Notes on the 2028 Olympics

14 Sep

I’ve been in the midst of writing other things for publication and haven’t kept up with this or my other blog (although I have two draft posts I’ve never finished), and frankly like many people am so overwhelmed by the current cultural moment I don’t always have the mental clarity to sit down and say something useful.

But I wanted to write a short post about the awarding of the 2028 Olympics to Los Angeles the other day. I feel at times like I am the only person still interested in this, and I don’t even know why I am any longer (more on that another time), but indulge me in this – or you can stop here and go on to read something more useful. I just want to bookmark these ideas to come back to later.

The social and cultural implications of the Olympic Games are always deeper than we realize, and they are a kind of microcosm for the world, which shouldn’t be too surprising but is really.

There was a time, after the Montreal economic debacle, that no city wanted the Olympics – and L.A. was the sole candidate in 1984, an Olympics at the beginning of what we now know as the neoliberal age. Those games thanks to Peter Ueberroth (remember him?) made a profit, paving the way for the Olympics to become desirable again, at least for the corporate class, and for cities that wanted to assert an up-and-coming world status identity. Now, three decades later, well into a vastly changed capitalistic order (not to mention the collapse of the communist bloc and its adherents), and after the financial disasters of the Athens and Rio de Janeiro games, the Olympics that cities and countries competed for have once again become radioactive. Even people who have a positive view of the Olympic movement see them with a kind of nimbyism; no one wants to host, except maybe cities like Istanbul which are problematic for other reasons. Three of the five final candidate cities for the 2024 Games pulled out after having made it to the final round, usually bowing to popular, economic, and political pressure (and in the case of Budapest, arguably xenophobia was a factor, which kind of is at cross purposes to the meaning of the Olympics in the first place). And Boston, which had the USOC’s designation as the American candidate city, also pulled out, leaving Los Angeles as the substitute. The reason the IOC smartly awarded both the 2024 and 2028 Games in one stroke yesterday is because it is entirely conceivable that no city would have bid for the Games in 2028, and even the opposition in Los Angeles, now apparently quite small, would have had time to build.

The other thing of note is that even though it’s only 11 years away, for Americans 2028 seems inconceivably far in in the future. What is this country and its civic institutions going to look like then? Not only will there be greater impact felt from climate change, but we have no idea how the changes to our civil and political culture now underway in the past year or two will play out. Or, for that matter, can we predict how robust our economy, and specifically local, urban economies, are going to be, what other kinds of social needs are going to be unmet, and what revenue streams will look like given possible pending tax law changes. Seven years may not be long enough for a city to build and prepare for the Olympics, especially if they require a lot of new construction, but eleven years, volatile years, who can say with confidence what our world will look like? But again, there might not have been any candidate cities four years from now, and then what? Three Olympics have been cancelled, so there is precedence, but that took two World Wars.

We still have to ask, Who are the Games for? Many, like me, believe they still have a valuable role to play culturally – beyond economics – but Rio was such a disaster for the local people and quite possibly for Brazil nationally, we need to revisit that.

One Response to “Notes on the 2028 Olympics”

  1. Karen Mittelman September 15, 2017 at 6:56 am #


    This may be a naïve thing to say, but I find something hopeful in the prospect of LA hosting the Olympics in 2028. You’re right, we have almost no picture of what the U.S. will look like or feel like to citizens eleven years from now. But whatever happens, maybe Los Angeles will stand for the enduring, resilient, complicated force of immigration, multiculturalism, and creative community-making in our national identity. Maybe no matter who is president or how much the shores have eroded, we can shore some things back up again.

    Anyway, that’s my odd thought this morning. It’s my last day of work at NEH and I am in feeling conflicted and sentimental about the past 19 years. So thanks for making me stop and imagine the future for a moment. J

    Xoxoxo Karen

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