With the contest for the right to host the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games down to the last two contestants and nearing a final verdict, there may be several good reasons for giving Paris the right to stage the 2024 Olympics while postponing the return of the Games to Los Angeles until four years later. The most compelling of them must surely be that such a decision would put the Olympics out of the reach of Donald Trump’s sticky little fingers.
The two-term limit of the recently inaugurated US president will end in 2025 – unless, that is, Trump decides to follow the example of Julius Caesar and declare himself dictator perpetuo. He might even emulate Caligula by pronouncing himself divine before presiding over the Games on a golden throne. And then why not go all the way? In the Olympics of 67AD, Nero awarded himself an entry in the 10-horse chariot race. Having persuaded the organisers to insert the event into the schedule, Trump could then invent a local rule forcing all competitors who are not heads of state of the host nation to blindfold their horses.
Paris and Los Angeles would both like to be the next in line to host the Games after Tokyo in 2020, and they are the only cities left in the competition after Hamburg, Rome and Budapest withdrew from the original field of five. The first to go, in November 2015, was Hamburg, its withdrawal announced after a referendum in which more than half of voters indicated their disapproval. Rome followed through the exit in October last year; the former Italia 90 boss Luca di Montezemolo had been appointed to run the campaign but the bid was suspended by the city’s mayor, Virginia Raggi. This February, even though Budapest’s candidacy had been approved by the Hungarian parliament, the signatures of almost a quarter of a million residents on a protest petition were enough to persuade the city’s authorities the money would be more wisely spent on education, health care and transport infrastructure.
This is, very clearly, going to become a problem for the IOC a little further down the line. Given the escalating costs that come with the expectation each Games has to prove itself worthy of being proclaimed the greatest ever, the number of candidates seems likely to continue to decline. In an uncertain future, who will want to spend £9bn, as London did in 2012 during what will surely look in the eye of history like a very brief boom?
In this, as in much else to do with sport and money, Bernie Ecclestone’s Formula One set the tone. If the IOC continues the traditional policy, rather than taking the sensible decision to hold all summer Games at a permanent site in Greece, it will probably find itself depending almost entirely on despots wanting to buff up their popularity and dodgy regimes looking to raise their status. But how often in the future is it likely to encounter a man like Vladimir Putin, willing to spend £16bn on the winter Olympics in Sochi?
For now, though, it has a choice between a pair of candidates whose proposals are relatively sensible. Paris is offering to use existing facilities such as the Stade de France, the Parc des Princes, the Stade Colombes, Roland-Garros, Bercy and the velodrome at Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, along with the Grand Palais for fencing and the Champs Élysées for road cycling and the marathon.
Los Angeles would call on the recently renovated Memorial Coliseum, the key Olympic site in 1932 and 1984, along with the Staples Center, various UCLA and USC facilities, the Forum, the Rose Bowl in Pasadena – location of the 1994 World Cup final – and the ocean at the end of Sunset Boulevard. Like London, Paris has plans to build an Olympic village for the athletes; why doesn’t the IOC insist that – unlike London – it must afterwards be handed over in its entirety to social housing for the poor and those on lower incomes?
In the past fortnight the IOC’s evaluation commission has made three-day visits to both cities. In LA, where public support for the bid is said to be running at 88%, they attended a Dodgers game and were told none of the £4.1bn budget would come from public funds. In Paris they heard France’s new president banish fears he would not be supporting the bid. The day after his inauguration, Emmanuel Macron met the commission and gave the £3.75bn project his blessing by letting it be known he will travel with its leaders when both cities formally present their case to the IOC in Lausanne in July.