Politicians in Washington may struggle to find common ground, but if one force binds the rest of us in the nation’s capital, it is sports. We Washingtonians are passionate about our teams and appreciate sports for its diversity and commitment to excellence.
The headlines may focus on Washington’s partisan battles, but our communities embody the best of sport and its impact on society. We have built arenas that have revitalized our neighborhoods. We have a long-standing commitment to youth programs, which help accelerate children’s educational achievements and produce many exceptional homegrown athletes.
Our region has produced extraordinary sports leaders and barrier-breakers. At Georgetown University, where I am chairman of the board of directors, we are proud of our D.C. native and legendary men’s basketball coach, John Thompson Jr., who participated in several Olympic competitions as a coach. We are proud of Olympians who developed and excelled in this region, including Georgetown’s basketball standout Alonzo Mourning, a gold medalist in 2000, and Katie Ledecky, a world-record-holder in swimming and a gold medalist in London’s 2012 Olympics. Maryland’s Jessica Long won multiple gold medals in swimming in the Paralympic Games in Athens, Beijing and London and was honored as the U.S. Olympic Committee’s 2006 Paralympian of the Year. Our region is a hotbed of Olympic swimming talent.
Whether it is a sporting event or a presidential inauguration, the District loves playing the excited and masterful host. I can think of no region more suitable or prepared to welcome the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2024 than the District.
The Super Bowl is the largest sporting event in the United States every year. The National Football League, of which I was commissioner, has a painstaking process for evaluating potential sites for hosting its championship game. We placed high value on a community’s capacity, infrastructure and ability to provide a safe experience for the players and thousands of fans. Similar criteria are used to select Olympic host cities.
Our region has the capacity to accommodate the Summer Games while continuing to meet the daily needs of local residents. We can offer premier athletic venues, from Verizon Center and Nationals Park to the stadiums, arenas and Olympic-size swimming pools at the University of Maryland and George Mason University to the equestrian facilities in northern Virginia. The region has exceptional hotels and other accommodations and some 850,000 daily commuters on the Metrorail. For the 2009 presidential inauguration, Metro helped ferry 1.8 million spectators, and the region has the advantage of being served by three major airports.
The Olympics would deliver enormous value to the District, particularly to our young people. Former senator Bill Bradley, an Olympic gold medalist in men’s basketball, described the values of sports as including discipline, selflessness, respect, courage, leadership, responsibility and resilience, linking these values to the demands of life.
The Games bring the potential for Olympic partners to invest in our local youth sports programs. Access to sport is shrinking in our urban neighborhoods, especially for girls. The Women’s Sports Foundation found that high schools in the District had positions on teams for only 22 percent of girls and 33 percent of boys. Hosting the Olympics could help reverse this.
USA Swimming saw youth participation sharply increase after the 2008 Beijing Games. And it increased again after the 2012 London Olympics, which included Ledecky’s thrilling achievements.
In 1990, I was privileged to have a discussion with President Ronald Reagan about the impact of sports on our lives. He subsequently wrote to me: “There is something wonderful about sports that I’ve always thought should be a guiding principle in our lives. And that is when athletes put on their uniforms and take their place on the playing field, it doesn’t matter whether they are rich or poor, black or white, Jew or Christian. It just matters that they do their best.” On the grandest stage, let’s do what we in the District do best and come together in our commitment to sports and the mission of passing on those values to the next generation.
The writer was commissioner of the National Football League from 1989 to 2006 and was chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Independent Advisory Committee, tasked with assessing the USOC’s governance structure and management responsibilities.