LANE ONE: An Olympic Games that has nothing to do with “elite athletes”

Los Angeles Deputy City Controller Rick Cole during his remarks to the L.A. Planning History Group on Los Angeles and the Olympic Games (Photo: The Sports Examiner)

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“Most of all, I think, we have to restore a sense of democracy, that the Olympics are not an occupying army, that the Olympics are our chance to welcome the world. Our chance not just to welcome the elite athletes, but to welcome people all over the world that for that brief two weeks who are going to be connected virtually, billions of people, and we are going to be the anchor of that sense of place.”

That’s the view of Rick Cole, the highly-respected Chief Deputy Controller of the City of Los Angeles, who has been an elected City Council member in Pasadena and the Mayor or City Manager of Pasadena, Azusa, Ventura and Santa Monica, and the Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles across a 40-year career in government.

He gave an enlightening keynote address, without cards, slides or a teleprompter last Saturday at the L.A. Planning History Group’s seminar “Los Angeles and the Olympic Games: 1932 – 1984 – 2028” at The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California, that deliberately ignored the entire sporting aspects of all three Games.

Cole’s message was about the civic aspects of a worldwide event, addressed to a collection of current and retired elected officials, planners and government staff members from across Southern California. The Games – as in the competitions – hardly impacted Cole’s remarks. But the Games, as a worldwide, attention-getting spectacle, sure did.

He traced the history of Los Angeles and the city at three stages of its development, all marked by past and future Olympic Games.

Of 1932:

“During the 1920s, the population of the city doubled from what it had been in 1920. An extraordinary era of boosterism, a sense that we could build a great city. …

“It was a city built around the streetcars, and this was the coming of age, to be able to host the world in 1932.

“This was a time pregnant with possibilities. The Olmstead firm, as many of you know, had done a plan for the future of Los Angeles, sponsored by of all institutions, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. And that plan was, instead of building Los Angeles around freeways, it was to build it around parkways, build it around a green Los Angeles River, build the city in a way that would celebrate the natural climate of one of the world’s few Mediterranean climates.”

Instead, the freeways came to Southern California in the late 1930s, laying the foundation for the future.

Of 1984:

“Fast forward to the culmination of the auto era in Los Angeles … If 1932 was Los Angeles’s introduction to the world, 1984 was its introduction to being one of the world’s great cities.

Dorothy Chandler had built the Music Center, the cultural center. [Mayor] Tom Bradley had presided over the building of a new, skyscraper downtown. [County Supervisor] Kenny Hahn and Tom Bradley had spearheaded the adoption of the master plan for mass transit. So we were finally going to be a city that had a subway, a cultural center, a skyline worthy of a great city, and we were indeed the capital of the Pacific Rim, a place where Latin America, Asia, the United States, will all converge and we would be the capital of that of the era, and we would invite the world to see and be part of this great international city. …

“And the result was, an extraordinary success. In every sense of the word, people came away impressed. There was a great fear that Los Angeles would be gridlocked, right, because we were famous for being the city of cars and traffic. People were so scared to drive that it was the smoothest traffic in 20 years.”

Cole stumbled on some of his facts, but he is not an Olympic historian. His focus was on what the 1984 Games did to and for Los Angeles. And he was impressed:

● “The brilliance of, and someone will remember her name – Deborah Sussman [along with Paul Prejza, Jon Jerde, Ed Keen, David Meckel and others] – designed an absolutely brilliant graphics package, and for the cost of printing up banners, created this illusion that all of Los Angeles – greater Los Angeles – was the Olympic Village. By simply lining the streets with these colorful and dramatic banners. Now, banners on street poles are a cliche. At the time, they were a brilliant innovation, and Deborah Sussman deserves a lot of the credit for the sense that every one was a part of this Olympic event, even if you couldn’t afford the tickets, even if it was simply an inconvenience to you, you felt a part of this. And they recruited thousands of volunteers, which also increased this sense.”

“It was the zenith of local pride, a sense that Los Angeles had finally arrived as a great city, it had gotten its act together, it had put things together. We came out of the Olympics, we’d saved the Olympics, we came out of the Olympics with a huge amount of money that could be invested in youth sports for generations, and which that legacy continues today.”

