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Olympics: Paris, LA provide relief not answer to bidding process

FILE PHOTO: Mayor of Los Angeles Eric Garcetti attends the news conference after the voting during the International Olympic Committee (IOC) extraordinary session in Lausanne, Switzerland, July 11, 2017. REUTERS/Pierre Albouy/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Mayor of Los Angeles Eric Garcetti attends the news conference after the voting during the International Olympic Committee (IOC) extraordinary session in Lausanne, Switzerland, July 11, 2017. REUTERS/Pierre Albouy/File Photo

By Steve Keating

(Reuters) - An agreement to award the 2024 and 2028 Summer Games simultaneously to Paris and Los Angeles may have provided the Olympics with some stability but the unprecedented move will not solve all the problems of a flawed bidding process, say experts.

The two cities will not be officially confirmed as hosts until the International Olympic Committee votes at its congress in Lima, Peru on Sept. 13.

That announcement is sure to be greeted by fireworks and celebrations in both the City of Light and the City of Angels followed by a sobering hangover as the grinding work of staging a Games begins.

Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028 will shoulder the responsibility of reviving the sporting extravaganza and shepherding the movement into a new era.

Massive price tags like the $51 billion spent by Russia on the 2014 Sochi Winter Games and images of decaying white elephant venues from Rio 2016 have left cities and governments questioning the value of hosting an Olympics.

Rome, Hamburg, Boston and Budapest all withdrew from bidding for the 2024 Summer Games while Oslo, Stockholm, Krakow and Ukraine's Lviv pulled out during the race for the 2022 Winter Olympics two years ago.

"The insecurities of what bidding has become means they (International Olympic Committee) have got to move away from a format which does cause them problems be it Rio, be it Sochi," sports marketing guru Patrick Nally told Reuters.

"The Olympics has got to move on and LA has solved their problems but there are not many LAs in the world; they can't rely another LA coming along in another eight years, so time to change."

Paris and Los Angeles tick many boxes in terms of infrastructure and economic stability, but Nally questioned whether the double award was a blueprint for the future.

He described Los Angeles as a safety net that will give the IOC breathing space and an opportunity to rethink and change its bidding process.

While Los Angeles, with a bid built around existing venues, is better equipped than most cities to wait out a decade long run up to 2028, it still comes with considerable risk.

The LA bid is privately funded and therefore better able to deal with shifting political sands, but it will remain vulnerable to the fluctuations of the global economy.

Mayor Eric Garcetti, a driving force behind bringing the Games back to the West Coast city for a third time, will be long out of office when the flame is lit, and the city's strong economy today could be replaced by deficits and high unemployment in 2028.

A catastrophic earthquake is always a possibility too, if any of the many fault lines zigzagging through the sprawling city decide to relieve some tension in the coming years.

CAUTIONARY TALE

Last year's Rio Olympics provides a cautionary tale of just how quickly the excitement of staging an Olympics can turn to despair.

When Brazil was awarded the Summer Olympics in 2009 the country was riding an economic upswing but by the time the Games were staged last August budgets were being slashed and corners cut amid political turmoil.

"The uncertainties looking out for more than a decade are unlimited,” Zev Yaroslavsky, a Los Angeles City Council member during the 1984 games, told Reuters in a phone interview.

“Los Angeles is assuming greater financial risk than they would be assuming had they got the 2024 Games. There could be a recession, or two, between now and 2028.”

There will be five Games staged before Los Angeles gets its moment to shine and maintaining momentum and enthusiasm will provide another challenge for organisers, who will also closely monitor television rights and sponsor trends.

Over the course of the next decade the IOC will be working hard to polish its brand which has been tarnished by sliding ratings and doping scandals.

"Generally speaking holding everything together for seven years is about the outer limit for how big projects like this can happen," Canada's senior IOC member Dick Pound told Reuters.

"I'm not sure I would want to make a regular practice of awarding two at the same time simply because you cannot rely on the stability of nine out of 10 countries to have that kind of a lead time.

"The stars and the planets were lined up this time with two really good candidates."

The decision to award the 2024 and 2028 Games simultaneously to two cities with robust infrastructures that routinely stage big events from the Academy Awards to world climate accords will provide the IOC with badly-needed time to retool its bidding process.

"I think we have to take a step back now and look at that process," said Pound. "What should we do to make sure we get the right candidates?

"Should we be sitting quietly in Lausanne waiting to see what comes in over the transom or should we think about what we think would be best for the Olympic movement and go out and do some recruiting rather than waiting to see who shows up."

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Additional reporting by Brian Homewood in Zurich, Rory Carroll in Los Angeles. Editing by Toby Davis)

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