D.C. bid for 2024 Olympics? Risky but plausible.


The Olympic rings outside a London basketball arena before the start of the 2012 Games. (Jae Hong/AP)
Robert McCartney
Columnist August 9, 2012

As a knee-jerk booster of the Washington region, I naturally applaud the local business and political leaders who hope to drape us in Olympic glory and are floating the idea of bidding to host the Summer Games in 2024.

Imagine the scenes. Opening Ceremonies at a new Olympic stadium, which would replace RFK Stadium in the District and could later become home for the Redskins. The world’s greatest athletes competing at more than a dozen venues, from soccer in Baltimore to steeplechase in Northern Virginia’s horse country. What could be better?

Robert McCartney’s column on local issues appears Thursdays and Sundays in The Post’s Metro section. View Archive

But then I wonder: How can our region possibly think of organizing the Olympics when Maryland and Virginia can’t even reach a common plan for expanding the Beltway after HOT lanes open in Fairfax at the end of the year?

Plus, how could we win approval from the U.S. Olympic Committee, and then the international one, when the D.C. government has again become synonymous with corruption?

Despite those valid questions, luring the Olympics to the Washington region is not an impossible dream. Risky and expensive, yes. But not an idle fantasy.

A decade ago, our area mounted a respectable effort to win the Games underway in London. We spent $10 million in a losing effort but gained valuable experience in how to compete.

Now the man who spearheaded that effort, McLean businessman Dan Knise, has been broaching the idea of a repeat effort in informal conversations at the London Games and with local leaders.

“Having gotten as close as we did [in 2002] and seeing what they did in London, I feel we could do this in our area, and it would be great for our region,” Knise said. He is president of insurance broker Ames & Gough but spent nearly five years overseeing the earlier bid as head of the Washington-Baltimore 2012 Regional Coalition.

We have a lot to offer. Partly because of our proximity to Baltimore and many universities, we have an unusually high number of athletic facilities already in place.

Knise said that if RFK were razed, its site in the District would be ideal for the main Olympic stadium. That arena could then be converted for use by the Redskins, just before Dan Snyder’s lease expires in 2027 at FedEx Field in Prince George’s County.

Other major draws in our region are three airports, a mass transit system and an affluent population with money to spend on tickets.

When the decision is made in 2017, a U.S. city seems likely to get the 2024 Summer Games. By then, it will have been 30 years since the United States last was host, in 1996 in Atlanta.

The prospect of a Washington area bid has already drawn some positive initial response. D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) said it was definitely worth considering, and Maryland’s economic development department expressed strong interest.

The Greater Washington Board of Trade, which gave crucial backing to the earlier bid, will discuss the matter at its next executive committee meeting in September.

The Olympics would be “just a remarkable opportunity,” said Jim Dinegar, the board’s chief executive. “It’s like three Super Bowls every day for two and a half weeks.”

It would come with a cost, however. “You have to go through an enormous amount of work just to put a bid together, and then sit on the edge of your seat as you compete against everybody else,” Dinegar said. “It’s not for the faint of heart.”

To my surprise, Knise and others said our region’s notorious traffic problems would probably not be a major obstacle. Olympics organizers typically persuade local residents not to clog roads during the Games, such as by leaving town, staying home from work or using mass transit and shuttle buses.

Two larger problems for us would probably be recruiting sufficient corporate sponsors and persuading the business, government and sports elites in our region to unite and commit to years of work.

On the bright side, the Olympics could serve as a catalyst for just such an effort, said David Robertson, executive director of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. “If you say, ‘. . . We’re going to host the 2024 Olympics, and that’s why we have to do this,’ it brings people together,” he said.

The choice facing our area is similar to the one that confronts a young athlete pondering whether to train for a future Olympics. Are we ready to make a total commitment? Years of sacrifice?

The challenge is enormous, but the rewards could be golden.

McCartney discusses local issues at 8:51 a.m. Friday on WAMU (88.5 FM). For earlier columns, go to washingtonpost.com/mccartney.

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