Olympic-speak, this came to be known as “legacy” — massive building projects that encompassed everything from metro and rail lines to airports to Olympic villages-turned-housing complexes.
For 25 years, this system worked. Then, suddenly, no more: the 2022 and 2024 bid cycles, in the aftermath of the 2008 Beijing Games (a reported $40 billion) and Sochi 2014 Olympics (reputed $51 billion), made plain its time had come to a sudden, crashing end.
For 2022, the IOC ended up with just two bidders: Beijing (no snow in the mountains), and Almaty, Kazakhstan. Beijing won, 44-40.
For 2024, the IOC ended up with just two, after Hamburg, Rome and Budapest dropped out, with a new and dangerous element added to the mix — the notion of a social media-driven referendum aimed at anything "establishment," and if the IOC is anything it is "establishment."
This, of course, after Boston dropped out. For the record, I was the first to declare in print that Boston was doomed and had to go.
In September 2016, mindful of these and other trends, I became the first to publicly propose that the IOC award the 2024 and 2028 Games at a single stroke.
Again for the record, because Wednesday is a day for history:
In an interview published July 8 with the French daily L’Equipe, Bach would say this about the evolution of the double-double:
“Q: How did you come up with the idea of this double allocation?
“A: The first time that we talked about this issue was talking to a few friends during a lunch in October or November 2016. It was someone else who suggested it, not me. I won't say who it was because he'd be upset. (Smiles) I must admit that at first I was hesitant, but after an hour or an hour and a half of discussion, I was fully convinced of this idea. That is why I am very pleased to see that this proposal has gained a lot of ground and a lot of of support.”
The IOC’s policy-making executive board first had to give the double its OK; it did do; then in July in Lausanne the members ratified the idea; now in Lima it officially became a done deal.
It would be lovely, indeed, if the Paris project lives up to the lofty words that rang out Wednesday from the stage from the French team.
“All our country, we are in support of Paris 2024,” Hidalgo said.
Problem one: this is unequivocally not true, an IOC-commissioned opinion poll in July showing just 63 percent support for the Games in both Paris and France.
A prediction: Paris 2024 will be more of the same that has bedeviled the IOC over the past several editions of the Games. Paris 2024 is likely to be laced with financial, political, bureaucratic and security issues.
The double-speak, standard operating procedure far too often in Olympic space, was on vivid display Wednesday.
A “new journey” of trust and optimism, bid leader Tony Estanguet said.
“Dear Eric,” Hidalgo said, referring to Garcetti, “we will work to inspire as many cities as possible around the world to share the emotions and the power of the Games. The Olympic values will be at the heart of our common actions.”
Far more insightful was another comment from Estanguet.
Who knew, he said, that “this victory would be shared with our friends from Los Angeles?”
Victory. This has been the common theme for weeks and months now in Paris — unrelenting, dominating, crushing “victory.” Moreover, victory for Paris and France — in contrast to the Los Angeles approach, which all along has been to emphasize commonality with humanity worldwide.
As Hidalgo said as part of an emailed Paris 2024 statement, “Let’s be proud! When Paris takes up the challenges of the 21st century, it is all France that wins.”
In that same statement, this from Valérie Pécresse, president of the Ile-de-France region, “We have the Games! Let us be happy, let us be proud because France wins!”
Same statement, this from Bernard Lapasset, the Paris 2024 co-chair, “This victory is a victory for all France.”
The only time the word “victory” came up in the LA presentation, which followed the Paris show, was when swim champion Janet Evans talked about bringing the Games back to Southern California — in the context of sharing one final race with her 81-year-old father, whose “health isn’t the greatest.”
“It’s just a sports competition,” Garcetti said. “It shouldn’t have this power, but it does. Because I think we as human beings recognize the power of ‘us’ more than the power of ‘me.’ “
Indeed, the “sharing” part of Paris 2024 is just so much hollow PR unless and until proven otherwise.
Throughout the campaign, the Paris team just did not get it. The IOC, in moving to award 2024 and 2028 together, was obviously suggesting notes of collegiality and collaboration. Yet especially online the Paris people kept trolling LA, and trolling LA, and trolling LA, and in particular the LA tagline, “Follow the Sun” — as if this was still an old-style competition.
A notable Aug. 1 tweet — since deleted — from a Paris spokesman speaks volumes. Aug. 1 was of course after the July Lausanne assembly. The Paris 24/LA 28 deal was by then a thing; for emphasis, on July 31 the LA people announced '28 was for sure a go.
Translation: “When your last opponent resolves to throw in the towel [literally: the sponge], conscious that he can no longer win”
Here is but a sampling of the issues the Paris team is even now confronting:
— Security is a very real concern.
“Who can tell you now what the security situation will be in seven years?” Bach asked rhetorically Wednesday in response to a reporter's inquiry about security. “Nobody. What is important that the organizing committees and their governments are conscious of the challenges and address it in their way.”
— The French national Olympic committee has been all but insignificant in the bid process.
— Initially, the all-in budget was pegged at $6.2 billion. During the bid process, it went to $6.7 billion. One of France’s keenest Olympic analysts, Armand de Rendinger, projects the cost will be at least $10 billion.
