The torch won’t be lit on the 2024 Olympics for 7½ years, but already there’s one name that looms over the whole affair. While Olympics observers debate whether President Trump helps or hurts Los Angeles’ efforts to host the Summer Games, Olympics insiders are wrestling with just how to handle the polarizing president.
“They’re damned if they do, damned if they don’t,” said David Carter, the executive director of the Sports Business Institute at USC’s Marshall School of Business. “If, as usually is the case, you have the president among your highest ranking officials promoting the bid, it draws controversy. If he’s not included in the conversation and not a part of the push, people will point a finger and say ah-ha. It certainly puts the [United State Olympics Committee] in a tough spot.”
The LA2024 committee is expected to formally submit its candidacy paperwork this week to host the Summer Olympics and is one of three finalists, along with Paris and Budapest. The 95-member International Olympic Committee will select a winner in September.
While Trump has been a vocal supporter of the Los Angeles bid, some fear his words and actions could undermine the LA2024 committee’s efforts. Trump’s recent executive order temporarily banning entry into the United States for refugees and migrants from seven Muslim-majority countries has sparked concern from some Olympic athletes and officials.
While most members of the IOC have remained silent on Trump’s edict, one of them, Richard Peterkin from St. Lucia, tweeted on Saturday: “Trump’s Executive Order on immigration is totally contrary to Olympic ideals. For him, collective responsibility trumps individual justice.”
The LA2024 committee has yet to comment on Trump’s recent actions, but Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti denounced the president’s order. “We are in a moment that we will look back on and ask ourselves what we did to stand up, speak out, and live up to our values,” he said in a statement Monday.
Garcetti, a Democrat and one of the prominent faces of the city’s Olympic bid, spoke with Trump on the phone shortly after the election, at which time the soon-to-be president pledged to help lure the Summer Games to the United States.
Trump has already had a phone call with IOC President Thomas Bach and some U.S. Olympic officials have been buoyed by his enthusiasm for Los Angeles’ bid, even if they aren’t certain whether he is a help or hindrance in the process.
“With Trump, I think it’s more personal,” said David Wallechinsky, president of the International Society of Olympic Historians. “This involves approximately 100 people voting. A certain number are women, a certain number are Muslim and a certain number are from Spanish-speaking countries. A lot of them have reason to feel offended by Trump. It’s almost beyond politics.”
Wallechinsky says the challenge facing LA2024 organizers is to make the city’s bid about California without necessarily alienating the president. “It’s awkward because they need the support of the U.S. government for security,” he said, “so they can’t just separate themselves.”
Officials with the U.S. Olympic Committee spent the weekend trying to understand the ramifications of the travel ban.
The USOC said in a statement Monday afternoon that the organization has received assurances from federal officials that they “will work with us to ensure that athletes and officials from all countries will have expedited access to the United States in order to participate in international athletic competitions.”
“Like the United States, the Olympic Movement was founded based upon notions of diversity and inclusion, of opportunity and overcoming adversity. As the steward of the Olympic Movement in the United States, we embrace those values,” read the statement from USOC chair Larry Probst and CEO Scott Blackmun. “We also acknowledge the difficult task of providing for the safety and security of a nation. It is our sincere hope that the executive order as implemented will appropriately recognize the values on which our nation, as well as the Olympic Movement, were founded.”
The president’s executive order on Friday did spark some more pressing concerns. A team of U.S. freestyle wrestlers was slated to compete in a world championship tournament Feb. 16-17 in Kermanshah, Iran. Shortly after Trump’s order went into effect, the Iranian government announced it would limit visas to Americans.
Rich Bender, the executive director of USA Wrestling, said Monday the U.S. team is still planning to compete in Iran. He said USA Wrestling has received assurances that the American athletes will be allowed to enter Iran. “Is it possible we won’t get visas? It’s certainly possible,” Bender said. “But we’re optimistic and hopeful that we’ll find out soon our visas have been stamped and we’ll be wheels up shortly.”
Lisa Delpy Neirotti, an associate professor of sport management at George Washington University’s School of Business, returned Monday from a conference in Botswana that included 40 people from around the world involved in an IOC-endorsed executive masters sports management program. She said she was surprised the reaction from her international cohorts wasn’t more incendiary.
“I think a lot of people are in the wait-and see mode and it’s not hurting L.A. right now,” said Delpy Neirotti, who has attended 18 Olympic Games. “I just don’t think it’s ultimately going to have a lasting impact. Obviously, it’s going to be a discussion point but not the ultimate downfall of the bid.”
Carter pointed to recently selected Olympics and World Cup sites, which include China, Russia and Qatar, and said domestic politics aren’t usually the deciding factor. “It’s about revenue,” he said. “It’s about how the IOC or FIFA [soccer’s international governing body] or whomever is going to fare financially.”
Los Angeles is expected to submit a cost-effective proposal that utilizes many existing stadiums and facilities, though some Olympic observers contend that Paris, which also hosted the Summer Games in 1900 and 1924, is still the front-runner.