What's next for the Olympic Games in the US?

The World
The existence of the LA Coliseum is one reason LA is attractive a a possible Olympics host

Los Angeles is the logical next step for the United States Olympics Committee, in part because the city already has usable venues like the LA Coliseum.

Phil McCarten/Reuters

Well, Boston’s out.

It’s certainly not the first city to turn down the International Olympic Committee, and the way things seem to be going, it’s not likely to be the last.

Boston isn’t the first city to abandon its bid. Four cities cancelled their bids for the 2022 Winter Olympics alone. But this most recent exit is a telling sign that cities might not be as gung-ho as they used to be about hosting the event. So what's next for the Olympic Games?

One of the main problems right now is that the games aren’t financially viable for most places. Every four years, cities try to outbid each other for the chance to host them, and the contracts they sign require them to promise to foot the bill if there are cost overruns, such as construction delays.

And when it comes to the Olympics, going over budget is pretty much a foregone conclusion.

Every Olympic Games have experienced cost overruns, and a 2012 study by the University of Oxford showed that while they have decreased over time, the average overrun is still 179 percent. Futher, that study only takes into account “sports-related” costs, which don’t include road, rail or airport upgrades, hotel upgrades and business investments that invariably are part of a city’s preparation.

Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College and the author of “Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and World Cup,” says when the International Olympic Committee asks cities to bid on the games, many of them overbid. The money made from from the games doesn’t even go back to these cities themselves. In fact, the cities aren’t even the ones asking for the games in the first place.

“The cities are usually represented in this process not by the elected representative — the mayor or somebody else — but by a group of business executives usually concentrated from the construction industry and related industries that will benefit directly and individually from their city hosting the games,” he says.

The only thing that would change the way things work, Zimbalist says, would be a broad coalition of cities or countries that could challenge the IOC. He says an example of this was when sponsors threatened to leave FIFA after the recent corruption scandal and the Union of European Football Associations considered creating a tournament that would be an alternative to the World Cup.

“But that took an extraordinary coming together of very unusual circumstances to create that situation,” he said.

With chances slim that the IOC will get a complete makeover, the United States Olympic Committee has to look at an alternative city for the 2024 games.

The next logical step is Los Angeles. The city has already hosted the games twice, in 1932 and 1984. Some of the venues, such as the LA Coliseum, which holds more than 93,000 people, are already operational. 

That existing infrastructure is definitely attractive, considering the USOC only has until Sept. 15 to put forward another bid. Hamburg, Paris, Rome and Budapest have already entered the race for 2024, and some say Toronto is keen to join. 

Given the fact that Los Angeles is almost ready to host the games, why doesn’t the US just always bid Los Angeles? Why even bother putting other cities at financial risk?

“The real problem with the idea of coming back to the same city, or even a series of cities on a regular basis is not the venues, but the village,” says David Simon, president of the Los Angeles Sports Council.

Typically, Simon says, the Olympic village, the place that houses all of the athletes, officials and trainers, is turned into housing for local people after the crowds of sports fans leave. If the Olympics were to return to the same city year after year, a completely new village would have to be constructed.

In 1932, when Los Angeles first hosted the games, they placed the 1,200 athletes in two-room cabins. During the more modern 1984 games, the city used the residence halls of local colleges and universities. For the 2024 games, the city would go the more typical route and build an Olympic village.

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