“And as I said, the traffic flowed smoothly, all of the fears did not materialize, there was no violence or terrorism, the Olympics were peaceful, they moved on, and they were paired with an international Olympic Arts Festival, which gave an even greater sense that these were not just about sports and corporations, but this was about the cultural richness of Los Angeles. They did a six-hour play of the Mahabharata of India; there was a sense of sophistication about Los Angeles.”

But this era of good feeling ended, suddenly. As Cole explained:

“And then, just eight years later, the Rodney King Riots tore the mask off of Los Angeles’s great pretensions to be the capital of affluence and success, prosperity and opportunity, and caused a wrenching self-reappraisal about what had been ignored with the colorful banners running down Olympic Boulevard and the great thoroughfares of Los Angeles.

“The neighborhoods that had not benefitted from the 74,000 jobs that came and went, that had not been beneficiaries of the billions of dollars that had flowed in, that there were neighborhoods of enormous suffering, discrimination and over-policing that had been celebrated because we had these safe Olympics and did not have any terrorism, but the LAPD had become a kind of an occupying army with sophisticated technology.

“And so we went from a time when everything about Los Angeles seemed to have turned to gold to a time when Los Angeles’s dreams had seemed to turn to ashes.

“That, in many ways, sort of buried the period of the Olympics. We swung, as often happens, in our country, from hubris to a sense that we were a failed state. And literally, within a decade, people were writing off California as a dream that had failed.”

That brought him to 2028:

● “We’re living in a time now where the Olympics are in the future. And for the first time, there is serious opposition to the Olympics. In 1984, there was skepticism about the Olympics, that we were getting into something we couldn’t afford, but this time there is active opposition to the idea that the world’s intelligence services and technology will be deployed to make this a police state. There is suspicion that the people living in tents will be swept up and sent to Lancaster for a couple of weeks. There is a no-Olympics movement.

“But the Olympics are coming … and so the question is not whether we have the Olympics, but what kind of Olympics will we have? And what will be the legacy for Los Angeles when the Olympics are done?”

“Right now, we are in a feverish effort to prepare the infrastructure, so billions of dollars are being spent between now and 2028 on the airport, on the light rail, on the subway system. A huge amount of construction is already under way, and more to come in the next five years. …

“And so the question is what kind of third Los Angeles will it be? Will it be one that centers on equity, one where the benefits flow not just to the corporations that sponsor the Olympics, not just to major institutions that will be the cornerstones, but what about the people of Los Angeles, the four million people, a third of whom are clinging by their fingernails to housing at a time of extraordinary rent burdens, who are working hard, but hardly doing well.

“And so, can we make sure that this investment actually creates a more livable Los Angeles, creates a more walkable Los Angeles, creates a Los Angeles where we are less privatized in our lives, where we look around at the people who we don’t share the same neighborhood with, or the same religion, or the same language or the same facial color, that we can find in these Olympic Games the original spirit that is supposed to animate them, the sense of internationalism, the sense that people across the planet are brothers and sisters.

“And that means that we’ve got to not just build transportation systems, we’ve got to build the housing that’s so desperately needed, especially for people who can’t afford housing because there’s going to be a lot of people here in 2028 and if that leads to more evictions, more people out on the streets, it’s very hard, I think, for Los Angeles to be able to show its face with pride.”

Cole’s keynote was an amazing insight into the perspective of a decades-long, widely-appreciated civil servant.

As someone who has worked on more than a dozen mega-events on the organizing side, whether a multi-sport extravaganza like an Olympics, Winter Olympics or Special Olympics World Games, or a single-sport project like a FIFA World Cup or World Baseball Classic, Cole’s focus was – at the same time – impressive and depressing:

● There was no mention of the Paralympic Games at all, a noteworthy lesson about the still-too-low profile of this event which will come to Los Angeles for the first time in 2028.

● There was no mention that the LA28 organizers will pay for the Games – including any and all City services and security that it requests – en toto, with a budget of $6.9 billion all raised from the private sector. This was also true in 1932 (surplus of about $196,267 after repaying the State bond which had initially funded the organizing committee) and 1984 ($232.5 million surplus).

● The infrastructure projects that Cole mentioned, including upgrades to Los Angeles International Airport and multiple segments of the Southern California transit system, were not requested by the LA28 organizing committee, nor integral to its bid for the 2024, then 2028 Games back in 2017. Its plan for the Games does not require them at all, and it has said so.

But here they are, with Cole talking about a “feverish effort to prepare the infrastructure.”

