IN 1972, WHEN Dick Lamm, then a Colorado state legislator, CPA and self-described Olympics lover, challenged Denver's winning bid for the 1976 Winter Games, it seemed only logical. "They had overestimated their revenues and underestimated their expenses," he says of the organizing committee. Cue the outrage: How dare you?
This is an article from the Aug. 10, 2015 issue
"All I started doing was asking questions," says Lamm, who went on to serve three terms as the state's governor. "You'd think I was pissing on the flag."
Today? Someone would throw a parade in his honor—cost-effectively. Though no other city has given back an Olympics—after 60% of Coloradans voted in 1972 to outlaw the use of state funds for the Olympics, the '76 Games went to Innsbruck, Austria—Lamm became godfather of a movement that has all but obliterated the International Olympic Committee's last molecules of mystique. Indeed, the combination of Boston's bid for the 2024 Summer Games, which was aborted on July 27, and Beijing's being awarded the 2022 Winter Olympics last Friday reinforced a sense that the "Olympic movement" may be running out of road.
It was painful to watch the spin from Kuala Lumpur, site of the IOC meeting, with references to Beijing's "historic" election as the first city to host a Summer and a Winter Games. Going back to China, amid its ongoing crackdown on dissent, only emphasized the IOC's few options. The only other bidder, Almaty, Kazakhstan, another corrupt autocracy, could hardly deliver China's efficiency and revenue.
Still, if the IOC finds itself snuggling with dodgy bedmates—Vlad Putin and his $51 billion Sochi Olympics?—it has only itself to blame. Despite the IOC's recent stabs at reform, and optimism surrounding Tokyo's 2020 Games, decades of budget bloat and a long line of debt-ridden hosts have made it fashionable to dismiss the Olympics as more trouble than they're worth. Krakow, Munich, Oslo, Stockholm and Switzerland all passed on 2022 bids. Lviv, Ukraine, pulled out after the Russian invasion.
So it should have come as no shock that a protest group, No Boston Olympics, could galvanize public opinion against the city's $8.6 billion bid for the 2024 Games. But the end to Boston's campaign left the USOC scrambling to gin up another candidate by the IOC's Sept. 15 deadline, and momentum is building to offer up Los Angeles—ready, willing and able. But L.A. should wait.
It has been two decades since the U.S. hosted a Summer Games (Atlanta in 1996). Since then, anti-American sentiment within the IOC, spurred by U.S. foreign policy and broadcast-rights disputes, helped torpedo bids by New York 2012 and Chicago 2016. USOC chairman Larry Probst has since "done a tremendous job of mending fences," says former IOC and USOC member Bob Ctvrtlik. "But if the time isn't right and we don't have the right city and the right leadership? It's better not to bid than to bid with someone you don't think can win."
Retired from Olympic administration, with no claim on the L.A. bid or IOC thinking, Ctvrtlik rightly believes that a third SoCal Olympics would be "fabulous." But a formidable Paris leads the pack for 2024, followed by Rome, Hamburg and Budapest. Another U.S. failure could demoralize American efforts for a generation.
Let L.A.'s bid breathe. Learn from Boston's reversal. Wait for 2028 and give IOC members four more years to see: They need the U.S. more than the U.S. needs them.