This story appeared in the August 22, 2016 issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. To subscribe to the magazine, click here.
Budapest, Paris, Rome and Los Angeles engaged in their own Olympic event in Rio last week, as representatives from each city sought out IOC members to make their cases for hosting the 2024 Games. L.A. bid officials ushered visitors through an alcove in the U.S. Olympic Committee's headquarters off Ipanema Beach, screening videos and showing off an interactive diorama of the L.A. basin, with venues and transit routes in lights, sketching a vision of an Olympics 40 years after the Games' last, triumphant visit to Southern California.
The effort to land an Olympics is essentially a political campaign with an electorate of roughly 90 voters and no bad-mouthing of rivals allowed. In a post-Salt Lake City world, outright bribery has given way to decorous persuasion. IOC rules limited L.A.'s promotional space to 20 square meters, and the only greased palms were those of visitors who opened tubes of sunscreen graced with the bid's slogan, FOLLOW THE SUN. You win votes by advancing your best arguments and tugging at heartstrings while hoping that random events break your way. And L.A. is catching just such a break during these Olympics. Of the four bidders, no city is flattered more than Los Angeles in contrast to Rio.
For almost every one of Rio's troublesome zigs, L.A. is proposing a corrective zag. Shambles of an athletes' village? L.A. would house Olympians in dorms on the Shangri-la of college campuses, UCLA. Forced relocations to accommodate new venues? All but one of the permanent venues already exists, and transport infrastructure is paid for and largely built. Public protests over hosting? A recent Loyola Marymount poll put Angelenos' support for the Games at 85.2%. Unforeseen descent into recession? California's current economic boom might end by the time the IOC votes, in September 2017—but early budget figures pegged L.A.'s outlays at about a third of the $15 billion that Tokyo will spend in 2020. L.A. even foresees a surplus of roughly $161 million, a credible figure given that the 1984 Games wound up $225 million in the black. In Rio, athletes' safety, clear pool and bay water, and supplies of food in venues got shorted. The L.A. committee is essentially invoking IOC president Thomas Bach's Agenda 2020—a manifesto that calls for cost containment and putting athletes first—and daring the membership to follow it.
No muss, no fuss would presumably be an appealing path for an IOC that just spent seven years on edge as its chosen host country unraveled. And of the four candidate cities, L.A. would be the safest choice. Strikes frequently immobilize Paris, but labor leader Maria Elena Durazo is vice chair of L.A.'s bid committee. Rome mayor Virginia Raggi is outspoken in her skepticism about the Games, but L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti was in Rio talking up the bid. As for Budapest, Hungary's anti-immigrant prime minister, Viktor Orbán, would just as soon turn the world away as welcome it. (Which brings up a certain U.S. presidential candidate who could be finishing up his second term when the cauldron is lit in L.A. Garcetti admits that IOC members are concerned about a Donald Trump presidency, and Trump's election would surely strike a blow against the bid.)
L.A. has an Olympic calling. Before 1984 a series of crises—state-sponsored violence in Mexico City in '68, terrorism in Munich in '72, cost overruns in Montreal in '76—put the Olympic movement in peril. Los Angeles reversed that trend.
Rio won the Games with an emotional appeal to put an Olympics in South America for the first time, and L.A.'s bid campaigners know that many members vote with their hearts. SO FOLLOW THE SUN conveys Hollywood flash, high tech and California Dreamin'. But if L.A. wins, the city should thank not the sun, but sunlight, the best disinfectant.