Why does it take an Olympic Games to get governments to do things it should be doing all along? The LA28 organizers will not be building housing – the existing student housing at UCLA will be used for the Olympic Village – or subway systems, or reformatting the police department.

That’s what governments do, or permit to be done in the case of building housing. Where have they been?

The “serious opposition” to the Olympic Games is a modest group which also does not mention athletes or sports. It is all about issues of government – housing, jobs, police – and simply tries to use the Games to get attention to issues that have bedeviled Los Angeles and other cities around the world for decades.

Cole closed this way:

“We will be the place in the world – assuming we’re not in a world war at that point, or a world-wide depression – we will be the place where all of the world will be thinking about who we are as a planet. Given the financial crisis, given the international tensions, given the challenges of equity around the world, this is our chance to set the agenda.”

Sorry, no. People will be reveling in how their team – or country – did and the thrills brought by young men and women from around the world who will have brought a lifetime of effort to try and succeed in a single moment in time.

If the City of Los Angeles wishes to set the agenda for a better world, it should not wait for 2028. It should do so now. That is the job of elected officials and appointed staff members and there are many who are trying right now. That includes Cole.

The program included reviews of the 1932 Games effort, notably from Barry Siegel, author of “Dreamers and Schemers,” profiling William May Garland and the bumpy organizing effort that resulted in a brilliant event amidst the Great Depression. Siegel noted that one of the most effective aspects of Garland’s always-optimistic approach was to “ignore the critics and the naysayers.”

The discussion of the 1984 Games included comments from David Simon, the L.A. Olympic Organizing Committee’s Vice President for Government Relations, and Oscar Delgado, Vice President for Programs for the LA84 Foundation, the legacy organization of the LAOOC that uses the surplus for youth sports.

Simon, who led the private-sector Los Angeles Sports Council for many years, emphasized his realization that “what cuts through the clutter in Los Angeles is sports.”

The energetic ending discussion period demonstrated the current and future needs for government officials and staff to be fed information which will counter the urban myths that arise about every major sporting event in any city, especially about tickets, pricing, timetables (even if not finalized), the location of the competition venues, and what events are free to view, like the marathons and cycling road races.

It was also clear that governments, like many industries, are often siloed. Information from outside groups, like Olympic organizing committees, is secondary to whatever the existing lines of communication bring in, regardless of quality. That’s a situation that could be dangerous as 2028 gets closer, but can be remedied.

This colloquium was exceptionally valuable in demonstrating that the Olympic Games is, in some circles, not about sports at all, but about having a national and international spotlight focused on your city, town or village. For those of us who see the Games in terms of running, swimming and shooting a basketball, the alternate reality of government was eye-opening.

Rich Perelman


● Football ● The FIFA men’s U-20 Championships in Argentina continues with group play with the U.S. (Group B), Argentina (A), Colombia (C), Nigeria (D), England (E) and Gambia (F) all at 2-0.

The U.S. – already qualified for the playoffs – will play once more, against Slovakia (1-1) on Friday, in San Juan.

The final group matches will be on the 28th, with the round of 16 to start on the 30th. The championship match is on 11 June.

● Ice Hockey ● The U.S. men continued their undefeated run at the IIHF men’s World Championship in Finland and Latvia with a 3-0 win over the Czech Republic in their quarterfinal match in Tampere on Thursday.

The Americans got single goals in all three periods, from Matt Coronato (1st), defender Nick Perbix (2nd) and Cutter Gauthier (3rd) and a shutout from Casey Desmith. The U.S. out-shot the Czechs, 34-15.

While the U.S. won Group A with a 7-0 mark, Switzerland took Group B at 6-1, followed by Canada at 5-2. But the Swiss got surprised in the quarters by Germany (4-3) by 3-1 and was eliminated. Canada won its game against defending champs Finland and moved to face Latvia, a 3-1 winner over Sweden.

The U.S. will play Germany for a second time in the semis on Saturday (27th), having won the group-stage match by 3-2. In their group game, Canada crushed Latvia, 6-0. The gold-medal game is on Sunday.


● Olympic Games 2024: Paris ● Agence France Presse reported on Wednesday:

“The French government plans to move homeless people out of Paris ahead of the 2024 Olympic Games in the capital, sparking criticism from some mayors of regional towns and villages which are expected to house them.”

