Last summer, Rio de Janeiro put on an Olympic Games that should serve as a blaring warning siren to any potential host city stupid enough to want to pay billions for the rights to the Games. Before the Games had been out of town four months, Rio de Janeiro had to declare bankruptcy because they were $31 billion in debt. The power’s out and the medals are decaying. Shit is dire. It has never been clearer that hosting an Olympics is the most efficient way to bring economic ruin down on your city for three weeks of PR and the enrichment of a tiny circle of faceless middlemen, and for some reason Los Angeles wants to get in on the party. Get the hell out of here!
L.A. is vying with Paris for the right to host the 2024 Games, and they’ve been aggressively trying to nail down the rights to host. LA 2024 chairman Casey Wasserman went on Bill Simmons’s podcast back in October 2015 to push the party line. The city recently secured $1.6 billion in federal funding for a new subway line, which mayor Eric Garcetti and other officials explicitly said would be part of their pitch to the IOC. L.A. also agreed to host the 2017 para-cycling track world championships on extremely short notice in an attempt to buff their credentials in the eyes of international sports bureaucrats. Despite their best efforts, the Wall Street Journal reported this evening that the IOC is favoring a proposal to saddle Paris with the 2024 Games and send L.A. the 2028 Games. Los Angeles has previously said they won’t settle for the consolation prize in 2028, and they are not backing down. One hopes the IOC calls the city’s bluff.
The case for L.A. is fairly simple: the hypothetical Olympics would be on the cheaper side since the city already has a wealth of existing facilities and complexes, such as the Lakers arena, UCLA’s campus, and the new Rams arena. Early estimates of construction costs put the bill around $5.3 billion, which the organizing committee hopes to pay for with TV rights money, sponsorships, and ticket sales. Los Angeles and the state of California would be on the hook for any cost overruns, but don’t worry. There will be innovation!
“Our risks in terms of delivery are minimal at worst,” said Casey Wasserman, an entertainment executive who is the chairman of LA 2024. “The benefits are we get to harness the great creativity and innovation in L.A., to help deliver the Olympics of the next generation.”
That’s awfully optimistic, considering that every single Olympics features cost overruns. Everyone who builds a new stadium predicts that their project will be the one that comes in on time and under budget and that never happens. After all, the Rams stadium just got delayed for a year because of rain. Cities get swindled into these deals because of shady promises like those Wasserman makes. While L.A. wouldn’t need to build new facilities, the stadiums and grounds already in place would all need to be tuned up and that comes with plenty of risk for overruns.
There is a much-vaunted study about this project, like there is for every major stadium overhaul, that says the Olympics will generate a whopping $11 billion for the city. Even if you take this at face value (and you should not!) that is simply a best-case projection that elides all the facts about what hosting an Olympics has historically done to host cities. Every city thinks that they will be different and will be able to overcome the catastrophe of paying billions for the Olympics, despite a long track record of the opposite being true. It makes no sense to bank your hopes on everything breaking right when it never has. A wised-up bureaucratic structure and better PR will not save Los Angeles. These people should not be taken at their word.
As the anti-Olympics organization NOlympics notes, even under the rosiest of outcomes L.A. would still see a sharp exacerbation of economic inequality, a funneling of money that could be used for worthwhile projects into the pockets of a handful of rich bureaucrats (do not forget that the IOC is a clown show of corruption), and an undercooked, Olympics-centric transportation plan. You don’t have to be a DSA member to see how past Olympics have disproportionately benefitted the already rich and powerful and steepened the gradient between the rich and the poor. The 1984 L.A. Olympics, frequently cited as the last successful Games, were not even the all-out success they are pitched as. A good deal of the 70,000 permanent jobs that were added were quickly eliminated after the Games.
L.A. does not need the Olympics. There is no dearth of tourism, no need to clog the city’s already choked-up transportation infrastructure even further. Los Angeles is already one of the most iconic cities in the world, and an Olympics would not take it over the top and make it a Super-Duper Mega Always Good Forever city the way that officials are pitching it. The value of a city is in the ways it can serve its citizens, not the size of the party it can throw for a class of corrupt bureaucrats disguised as a sporting event. Paris can have the Olympics, but they can stay the fuck out of Los Angeles forever.