SBJ/April 3-9, 2017/Olympics

L.A., Paris straddle delicate line with ’24 bid

LA24’s Casey Wasserman (left), with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (center) and IOC President Thomas Bach last year, has been diplomatic about the potential for awarding two Olympics simultaneously.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
To the public, Los Angeles and Paris look to be in the midst of a traditional race to host the Olympics.

But just beneath the surface, top bid executives are carefully navigating a complex, high-risk minefield created by the International Olympic Committee’s proposal to upend the rules of the game midstream.

With new momentum growing behind the notion of awarding both the 2024 and 2028 Games simultaneously, the cities must decide how to position themselves as talks evolve. They must settle on a message that concedes nothing about 2024 as the top prize, while also not coming off as too strident in the eyes of the mercurial IOC membership, lest they lose position in an all-or-nothing vote on 2024 that still might come to pass.

“It’s all very Machiavellian, isn’t it?” said Patrick Nally, a U.K.-based sports marketing consultant who advises several major international sports federations.

The situation demands a balance of urgency and flexibility in outward communications, Nally said, as well as shrewd political instincts to guess where the IOC ultimately lands and how to influence it. The IOC hopes the joint-award plan might solve its most vexing strategic issues, but it’s created a far more dynamic bid race than anyone imagined.

2024 Olympic Bid Race: Key Dates

Tuesday

Los Angeles and Paris to make brief presentations at the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations in Denmark. Mayors also will meet with IOC President Thomas Bach.

May 10-12

Evaluation commission visits Los Angeles

May 14-16

Evaluation commission visits Paris

July 9-12

IOC executive board meets, and bids make final presentations to full membership. Update from bid reform working group expected.

Sept. 13

IOC vote on the 2024 Olympic host


In the last 14 days, Paris and L.A. adopted different strategies.

“There will be no Games in Paris in 2028,” Paris Co-chairman Tony Estanguet told the international media on March 21, the most categorical rejection of a 2024-2028 proposal yet from either side.

Two days later, LA24 Chairman Casey Wasserman sent a single tweet: “At this critical time, IOC’s 24/28 strategy is smart if 24 city provides new ideas, stability & lowest risk for next 7 years. That’s @LA2024.”

Few believe either the French or the Americans would actually reject the 2028 Games if they were offered without a new bidding race, so Estanguet’s words were interpreted as a bargaining position designed to pressure the IOC into picking Paris to go first.

Paris has said elements of its bid, including a complex mixed-use development for athlete lodging, could not be re-created for 2028. Los Angeles argues the opposite, that its lack of major development projects will provide stability that the IOC urgently needs now.

Wasserman’s tweet shifted LA24’s rhetoric, granting the premise of a 24-28 combo for the first time. Until then, the Los Angeles effort had put forth similarly strident statements, insisting it was only bidding for 2024.

Wasserman was unavailable to comment for this story.

L.A.’s softer touch won praise from at least one influential corner. Sport Intern, an insiders’ newsletter published in Germany, praised Wasserman’s “more collaborative approach” and reported that it “appears to have gone down well at IOC headquarters in Lake Geneva.”

But if it’s bad to be too insistent on 2024 or nothing, there’s also a risk in letting anyone think you’re willing to bend, said Richard Peterkin, an IOC member from St. Lucia.

“There is a risk if publicly you say, ‘Well, I guess so …,’” Peterkin said. “Otherwise, the IOC and IOC members might begin to, in their own minds, think it looks like Paris is happy to take 2028. Then you get more and more pressure for that to actually happen.”

Los Angeles hasn’t actually changed its positioning that much, said spokesman Jeff Millman. Wasserman’s tweet merely added a sense of urgency to his long-standing argument that L.A. would help rejuvenate a struggling movement by minimizing risk and using the California tech and media industries to reconnect the Games with millennials.

“In addition to answering ‘Why L.A.?,’ we’re also answering ‘Why is L.A. the right city at this critical time for the IOC?’” Millman said.

Paris 2024 declined requests to discuss its strategy.

It’s hard to strategize beyond the moment, however, because it’s so unclear where these discussions will lead. On March 17, IOC President Thomas Bach appointed his four vice presidents to a working group to study bid reform.

But both the bid groups and rank-and-file IOC members said they’ve heard little about Bach’s expectations for the working group aside from published news reports, and the exact manner in which a possible combo package would be executed could take any number of paths.

Bach will meet with both L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo in Denmark this week, where the topic presumably will be high on the agenda.

Canadian IOC member Richard Pound, who’s in favor of the joint-award concept, said the easiest way to execute it would be to hold a vote on 2024 per usual rules, then immediately offer the 2028 Games to the loser. That wouldn’t require a grand, three-way deal between L.A., Paris and the IOC.

But IOC Vice President Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr. said the plan will only work with a “consensus.”

Another variable is the IOC membership, which would have to ratify changes. Bach’s handling of the Russian doping scandal has damaged his reputation among the rank-and-file, Pound said, and they’re less likely to back him than they once were.

“There’s certainly a lot more resistance than there would have been in the old days,” Pound said. “The whole shambles over Russia has not sat well with quite a number of the members.” He added: “If the two cities agreed on an order it would make it a lot easier.”

If the IOC determines it needs cooperation from the cities to proceed, then both cities would have leverage to dictate terms if either agrees to wait. It’s not out of the question, experts said, that a city could extract concessions in exchange for waiting — for instance, a host city contract that shifts more costs to the IOC.

Amid all the speculation, however, an all-or-nothing vote on Sept. 13 for 2024 is still on the calendar. If either city believes it has a clear advantage in that race, it has less incentive to work on a combo deal. But experts believe the race is close, and any misstep in handling the possibility of a 2024-2028 deal could cost votes if the IOC ultimately sticks with a traditional all-or-nothing decision on 2024. (Both French and American bids in the past have battled a perception of arrogance.)

The picture won’t likely come into better focus until early July, when the IOC is scheduled to gather again in Switzerland. Peterkin thinks a deal is ultimately unlikely to develop, but it’s not out of the question.

“The world’s a strange place these days,” he said, “and things happen when you least expect it.”


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