Olivier Klein, the French minister for housing, explained in a hearing earlier in May that the pressure for visitor accommodations expected for the 2023 Rugby World Cup and the 2024 Olympic Games will cause lower-end hotels to stop making beds available for the homeless and sell at market rates instead.

Klein estimated that 3-4,000 beds will be impacted, and so the government is looking for “emergency accommodation” in provincial areas. Officials from outlying areas expressed worry about how well organized the effort will be and activist organizations and politicians wondered whether this was a bridge to a long-term solution or only a beautification scheme for the Games.

● Olympic Games 2032: Brisbane ● A small group of Queensland legislators have asked for a spending cap to be put on the government’s contribution to the 2032 Brisbane Games and that the expensive renovation of the area around the iconic Gabba Stadium (formally the Brisbane Cricket Ground) be eliminated altogether.

The seven legislators, from three different parties, are hardly in the vanguard of the 93-seat Legislative Assembly, dominated by the Labor Party (52 seats) and the Liberal Nationals (34). But the expense of the Gabba project, starting with the stadium and spilling out to the surrounding area – now estimated at A$2.7 billion (about $1.77 billion U.S.) – has been a contentious issue.

The International Olympic Committee noted in its 2017 review of the Brisbane plan that the track & field competitions could be held in the existing Carrara Stadium in Gold Coast, which was used for the 2018 Commonwealth Games and held 40,000 with temporary seating.

● Olympic Winter Games 2030/2034 ● The Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games is not waiting around.

Although nothing dramatic is happening with the International Olympic Committee’s decision-making processes on the selection of the host for the 2030 Olympic Winter Games, the SLC-Utah Committee is charging ahead as if it was going to be imminently selected.

At a Thursday Board meeting, chief executive Fraser Bullock explained that the “Preferred Host Submission” document, essentially the formal bid for a Games – including financial and governmental guarantees – is being completed, months ahead of schedule. The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee won’t consider it until September, but being done in June allows for more feedback before sending it to the IOC and declaring the area ready to be awarded its preferred 2034 Games, or 2030 if that best fits the IOC’s situation.

Said Bullock, “Our strategy has always been to be prepared, to be ahead of the process. And that’s why technically, some of these things we’re doing wouldn’t be due until a targeted dialogue.”

● Boxing ● The International Boxing Association is splitting apart. USA Boxing has left and the IBA suspended five more federations on Monday (22nd) over ties to the new World Boxing group.

On Thursday, the IBA posted a notice condemning the Dutch Boxing Federation for holding an “unsanctioned international event,” the Eindhoven Cup. In response:

“[T]he Dutch Boxing Federation recklessly ignored the regulations and sent an official communication to the National Federations, stating that they will keep going on with the event. The IBA is forced to reiterate its commitment to protecting the integrity of the Boxing Family and its Constitution. All those entities who decide to breach the rules will trigger an automatic mechanism of the Constitution and Regulations implementation.”

The 6th Eindhoven Cup is scheduled for 26-30 May.

● Cycling ● Stage 18 of the 106th Giro d’Italia was another climbing test for race leader Geraint Thomas (GBR), the 2018 Tour de France winner. The 161 km route from Oderzo to Val di Zoldo featured three major climbs, including an uphill finish, and at the end, Thomas was still wearing the maglia rosa, with three stages left.

An early breakaway had five riders way out in front and by the time of the final ascent, it was Italy’s Filippo Zana and French star Thibault Pinot racing for the win, with Zana getting to the line first in 4:25:12. France’s Warren Barguil was third, 50 seconds back.

Thomas stuck like glue to his main challenger, Slovenian star Primoz Roglic, who could not shake him and they came together in seventh and eight (+1:56). However, Portugal’s Joao Almeida was ninth, 2:17 back, and dropped to third behind Roglic, who is now 29 seconds behind Thomas.

Friday brings a final climbing stage, with two category 1 ascents and another uphill finish, ending at 2,307 m. This is Roglic’s best chance to win, with an Individual Time Trial coming Saturday and then the final ride into Rome on Sunday.

● Skiing ● The International Ski & Snowboard Federation (FIS) announced this week that the distances in Cross Country Skiing, which were equalized for men and women in the last World Cup season, will now also apply to the FIS World Championships: 10 km, 20 km and 50 km for men and women, a 10 + 10 km Skiathlon and a 4 x 7.5 km relay.

FIS will now begin the process of changing these distances for the 2026 Olympic Winter Games with the IOC.

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