POSTED: August 2nd 2017

[NEIL WILSON] Olympics: Why did LA finish second?

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© Bigstock

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

(SFC) Paris is one of the world's great cities. Los Angeles, in my experience, is a series of rest stops on a freeway.

That does not alter my opinion expressed in this space many moons ago that Los Angeles should have been the International Olympic Committee's choice to host the Olympic Games in 2024.

Not only was it owed it for services rendered to the Olympic movement in 1984 but, and far more importantly, its services were desperately needed by it again, and urgently.

Not only was Los Angeles the better bid but it offered the way back for an Olympic movement struggling under the perception that its Games has become an excuse for over-blown government spending on infrastructure projects.

LA is likely to show that the extravagance of Athens, Sochi, Rio and Tokyo that frightened away Hamburg, Boston, Budapest, Rome and others from bidding are not a given. It can be done sensibly.

LA was a better bet because it is there, ready. No need for arenas, swimming complexes and housing for athletes. They exist.

What is more LA will not go into the red but most likely make a large profit, just as it did in 1984, the last time the Games was there. Paris will be very lucky indeed to keep within its budget.

The difference? LA is a privately-funded bid. Its people are personally liable for over-runs. Paris is municipally and federally funded.

 The poor sap picking up the cost over-runs eventually will be the taxpayer, and what grand-standing politician cares much for them.  They know that as likely as not they will not be in office in seven years time.

So why not LA in 2024? Why must Paris come first before LA takes its turn in 2028? Partly because the IOC top brass could not be certain that its members would vote in September for an American city. There has long been a Euro-centric bias within it against the US, even in the saner time of Obama and Hilary Clinton.

The other reason I suspect is that its president Thomas Bach feared that putting Paris back 11 years would leave too much time for French opposition to grow. LA's bid is massively popular in Southern California, Paris's less so.

Even Paris's socialist mayor Ann Hidalgo expressed "serious reservations" two years ago before swinging behind the project. Another socialist councillor told Le Monde: "We have seven years left to fight before 2024 and an opposition will form in time."

Imagine if those like him had eleven years in which to from up. Already another councillor has called for a referendum.

Paris's pitch is legacy of the style of London 2012, the re-building of Seine-St Denis, the poorest of France's 101 mainland departments or districts and where the city's 2005 riots began.  But what will 3,500 homes mostly at sky-high Paris prices and a swimming complex do for it when 1 in 3 of its 1.5 million population are immigrants and 18% are unemployed?

LA has been compensated for the delay. The IOC has given up the chance of a 20% share of any profit. It has loaned interest-free money to run its organisation four years longer than usual and money towards stimulating interest among the local youth.

All well and good. And Paris is a great city and will put on a great Olympics. But at what price? Had LA gone first cities would have been queuing at the IOC's door for a chance to host, just as they did after 1984.

The IOC instead played safe. In my opinion they missed a trick.

** 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.

****The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sports Features Communications.

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