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The IOC Should Have Put History Aside and Given the 2024 Olympic Games to Los Angeles

Olympic officials worked out a deal with Los Angeles to host the Games in 2028, but at a time when the IOC is in need of a younger audience, it would have made more sense to let L.A. host sooner rather than later.

Monday’s deal between Los Angeles and the International Olympic Committee to give the city hosting rights for the 2028 Summer Games was not unexpected. L.A. and Paris both bid for the 2024 Games, but Paris became a favorite for the earlier slot. Los Angeles reportedly sought concessions before it agreed to wait four more years—the deal with the IOC included $1.8 billion, part of which will be paid in advance to increase participation in youth sports in L.A.

Just days before the decision, Mayor of L.A. Eric Garcetti said in an interview with BuzzFeed that L.A. has always been good for “rebooting” the Olympic brand. It sounded like a last-ditch case for L.A.’s hosting sooner rather than later.

And he’s right: L.A. would have been the better host for the Summer Games in 2024. Unlike Paris, it’s geared in exactly the direction that the IOC wants—and needs—to go: toward young people. The IOC has stated that it wants to attract this demographic. It added karate, sport climbing and three-on-three basketball to the Tokyo Games in 2020, and it started an Olympic Channel to connect with audiences on social media.

Los Angeles represents the excitement of these new additions. It’s a young city with an Olympic bid that the evaluation committee called “dynamic and futuristic” in its final report last month. The city will host events in existing facilities like the Coliseum and the Rose Bowl, which played host to the financially successful 1984 Games. The report also praised the bid for integrating cycling races and the marathon throughout the city in order to maximize the number of spectators.

This is a stark difference from Paris, which presented a bid the committee saw as heritage-focused, calling it “historic, cultural and iconic.” Paris wants to turn the River Seine, which snakes past icons like the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, into its own Olympic Park. The Seine, though, is currently too dirty to hold open-water events. Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo pledged in 2015 that the Seine would be swimmable by 2024. But it’s unclear if that goal will be met in time, considering a previous mayor’s vow in 1988 to clean the river by 1994 was never fulfilled.

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Indeed, Paris 2024 will be the centennial of the VIII Olympiad in Paris, providing an extra level of sentimental value. That was the first Games to feature an Olympic Village. But by highlighting the centennial as a key component of Paris’s bid, the IOC is placing a strong emphasis on the past at a time when it wants to be reaching out to new audiences of the future. The IOC wasn’t concerned about 100-year anniversaries during the 1996 bidding process, when Athens, home of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, lost out to Atlanta. In fact, this will be the first centennial Games in history. The IOC made a big gamble by choosing to celebrate the past rather than expand its viewership, and it may not pay off.

Perhaps the biggest criticism of this process is the way the decision was handled. Instead of waiting until September for the scheduled vote by the 95 members of the IOC representing 67 countries, a handful of officials worked out a deal with L.A. representatives behind the scenes. The deciding factor in L.A.’s concession was a $1.8 billion check. That certainly doesn’t reverse the image of the Olympics as a corrupt political body.

All that said, make no mistake: the IOC lucked out in securing both cities hosts over the next decade. “It is truly a tale of two great Olympic cities,” said Patrick Baumann, a Swiss basketball executive and the chairman of the evaluation committee. But Paris represents the Olympic past and Los Angeles the future. The Olympics has one priority: spreading its message to new fans. And though the City of Lights will likely stage a historic Summer Games, history wasn’t the right thing to focus on. The City of Angels was the one best positioned to begin a new Olympic era—as Mayor Garcetti said at a news conference yesterday, it will “return the Olympic legacy to what it’s all about.” Sadly, that will have to wait 11 years.