We may never know the real reasons for Barack Obama’s failure to bring home the gold for Chicago – poor lobbying, anti-Americanism, inadequate venues, or the never-ending drumbeat of let’s blame Bush.
The above notwithstanding, few can argue that the issue of geography played a large role. South America had never hosted the Games, Europe will host in 2012, Asia hosted in 2008 and North America has hosted most frequently of all in the past 50 years.
Everything else being equal, it made sense to send the games to a highly competitive attractive South American city such as Rio. Score one for Brazil, 0 for the United States.
Had Chicago won its bid to host the games in 2016, Los Angeles would not have had a legitimate shot in most of our lifetimes. Seriously, if the IOC already thinks the US has hosted too many games in recent years, does anyone really think LA would get to host the games anytime in the early 21st Century had Chicago won the bid?
But now that the dust has settled and President Obama has a new Nobel Prize to take the place of Olympic medallions, is there a silver lining for the US, more specifically for cash strapped California? It would only be fair – Los Angeles bailed out the Olympics before, so perhaps the Olympics can deliver some bailout funds to California down the road. Actually, the IOC owes Los Angeles big time.
Following the massive financial losses of the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, the International Olympic Committee found itself near bankruptcy, with no legitimate city showing interest in hosting the 1984 Games. Yes, Tehran showed interest, but the overthrow of the Shah certainly put a damper on that plan. Additionally, the 1980 Moscow games turned out to be another blow to the future of the Olympics when Jimmy Carter, who did little to stop the very same overthrow of the Iranian government, made good on his promise to boycott the Games, ending hopes of building profits from US television rights.
The low level of interest coupled with a near empty bank account created a major threat to the future of the Olympic Games. Clearly, the IOC needed something, or someone, to bail it out. Enter Los Angeles, and its exceptional group of civic leaders, to save the day.
Most Olympic fans will agree that the LA Olympics of 1984 saved the Games from extinction. Prior to the LAOOC stepping forward, the prevailing opinion was that the Games were going the way of the dinosaurs. But thanks to the efforts of some wonderfully visionary and capable leaders such as Peter Ueberroth, Harry Usher, and present day Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games, David Simon, the Los Angeles Olympic Games produced a windfall for the international organization and helped restore the image of the games.
While Montreal organizers ran up a substantial debt eight years earlier by constructing many new, overly ambitiously designed venues, the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee relied heavily on the use of area venues that were already in existence. Only three venues were built specifically for the Games and these were totally funded by private industry. NO TAXPAYER DOLLARS were used to develop these venues. The lower construction costs, coupled with large amounts of corporate funding, allowed the Games to generate a profit of more than $200 million, making them by far the most financially successful in history.
Another major change enacted by the LAOOC was taking advantage of exclusive television rights. The Los Angeles Olympic Games earned three times the amount received by the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics and ten times that of the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics. The LAOOC was able to collect much of these fees quite early in the process allowing it to plan budgets and execute contracts knowing the money was definitely in the bank.
Additionally, the Los Angeles Olympic Committee introduced the concept of using volunteers in large numbers to reduce the usual costs of labor associated with putting on the Games. Many of those volunteers, in fact, were honored recently at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum where 60+ former Olympians met to celebrate the Silver Anniversary of the Games.
In 1984, the Olympics needed Los Angeles. In 2009, Los Angeles needs the Olympics. And Chicago’s failure to land the Games, may just give us the opening to secure them once again.
Simply put, Los Angeles knows how to put on a show. So here’s to hoping the LAOOC will consider a serious bid for the 2020 games. That would definitely bring us the gold in more ways than one.