Just imagine when the costs of the Grand Paris transport hub, the transport link to the athletes’ village, start factoring in to the Olympic scene. Or potential soil remediation in and around that village. And more.
— How the almost-inevitable cost overruns will jibe with the budget austerity measures the new French president, Emmanuel Macron, is seeking to implement: anyone’s guess.
— Macron and Hidalgo are keen political rivals. She is on record as saying she would be delighted to open the Games in 2024. That is an honor that goes to the head of state — which, right now, is him. The infighting about who gets what job in the now-organizing committee is underway and is, in a word, ferocious.
For his part, Macron — who is nothing if not decisive (euphemism for “politically ruthless”) — taped a video message for the IOC members in which, in French, he called Paris 2024 an “ambitious project” and, in English, said for “our friends in Los Angeles … I know that we share the [Olympic values] and I’m very proud of what we managed to do all together.”
Where was the IOC when it came to the Paris over-reach during the campaign?
These next years underscore the key challenge facing the Olympic movement, and in particular the IOC — as much as anything, it is the tension between those values that Macron spoke of, the ideals that keep the Olympic spirit alive, and an IOC culture of entitlement paired with a woeful communications policy that consistently belie those essential notions of friendship, friendship and respect.
For instance, there's nothing wrong per se with the red-carpet treatment. When Bach is in Los Angeles this coming Monday for the Emmy Awards — that’s an appropriate time and place, no problem, for the red carpet.
But why the red carpet here in Peru for the opening of the IOC session?
In a country where, literally, some of the Peruvian Olympic Committee teams are struggling for a few hundred or thousand dollars to scrape by?
Some humility in leadership would, you know, go a long, long way.
This kind of disconnect is why Oslo, just to name one, dropped out of the race for the 2022 Games, the Norwegians frigid with disrespect at the disconnect between the Olympic ideals and their perception of IOC reality — everything from how many fruit bowls were supposed to be on how many tables, and so on.
It’s this culture — and IOC communication, which is consistently reactive instead of pro-active — that needs to change.
This culture is how someone like the former IAAF president Lamine Diack could operate the track and field federation like a fiefdom for 16 years, and extend his influence well beyond track and field. Now he is suspected of being a, if not the, key player in a widening scandal that ultimately may show the 2016 and 2020 Games were bought.
Speaking generally, and for emphasis without specific reference to Diack, what also needs to change is the perception of what’s at issue in in descriptions of corruption within the Olympic sphere.
This, too, may help effect culture change because “extortion” is a very different word than “bribery.”
When we talk about “bribery,” it is when someone comes forward and asks a person of influence to act for money.
In an Olympic context, it would mean, for instance, that a bid city came offering money or other inducements for votes.
It is “extortion” when a person in control says, essentially, pay me or else.
The question — what prosecutors and law enforcement officials in France, Brazil and the United States are trying to figure out — is whether IOC members were extorting bid cities.
To make it simple:
Bid cities came into the market as neophytes needing to win a majority of votes. Each member may (or may not, to be emphatically clear) have a list of “needs” in exchange for support.
Does that sound more like “bribery”? Or more like “extortion”?
The skeptic says here that the Los Angeles guy would naturally be touting the Los Angeles program.
For the umpteenth time, I have zero connection to the bid, which is now an organizing committee.
What I have, after nearly 20 years of covering the Olympic movement, is the ability to see something different. LA 2028 is what the Olympic movement needs now, just as the IOC needed LA in 1984 and in 1932.
The LA budget is $5.3 billion. It has to be met, because it’s a privately run business -- unlike the model elsewhere in the world, where a Games is connected to government. Further, unlike the “legacy” initiatives dominant since 1992, there’s no massive infrastructure concern in LA because essentially everything is already built. As Garcetti said, “When people say, ‘Can costs go over?’ I say, ‘In Los Angeles, for what?’ “
The bet here is not only will that $5.3 billion be met, it will produce a huge surplus. The 1984 surplus was $232.5 million. There’s no reason a 2028 surplus could not run to at least three times that much. Or more.
“What you see onstage here today reflects who we are, and the unique brand of California-cool that we will bring to the 2028 Games,” Wasserman told the members Wednesday.
“In Lausanne, I told you our goal was to start a positive conversation about the movement at a time when optimism seemed in short supply.
“Today is the last time I’m addressing you as chairman of the LA 2028 bid committee.
"And to be honest, for two years I’ve wondered what I would say at this moment.
"You’re already aware of our excellent plan for the Games … and how LA 2028 can help connect the Games to the future.
“What you may not be aware of is something very personal to me.
“This process taught me a valuable lesson about ‘perceptions.’
“Let’s face it – we all have preconceived ideas about each other. It’s human to make assumptions about the unknown.
“And often, far too often, those assumptions are entirely wrong.
“We only learn to truly understand and appreciate each other when we connect as individual human beings.
“That’s the beauty of the Olympic movement.
“More than anything, it connects people.
“It’s a path to discovering as much about ourselves as we do about others.
“And it’s the greatest expression of shared human values ever created.
“The opportunity before us now is unprecedented.
“It wasn’t long ago that an 11-year OCOG,” Olympic jargon for an organizing committee, “was inconceivable – impossible, even.
“Now,” he said, “it is a reality.”