Going for Gold: Past, Present and Future of the Olympics

In advance of the awarding of the 2024 Olympic Games, Cormac Murphy profiles the two contenders and looks at some of the controversies of previous Games

The Paris and Los Angeles delegations presented their bids for the 2024 Summer Olympics to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) officials in Aarhus, Denmark on 4 April. This represented another step towards the final decision that is due to be made this September.  

LA and Paris alone remain of the five contenders contesting the race for the 2024 Summer Olympics.  

Expensive, controversial, extravagant? These are some of the concerns that surround the Olympics. Christopher Gaffney, a senior lecturer at the University of Zurich and prominent critic of the Games certainly believes they apply.

During a lecture at the University of Zurich, he described the Olympics:

Wherever we see an educated population that has a relatively free press, relatively high levels of governmental transparency, and that has put it up for a referendum, in every one of those cases we have seen the Olympics be rejected. Without exception.”


Road to 2024

Hamburg was the first to wave a white flag at the Olympics. In November 2015, 51.6 percent of the city’s residents rejected the proposal in a city-wide referendum.

Rome pulled out of the bidding in October 2016, after the Five Star Movement took control of the city council. Seeing the Olympics as frivolous and a bad investment, Rome’s mayor Virginia Raggi stated she wanted to prioritise fighting corruption and rubbish collection.


Budapest was the most recent city to withdraw in late February 2017 following a nationwide petition urging the Government to hold a referendum on the Games.  

Budapest Parliament Building. Image by Padrag via Wikimedia Commons

With enthusiasm ebbing to host the world’s largest sporting event, the IOC is keen for both of the remaining candidate cities to accept either the 2024 or 2028 Summer Olympics in an unprecedented double pick this year.

However, what are the pros and cons of these two cities hosting the Olympics?


A look at Los Angeles’ bid for 2024

LA was selected over other American cities including Boston, Washington D.C. and San Francisco by the United States Olympic Committee (USOC).

Home to over 10 million people, LA has hosted the games twice before in 1932 and 1984.

If awarded the Olympics for 2024, LA will be the second city after London to have organised the games three times.  

No stranger to sporting events, the city is hoping to capitalise on existing structures such as the Coliseum, Rose Bowl and StubHub Centre to offset costs. Furthermore, organisers are expecting to sell 97% of seats available.

Speaking to the LA Times, bid chairman Casey Wasserman said, “LA 2024 does not need to construct a single new permanent venue,”.

He further added “So we can focus on the things that really matter.”

DowntownLosAngelesDowntown Los Angeles. Image by Thomas Pintaric via Wikimedia Commons

LA 2024 proponents are hoping to utilise the high profile nature of Hollywood and California’s high-tech sector to connect with a younger audience.

However, LA’s bid to host the 2024 Olympics is not without its problems.

Donald Trump’s presidency could derail hopes for LA’s bid.

Disparaging remarks towards Muslims and Mexicans may potentially discourage Islamic and Hispanic IOC members from voting for the American city.

One IOC member has already spoken out in response to Trump’s divisive travel ban in January 2017.

Richard Peterkin stated in a tweet that the ban “is totally contrary to Olympic ideals”.

As a response to concerns over Trump’s executive order on immigration, the IOC released a statement on their website in which they said:

“In the spirit of the Olympic values of friendship, excellence and respect, our Commission believes in and advocates the free rights of travel to training camps and sporting competitions for all athletes and officials.”


Paris 2024 prospects 

Paris formally announced its intention to host the games on June 23rd 2015, which coincided with Olympic Day.

The French capital has around 10.5 million inhabitants.  Like LA, the French capital has held the games twice before in 1900 and again in 1924.

If Paris wins, it will also be the second city to have organised the games three times. The 2024 games would come on the 100th anniversary of when the city last hosted the event.

IOC member, former Olympian and co-chair of the Paris bid, Tony Estanguet has promised a “100% clean game” free of bribery. This follows a series of scandals that have shaken the IOC’s image.

However, French ambitions to hold the event are not without their limits. In an effort to force the IOC’s hand, Estanguet has stated:

“We can’t accept 28 [2028 Olympics]. It’s not possible. It’s now or never. Either the IOC family wants to choose Paris for 24 or we will not come back for 28.”  

France is not without its drawbacks. Security concerns dominate French desires for 2024: this follows a string of terrorist attacks across the country — including the French capital.

French Police. Image by Rama via Wikimedia Commons 

During the November 2015 Paris Attacks which left 130 dead, three suicide bombers struck outside the Stade de France during a friendly football match between France and Germany.

France’s most recent sporting events include the Tour de France and the 2016 UEFA Euro championships. Both passed without incident to participants or fans, with the exception of a controlled explosion on a ‘suspicious vehicle’ during a match between Iceland and France.

The fatal stabbing of two police officers during the Euro championship and the deadlier Nice attack which left 87 killed that followed a few days after the event brought France’s security situation into question again.

According to the Global Terrorism Index, France is ranked 29th on a list of countries most at risk from terrorism ahead of Russia at 30th and behind Palestine at 28th. The United States are 36th on the list.  

Despite these concerns, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo said in reference to France’s Olympic bid “Paris can handle it.”

She went on to say that the risk of terrorism is a “threat that exists in all cities across the world.”   

History of Olympic incidents

The Olympics have never been completely free of politics with diplomatic wrangling and tragedy tangled into the history of the modern Games.

Based on past experience, it’s impossible that politics won’t seep into the IOC decision for 2024 and 2028.

In fact, the last time LA hosted the Olympics in 1984, the games were boycotted by 14 Eastern Bloc countries and allies.

This was a direct response to the 1980 US-led boycott of the USSR Olympics in Moscow as a protest against the invasion of Afghanistan.

The 1976 Montreal Games were shunned by 29 African countries as Canada had allowed New Zealand to compete — this followed  New Zealand’s rugby team controversial tour of Apartheid South Africa the same year.

The Seoul Olympics of 1988 were also boycotted by a smaller communist contingent, led by  North Korea and its allies.

Countries that boycotted the Olympics. Image by Wikimedia Commons

It was not until the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 that boycotts finally stopped being a regular feature of the games.

Countries have also been known to use the event as showcase for their own purposes.

The most notorious example was the 1936 Munich Olympics, where Nazi Germany used the event as a propaganda platform.

By contrast, Tokyo used the 1964 event to highlight Japan’s post-war development — having previously been scheduled to host the Olympics in 1940.

The 1968 Summer Games in Mexico proved bloody and controversial following a brutal army crackdown on student protestors in Tlatelolco.

While not quite as charged as prior games, recent Olympics have continued to court controversy.

Beijing 2008. Image by Paparazzi via Wikimedia Commons

The Beijing Olympics in 2008 brought human rights issues in China into the international spotlight. Tibet, censorship, restrictions on family size, forced evictions and the environment were all issues that arose.   

Similarly, Russia’s 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics provoked attention from LGBT rights groups, Circassians and fellow athletes in the wake of doping allegations.  

The 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil were met with nationwide protests by people outraged by the cost.

According to Amnesty International, when sporting events are held in countries with a poor human rights record, human rights violations increase. Forced evictions take place to make way for new venues, labourers are exploited and freedom of expression is stifled to avoid embarrassment.  

Nominally, the Olympics are just about sport. However, history shows that it’s impossible to separate the Games from politics.




Featured Image by David Holt via Wikimedia Commons

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