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Mayor Defends Decision To Bring Olympics To L.A. In Interview With Bill Simmons

The conversation is large on hype, low on facts

Opening ceremonies of the 1984 Summer Olympics at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Photo by U.S. Air Force/Wikipedia Commons.

On July 31, the International Olympics Committee announced that Los Angeles had been named host of the 2028 Summer Games, a consolation prize the city happily accepted in exchange for not putting up a fight over the decision to award the 2024 Games to its only competitor, Paris. As part of their victory lap, Bill Simmons, CEO of The Ringer, hosted Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Casey Wasserman, LA 2028 chairman, sports agent, and marketing mogul on The Bill Simmons Podcast on Aug. 2.

For close to 50 minutes, Simmons, who said outright that he is “pro-L.A. Olympics,” gave Garcetti and Wasserman all the time and space they needed — largely unchallenged — to sell the idea that the Olympics will not only reap millions of dollars and create thousands of jobs, but will also help to improve the lives of Los Angeles residents for years to come.

Despite a few moments where Simmons pressed the pair for details, at no point in the chummy conversation did he or they mention the wreckage left behind by the recent Summer Olympics and many of the Winter Games including economic ruin, with the average final bill showing a 90 percent increase over the estimated budget. Beyond any financial losses and the attendant corruption, the Games inevitably force the host city and nation to displace the local population, shred civil rights and civil liberties, install a surveillance state, and militarize local law enforcement.

Though these issues were never explicitly addressed, Garcetti and Wasserman made it clear that Los Angeles and Los Angelenos shouldn’t worry because they were sure to turn a massive profit, largely citing one factor that might prevent the 2028 Games from being a total disaster: Unlike the previous Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, which exceeded its original estimated budget by $1.6 billion, and Tokyo, the 2020 host, which now projects to spend $6.6 billion more than originally tabbed, it won’t be necessary to construct venues, stadiums, and an Olympic Village.

In that aspect, they are correct. The abundance of Olympics-ready venues in the greater Los Angeles area should tamp down the spiraling costs and eliminate the odds that the city will be saddled with useless, decaying stadiums that continue to sap economic resources long after the Olympics have left town. But as Patrick Redford noted at Deadspin, they’re laboring under the assumption that all the development and infrastructure projects already underway in conjunction with the Games, at an estimated cost of $1.2 billion, will be completed on time and on budget — a degree of optimism that strains credulity. To cite just one current example, the completion date for the new $2.6-billion Los Angeles Rams stadium in Inglewood has already been pushed back a year due to rain.

Garcetti and Wasserman dismiss those concerns, insisting the Olympics will net hundreds of millions in profit for the city. One other reason for their optimism: Given the lack of cities vying to host the Games, following the exits of Budapest, Rome, and Boston — all of which backed out thanks to significant public pressure — Los Angeles was able to hammer out a friendly and favorable agreement with the IOC, including a big chunk of the sponsorship revenue. Chalk that up to wishful thinking. The last Summer Olympics to turn a profit was the 1996 Games in Atlanta, and even then, the bulk of the financial rewards were funneled to the already-wealthy.

As to their claim of sure-fire profitability, they cited a study which estimated that the Games would generate $11 billion in “economic impact” when all is said and done. Economic impact studies, of course, are meaningless, according to every economist not being paid by a team and/or municipality invested in giving away tax dollars to build stadiums and fund mega-sporting events. In case you were curious, LA2028 paid in part for this study, though Garcetti and Wasserman failed to mention it to Simmons.

How many jobs would the Olympics generate? “Thousands of jobs,” Garcetti answered, though he did admit that a great many of them would be temporary, construction-based employment. Wasserman chimed in to clarify that, according to LA 2028’s estimation, about 74,000 jobs would be created. Again, while Simmons apparently didn’t have this information at his disposal, the 70,000 supposedly permanent jobs added by the much-touted 1984 Los Angeles Olympics were far from permanent.

Speaking of the 1984 Games, they remain very much a point of pride for both Garcetti and Wasserman. They “shaped our lives,” Garcetti said, expressing confidence that beyond any profits accrued, the funds spent now, particularly the $180 million from the IOC that Los Angeles will get up front to pay for increased access to youth sports programs, will leave an everlasting “legacy” and will make “L.A. the healthiest city in America,” he said. (Both Garcetti and Wasserman did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

Garcetti also insisted that, to achieve their lofty goals, “We just have to execute.” Wasserman added, “The plan is in place.” Simmons did point out that he didn’t really answer the question, saying he’s known Wasserman for a “really long time” and that was “the most political answer he’s ever given.”

