L.A. tries to overcome 'Trump effect' and make its pitch for 2024 Games

As the IOC prepares to assess Paris's bid for for the 2024 Summer Games, Los Angeles is hoping the Olympic committee's four-day visit to that city this past week left a good enough impression to give it a fighting chance over the sentimental favourite.

Paris is the sentimental choice, but the IOC could award Games to both cities: Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028

The Los Angeles Coliseum played host to the 1932 and 1984 Summer Olympics. It may do so again. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

Shooting around on the basketball court at the Staples Center in Los Angeles is what at first appears to be the worst basketball team ever assembled.

They're decidedly older and shorter than the players who usually squeak across the hardwood. The better shooters manage to at least hit the rim. The worst clank bricks off the side of the backboard or miss the apparatus entirely. 

Even though many were former athletes, they weren't in Los Angeles to compete this week. They were in town to assess the city's bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics.

The International Olympic Committee's evaluation commission's trip to the Staples Center was just one stop during their four-day inspection tour this past week before moving on to assess Paris, which is making a rival bid, on Sunday.

The L.A. visit saw the commissioners crisscross the Greater Los Angeles Area with stops at the Coliseum, the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, the Stub Hub Center in Carson, the marine facilities in Long Beach. And all the while, city officials responsible for the city's Olympic bid used every minute to make their pitch.

"L.A. offers the IOC certainty with 88 per cent support, a low-risk verified budget and a sustainable Games plan that doesn't require us to build a single, permanent new venue," said Casey Wasserman, chair of the LA 2024 committee at a press conference Wednesday.

"We are going to try to show the IOC what we can spend the next seven years doing instead of pouring time, money and concrete into complex, controversial and costly construction."

Use existing infrastructure

That's one of main planks of L.A.'s bid: no fear of post-Olympic ghost stadiums and little worry about massive cost overruns. The city plans to use existing infrastructure to keep budgets low.

Taxpayers around the world are increasingly averse to subsidizing massive Olympic infrastructure projects, which is why so many other cities dropped out of the bidding: Budapest, Rome, Hamburg, Chicago and Toronto have all either abandoned their bids or decided not to pursue one in the first place, leaving only Paris and Los Angeles.

An aerial view of the UCLA campus, the would-be site of the Olympic and Paralympic athletes' village. (Paul Turang)

"There are three basic reasons why L.A. has, I think, a more compelling bid, and, essentially, they can be stated as: infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure," says Daniel Durbin, director of the Annenberg Institute of Sports, Media and Society at University of Southern California - Los Angeles. 

Thursday, the city showed off its trump card: the proposed athlete's village on the campus of UCLA. According to LA 2024, it would cost $33.6 million US in 2024 to house the expected 17,000 athletes there.

Building an Olympic village in Paris could cost as much as $1 billion US. With the IOC's new stated focus on financial responsibility, this has resonated with the chair of the IOC's evaluation commission, Patrick Baumann.

Daniel Durbin, director of USC's Annenberg Institute of Sports, Media and Society, says L.A. has a strong bid but may be trumped by the sentimental favourite, Paris. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

"LA 2024 has clearly embraced this agenda, with its extensive use of existing and temporary venues and its strong focus on sustainability and legacy," Baumann said at the press conference.

Has hosted Games twice before

Los Angeles is also touting its Olympic history. It hosted the Games in 1932 and 1984. Both Games were widely considered successful and both actually made money, another selling point, according to LA 2024's director of athlete relations, former Olympic gold medalist Janet Evans.

Former Olympic gold medalist swimmer Janet Evans says the Olympics are in L.A.'s DNA (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)
We're trying to get all of America to bring the Summer Games home, and L.A.'s the city that has the Olympics in their blood.- Janet Evans, Olympic swimmer

"We feel like this is a national bid," Evans said. "We're trying to get all of America to bring the Summer Games home, and L.A.'s the city that has the Olympics in their blood and in our DNA." 

But according to experts, L.A. faces at least two big stumbling blocks. The first: the so-called Trump effect. Before the November presidential election, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti mused that a victory for Donald Trump could cost the city crucial Olympic votes.

"I think for some of the IOC members, they would say, 'Wait a second, can we go to a country like that, where we've heard things that we take offence to?'" Garcetti told The Associated Press.

USC marketing professor Ira Kalb says Donald Trump's policies could adversely sway the IOC voters. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

Now, more than 100 days into Trump's administration, Ira Kalb, an expert in sports marketing at USC, says the president's protectionist policies and the controversy surrounding his so-called Muslim ban might not sit well with many IOC members. 

"I think a lot of people might be taken aback [by] that," Kalb said. "And the IOC might factor that into their decision."

But Kalb thinks a good sales pitch could sway undecided voters.

"These things can be overcome," he said. "It's just going to have to be part of the sales job that Los Angeles does in trying to convince people that we're the place to have the Olympics."

IOC not deterred by controversial Putin

For his part, Durbin dismisses the Trump effect.

"You have to remember that there is no louder nationalistic voice on the international stage than [Russian President] Vladimir Putin, and the IOC didn't think twice about putting the Olympics in Sochi," Durbin said.

The second, more immovable obstacle: L.A. isn't the only city with a powerful Olympic pedigree. Paris last hosted the Olympics in 1924. Awarding it to Paris 100 years later may seem like fitting symmetry for the IOC's many European members. But Garcetti says he's not worried.

Scottish athlete Eric Liddell was winner of the 400 metres at the 1924 Paris Olympics. He was immortalized in the film Chariots of Fire. (Firmin/Getty Images)

"We have always been an underdog in this game. We went from being ranked fifth to third to second, and I think we are neck and neck now," Garcetti said.

Rather than choose between rival bids, the IOC could do something it's never done before: give the Games to both cities — in 2024 and 2028, respectively.

IOC president Thomas Bach has repeatedly said he'd be open to awarding two back-to-back bids. And last week, Wasserman seemed to support that idea, saying it would be "the right idea" for the Olympic movement.

Juan Carlos Zabala of Argentina overtakes a Canadian runner to win the marathon event in the 1932 Olympic Games held in the crowded streets of Los Angeles. (Schirner/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Durbin says rather than start the bidding process all over again for 2028 — especially since so many cities no longer want to foot an Olympic-sized bill — it could very well behoove the IOC to award Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028.

"That would give them two incredibly strong venues and venues that have both a physical place and an historical place … that really play into in the history of the Olympics movement," Durbin said.

The growing momentum behind this idea means that, when the IOC announces who will be awarded the 2024 Games at its September session in Lima, Peru, L.A. could lose — and still win. 

A rendering of what the new L.A. Stadium at Hollywood Park might look like if Los Angeles wins the bid for the 2024 Summer Games. (LA24)

About the Author

Kim Brunhuber

Los Angeles correspondent

Kim Brunhuber is a CBC News Senior Reporter based in Los Angeles. He has travelled the world from Sierra Leone to Afghanistan as a videojournalist, shooting and editing pieces for TV, radio and online. Originally from Montreal, he speaks French and Spanish, and is also a published novelist.