Forget trade, tweets, tough-guy handshakes or even terrorism; the most important dispute between the world’s two new kids on the geo-political block – Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron – will be which nation, America or France, gets to first host the next Olympic Games after the 2020 Summer Games in Japan.
It could be the top item on the agenda when the two presidents meet in Paris on Bastille Day, July 14. That meeting comes two days after the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) deliberations on the next Olympic host which will take place in Lausanne on July 9-12.
If it was a straight up contest between Los Angeles and Paris for the rights to host the 2024 games, it would be an easy win for the French capital.
Paris hosted the 1924 games so it would be a neat centennial choice. The 95 strong IOC could also celebrate another heritage threshold.
The year 2024 marks 130 years since the IOC was dreamt up in Paris in 1894 by a Frenchman, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, and a Greek, Dimitri Vikelas.
This has led to the rejuvenation of the oldest ongoing festival in the world.
Macron trumps Trump
History aside, in the global popularity race between world leaders, Macron trumps Trump any day of the week.
Also consider the relevant historical precedent: At the IOC Congress in Singapore in 2005, it was the youthful Tony Blair who went head-to-head with the ageing Jacques Chirac and won the 2012 Olympics for London.
This dynamism now plays out in France’s favor, with Trump reprising the role of France’s Chirac at the time.
More important than Olympic Heritage celebrations, the 2024 stage must adhere to Olympic Stakeholders’ (broadcasters, sponsors, advertisers,) market needs for mostly live broadcasts.
Olympic geopolitics kicks in to settle which of the three broad time zones, defined as Americas, Euro-African and Asia-Oceanic, is in line to provide the host.
The geography of the Olympics
Just look at Summer Olympics over the past 40 years and place them geographically and the picture becomes clearer:
Los Angeles (’84), Seoul (’88), Barcelona (’92), Atlanta (’96), Sydney (’00), Athens (’04), Beijing (’08), London (’12), Rio (’16) and Tokyo (’20).
Paris (’24) must precede Los Angeles (’28) in this defensive concurrent award of the next two Summer Games.
Politics is never far away in choice of venue. Beijing beat Toronto in 2008, when the Games should have swung back to the Americas.
It was a clear political choice as the global community wanted the Games in Beijing to oversee China’s entry into world trade, and by placing the country and its capital on the global stage for a closer look.
America has had a poor showing after Atlanta wrestled the 1996 Centennial Games from Athens, Greece, by leveraging its time-zone advantage.
The Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Games were marred by the unraveling of a corrupt system of bribery, even Americans used, to sway IOC membership votes their way.
It brought in Mitt Romney to run the Games and Henry Kissinger to clean up the IOC. Twenty-first century U.S. bids by New York and Chicago tanked with their poorly drafted documents and arrogant deliveries.
Los Angeles is different from its U.S. siblings. It came to the rescue of the Olympics in 1984, when there were no takers to host the Summer Games, by introducing the Olympic enterprise. It could do the same this time around.
The IOC is losing its relevance
Thomas Bach, a German lawyer and former Olympic fencer, is presiding over a 95 member IOC which has slowly lost its relevance.
He caught all the wannabe bids for the 2020s off-guard by pushing a two-Games selection process with both the 2024 and 2028 Games awarded at the same time during the IOC Congress in Lima in September.
With two out of the five entrants in the 2024 bidding race left, Bach figured that the process left too many losers.
The problem is not so much the expense and frustration of the loser cities, but too many entrants. Cities that do not have the faintest chance of winning have been cajoled into the race, when all they seek is the publicity of the global stage or to manipulate domestic politics through their candidatures.
In effect, the entire Olympic bidding and hosting process must be reviewed and revamped. The snowstorm of the 2026 Winter Olympic Games looms around the corner.
By deciding on two consecutive editions of Summer Games, Bach, the IOC and its Stakeholders can look at how to sustain the Olympic Movement. The brand value of heritage and the stakeholders’ needs offer Paris the earlier nod.
The Los Angeles bid
The Los Angeles bid motto is, “Connecting the Olympic Movement to the Future; to create a New Games for a New Era.” But 2024 is too early.
Los Angeles’s ambitious $120bn-40 year plan to create a transit system for the sprawling Metropolis needs a longer horizon to deliver essential elements of it on time for the 2028 Games.
Adding four years to prepare and execute the joint LA-IOC vision of the New Olympics would serve the city’s legacy and sustain the Movement’s relevance.
Bach was recently quoted in support of the arguments advanced in “How to Save the Games from Extinction.”
I argued then that “future Summer Games should be awarded to nations (Bach said “regions”) who will put forth three to four cluster cities to host the 18 day event.
It will reduce costs and spread benefits; it will also increase visitor numbers and fans in the stands.
The IOC meets in Peru in September. President Macron plans to be there to win 2024 for Paris. The question is, will President Trump seek another “bras de fer” with Macron or give way gracefully and wait until 2028 for the United States to host the Olympics.
Los Angeles is probably the city Trump likes the least in America. It has Hollywood and is part of California, is full of democrats, is immigrant-friendly and is openly hostile to Trump’s post-truth politics.
So maybe Trump won’t try to win the Olympic Games for America in 2024. Then again, if he goes to bat for Los Angeles, he may end up offering the Games to Paris on a platter.
But if he concedes 2024 for 2028, when he meets with Macron next week, Trump will appear magnanimous for the first time in his life.
If it was a straight up contest between LA and Paris to host the 2024 games, it would be an easy win for Paris.
In the global popularity race between world leaders, Macron trumps Trump any day of the week.
Thomas Bach is presiding over a 95 member IOC which has slowly lost its relevance.
Los Angeles is probably the city Trump likes the least in America.