POSTED: August 13th 2014

NEIL WILSON: Time for Los Angeles to call in a debt for the Olympics

The headquarters of the LA84 Foundation presided over by IOC Executive Board member Anita DeFrantz / LA84 Foundation
The headquarters of the LA84 Foundation presided over by IOC Executive Board member Anita DeFrantz / LA84 Foundation

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) Legacy is the buzz word in the Olympic movement. Many believe it was the magic word when Sebastian Coe was selling London’s 2012 bid to the IOC seven years earlier. No city has bid since without a heavy emphasis on it.

To most it means the houses and sports infrastructure that are left behind a Games. To Coe it  meant the young lives that could be influenced. To men such as Vladimir Putin it is calculated in the political gains.

Look back to Barcelona in 1992 and legacy looms large. The Catalonian city was transformed both physically and in the imaginations of outsiders. But we have to go all the way back to 1984 for the original Olympic legacy.

We are reminded  what the Los Angeles Olympic Games gave, and continues to give, to Southern California by the recent publication of the latest biennial Report of LA84, the non-profit-making foundation created to distribute 40% of the Games’ surplus.

Young people, their coaches and clubs are helped in their sporting endeavours by the fund; in the 20 months to June this year around $7.2 million was invested in them. Many end up competing at Olympic Games, some winning medals, but all benefitting from a Games that was run for the only time in post-World War II Games by private enterprise.

The man behind both the Games and LA84 was Peter Ueberroth, a corporate giant of the travel business. He brought into the organisation as ‘commissioners’ for each sport men of similar ilk. Entrepreneurs, he called them.

Or as he says in an interview accompanying the Report men used to running companies who understood budgets. Each planned for the worst-case scenario. The deployment of the National Guard, for instance, or poor television audience ratings to which payments were linked.

The prediction from outsiders was that LA would end up with “horrendous over-runs and big losses”, as Ueberroth puts it. But by budgeting for high costs, they ended up with a surplus so large that every city wanted an Olympic Games.

LA was alone in bidding for 1984, and thus had the IOC over a barrel in how it wanted to organise its Games. For 1992 seven cities bid.

That was a great part of its legacy to the Olympic movement. The numbers of bidders since has rarely been lower. But showing the IOC how a Games could be presented without great infrastructure investment – LA used largely existing facilities – and how running a tight budget was important.

 As Ueberroth says in his latest interview: “Basically the IOC took our model and made it theirs.”

Thirty years on LA bids again to host the Olympic Games, one of four US cities on a short list that the USOC is considering.  The IOC no longer allows private bids because LA made the Games so popular that it can afford to pick and choose.

But if there is any justice, the USOC should allow today’s generation of IOC members the chance to repay the debt they owe to the City of Angels.

NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books.

Keywords · Neil Wilson · Los Angeles 84 · Olympics · summer Games · Olympic legacy

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