Washington’s bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics became a tangible entity Thursday with the unveiling of a Web site (www.dc2024.org), a slogan (“Fostering Greater Unity”), a colorful logo, a Twitter hashtag (#unity) and a deep-pocketed, politically connected board of directors that includes nearly all the most powerful sports figures in town, with one notable exception.
The bid leaders’ job is largely one of trying to convince a skeptical public — not to mention the U.S. Olympic Committee and, eventually, the notoriously discerning International Olympic Committee — that the capital of the free world would make a splendid setting for a Summer Games.
“When you think about it,” said Russ Ramsey, chairman of the Washington 2024 committee and the former board chairman of George Washington, “Washington is not just the nation’s capital but really an unbelievably international city — 184 languages [spoken], 176 embassies [and] over 20 percent of the region is foreign-born now. It’s an opportunity to really have a transformative event for the nation’s capital.”
This winter, the USOC will consider four finalists — Washington, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The group either will choose one to submit to the IOC or decide not to submit a candidate; after an embarrassing failure to secure the 2016 Games, the USOC opted not to pursue the 2020 Olympics at all. The IOC will choose the 2024 host in 2017.
The 17-person board named Thursday includes political figures such as former Washington mayor Anthony Williams, sports-related business leaders such as Under Armour’s Kevin Plank, as well as the owners of the Washington Nationals, Mystics and Kastles. Ted Leonsis, owner of the Capitals and Wizards, was previously announced as the group’s vice chairman.
Notably absent from the list is Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, who is under fire because of his franchise’s nickname, deemed by some to be offensive. However, the Washington 2024 group may need Snyder as an ally in the lobbying effort for a new Olympic stadium — most likely on the current site of RFK Stadium — which could then be repurposed into a new stadium for the Redskins.
Ramsey did not directly answer a question Thursday about whether Snyder had shown interest in being on the board but said Snyder is “a supporter” of the Olympic effort.
“We’ve talked to everybody, and we’ve gotten support from everyone,” Ramsey said. “So the fact that you don’t have one or two people as a board [member], I can tell you there’s dozens of other business people from the community who are supporting us but aren’t desired to be visible board members.”
Ramsey acknowledged a new Olympic stadium will be a critical part of the Washington bid, but he said neither the location nor the ideal post-Olympics use for that stadium has been determined. He declined to speculate on alternate locations to the RFK site but said the new stadium could be repurposed for anything from a football stadium to an NBA/NHL arena to a national Olympic training center.
“We’re agnostic,” Ramsey said. “We can be supporters of all those entities because there are models of building an Olympic stadium and converting it to all those things. . . . Imagine that [for Wizards and Capitals games], instead of going to Seventh Street, [fans] were sitting there on the river in a new city center. It would transform the community.”
The United States hasn’t hosted an Olympics since the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games and is considered to be among the favorites to land the 2024 Games. But some have viewed the Washington bid as unlikely due to anti-American sentiment within the IOC.
Ramsey, however, argued Washington’s status as the seat of democracy is “a bit of a home-field advantage” for the city’s bid, as opposed to a negative.
“Part of the excitement for us is the idea of using this theme of unity to really highlight how sports and the Olympic Games have been a unifier around the globe for many decades,” he said. “ . . . Bringing the world to the nation’s capital, which clearly, like many other places in the world right now, seems to be fairly divisive, can actually be a catalyst to think about fostering greater unity.”
Although many economists argue the Olympics rarely bring enough financial return to justify the spending it requires, Ramsey suggested the Games could benefit communities along the Anacostia River, potentially jump-starting development in the Hill East area south of RFK, where D.C. Jail and social services agencies are located. He cited the 2012 London Games as an example of an Olympics that successfully incorporated a business incubation program as part of its legacy.
Unlike other cities that have had to start virtually from scratch to host an Olympics, metropolitan Washington, according to Ramsey, has more sporting venues within a compact area than any city in the United States. An Olympic stadium and adjoining athletes’ village, plus a natatorium for swimming and diving and a velodrome for cycling are the only facilities that would need to be built from scratch.
“Most people, unless they play tennis, don’t know there’s a training center in College Park [without which] we wouldn’t have the best 16-year-old in the country in Francis Tiafoe,” Ramsey said. “ . . . So I say, look at that over 20 other sports and say, ‘Where is the next Francis Tiafoe and how can Washington be a part of that on a planned, strategic basis?’ ”