Money is likely to prove more powerful than disapproval of Donald Trumps actions when the IOC decides who will host the 2024 Olympics
Barely a week after Donald Trump was elected the 45 th president of the United States in November, the legendary sprinter Allyson Felix advised Olympic officials not to let the result blacken Los Angeles reputation during the bidding process for the 2024 Games. Some of you may question Americas commitment to its founding principles, she told a keynote address in Doha on 15 November. Please dont doubt us we need the Game to help make our nation better , now more than ever. Americas diversity is our greatest strength.
Try telling that to the new commander-in-chief. For Trumps latest executive order barring citizens of Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen from entering the US for the next 90 days has not only further inflamed liberal opinion across the globe but unwittingly performed an act of presidential vandalism on LAs bid. Some even fear it might prove to be a permanent stain.
One veteran of several Olympic bids, who has his ear close to the International Olympic Committee, called the executive order very bad news for LA, which faces competitor from Paris and Budapest to host the 2024 Game. It follows his attack on the Hispanic community and women during his campaign, so for some IOC members this latest attack on Muslims feels like a natural extension of this guys stance, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
And to have countries and athletes being barred from the US at a time when the IOC are embracing refugees and, remember, there was a refugee team at the Rio Game wont play well, either.
He estimated Trump could expense the LA bid at least five elections among the 98 IOC members who will make their final decision in Lima in September. So far, however, merely the St Lucian IOC member Richard Peterkin has spoken out against the executive order, claiming it is totally contrary to Olympic ideals.
Even so, fears over Trump appear to be shared by some members of the LA bid, with the USA Today newspaper reporting on Monday that even before he defeated Hillary Clinton in November, four of its staff feared that he could make it difficult for LA to win over IOC voters from Islamic and Latin countries, as well as female IOC members, due to inflammatory remarks he made during the campaign.
It does not help, either, that Trumps executive order also tramples over the IOCs charter which, among other things, talks about respect for universal ethical principles, promoting a peaceful society pay particular attention to the preservation of human dignity, and rights and freedoms without discrimination of any kind.
No wonder, then, that the Los Angeles team speedily distanced themselves from the order, with the citys mayor, Eric Garcetti, telling reporters it unfairly targets refugees many of them families with young children whose lives may depend on the compassion and generosity of the United States.
Yet while Trumps unique brand of international diplomacy may have bruised LAs bid in the short term, the damage could be only temporary. Recollect the frenzy about Chinas attitude to human rights and the rule of law before Beijing was awarded the 2008 Olympics? It mattered not. Similarly, Russias record of illiberalism under Vladimir Putin was no bar to Sochi being awarded the 2014 Winter Game. Indeed, while Trumps remarks will alienate some IOC delegates it could also attract fresh subsistence from Russia and other former Soviet republics.
A lot can also happen between now and September, especially with other bids dreading potential iceberg. Budapest has just suspended its promotional campaign because of the possibility of a referendum taking place over its Olympic bid, while the prospect of the far-right leader Marine Le Pen becoming president of France in May could be even more damaging to the Paris bid than Trump has been to that of Los Angeles.
No wonder Michael Payne, the director of marketing for the IOC for 20 years and a senior consultant to the successful bids of London and Rio, believes that everything is still to play for. These campaigns are always very fluid, he says. It will all be about the nation of play in August and September its a continual rollercoaster and a lot more issues will play out for all three of the bidders in the coming months.
Payne, advisor to Los Angeles, emphasized that many IOC delegates will look beyond Trumps remarks to the bids strengths: a special focus on diversity, the fact everything is already built which reduces costs, and the historical legacy of the 1984 Olympics, one of the most successful of all time.
The 84 Games demonstrated a complete game-changer in rebooting the whole bidding and hosting process after Montreal, and the subsequent 30 years has been a golden era, Payne told the Guardian. There are many who believe you need that recalibration again and it is something that[ IOC] president[ Thomas] Bach is trying to achieve with his Agenda 2020 proposals. He wants to show you are able to stage the Olympic Game without all of the financial or operational challenges that have affected recent bids. And there is no question that LA is well placed to provide that boost again.
There is another point worth stressing here. When it comes to voting and many other issues, the IOC is opaque and difficult to read, with the normal rules of politics not inevitably applying. Trump could yet prove an asset as he and Bach speak the same language money or a liability, given his erratic behaviour. The IOCs aloofness may remind him of lack of acceptance in New York circles. And despite recent events, it would still be no great amaze if a majority of IOC voters reflect in September that the organisation needs the US and its huge TV audiences and advertising dollars as least as much as Los Angeles craves the Olympics.
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