“When I look at it, what can go wrong?” said Garcetti.

GOOD Sports spoke with Jonny Coleman, an organizer working with NOlympics LA, the nonprofit grassroots organization that has been working to stop the Olympics from coming to Los Angeles. NOlympics LA has long insisted that “an Olympics in L.A. — regardless of how ‘successfully’ it is executed — will be disastrous for Angelenos across the city.”

With regards to Garcetti’s insistence that the Olympics will help Los Angelenos’ health, Coleman said, “Single payer is a big deal in L.A. and California,” but the only public comment that he has heard from Garcetti in 2017 is the statement that "youth sports help create healthy adults.” Yes, that is certainly true, but the lack of access to affordable health care and the increasing presence of food deserts are of far greater concern.

In the interview, Garcetti pointed to Caylin Moore — a talented NCAA football player, Rhodes Scholar, and Los Angeles local who played on fields built following the 1984 Games — as an example of the ways sports can lead to positive societal change, even if the full results are not seen until years down the road. Coleman was not swayed by this line of reasoning.

“The things they use as examples of success are so bizarre,” he said, “They're lottery-type moments that don't account for the realities that most Americans face… Why do you have to twist yourself into a pretzel to appease some European oligarchs to create a sporting event to hopefully create a windfall 11 years from now to address these problems, while touting the small amount they're getting up front?”

What’s more, Los Angeles is currently in the midst of an affordable housing crisis, Coleman explained, partially due to stagnant wages and a median individual income in the range of $28,000, while the cost of living is skyrocketing and wages are not, and a homelessness problem that has only gotten worse. “A 23 percent increase [in the last year] and 50,000 people living on the streets,” Coleman said, which represents a conservative estimate and doesn’t necessarily include undocumented immigrants, even though Los Angeles is not a sanctuary city.

Those tens of thousands of vulnerable people will be put at risk, subjected to a massive security and surveillance state that inevitably comes hand-in-hand with the Olympics.

"Giving the keys to the DHS, regardless of who's president?" said Coleman. "That's a really scary proposition because you don't put that back in the box afterwards."

Coleman was impressed with one aspect of Simmons’ questioning in that it represented one of the few times where, instead of dismissing questions and concerns about gentrification with a single sentence response, he went a little further. Coleman said, “I think maybe some of NOlympics LA's concerns are being heard,” even if they were never specifically named by anyone on the podcast.

During the exchange in question, Simmons asked about the backlash to LA 2028’s bid. Wasserman said, “There’s been a little, you know? But I think when people start to understand the realities of the bid and the details of the bid, it’s not on the city budget. It’s privately financed, privately operated. It’s as conservative a budget as has ever been presented as an Olympic bid.”

He then added that their concerns were not “fact-based” and this unnamed group was “using it for other reasons.” He and Garcetti also cited recent polls, one of which was partly funded by LA 2028 and two others that were conducted by the IOC, showing overwhelming public support. Another unscientific online poll via CurbedLA showed far less public backing for the Games.

[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]We have 11 years to really push back.[/quote]

But the biggest promise Garcetti made was that “zero people” would end up being displaced by the Games. Simmons noted that in 1984, urban displacement occurred, though he wasn’t sure if it was an “urban legend.” (The displacement that occurred has been widely reported.)

“There were some urban legends, like about anti-gang operations,” Garcetti said, though this too has been extensively documented. “No houses are being taken,” he promised. “We’re not displacing residents like you read in other cities. We’re not taking city budgets and shifting them around. This is a win-win.”

In response, Coleman said, “We know that the mayor is sophisticated enough to realize that gentrification and displacement is not the result of stadium-building alone,” citing Airbnb as just one example. “Saying that no one would be displaced is pretty definitive... That's a bold claim and a really ignorant claim.”

For now, NOlympics LA is working to ensure that Garcetti is held to account for the entirety of promises and, as a whole, to convince Los Angeles to walk away from the Olympics altogether. There is a precedent. Denver voters sent the IOC packing after the city was awarded the 1976 Summer Games, and the long run-up should work to NOlympics LA’s advantage.

"We have 11 years to really push back,” he said.

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