Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election looms over the race for the 2024 Olympic Games as the three bid cities prepare to make their first presentations to a key gathering of officials.
With 10 months before the vote, bid leaders from Los Angeles, Paris and Budapest have travelled to Doha, Qatar to pitch their case to the general assembly of the Association of National Olympic Committees – a meeting attended by more than 1,000 delegates from around the world.
The Los Angeles bid team may have the most at stake in today’s 20-minute presentations, which will occur exactly a week after Trump’s election victory over Hillary Clinton. Trump’s comments during the campaign about Muslims and Mexicans and his foreign policy plans could hurt the US city’s standing with some of the International Olympic Committee’s 98 members, who represent a wide range of countries and cultural and religious backgrounds.
Los Angeles bid leader Casey Wasserman, who was a prominent Clinton supporter, said his group have already been in contact with members of Trump’s transition team.
“My personal support of Clinton isn’t an indictment of president-elect Trump’s ability to support our effort,” Wasserman said. “We’re fully confident that he will be an enthusiastic supporter of the Olympics and our bid.”
“Having said that, I think the Olympics are at its best when they rise above politics,” he added. “It has the ability to unite people. Our bid isn’t a political bid. It’s a private bid with political support. We are privately funded and privately operated. We are one step removed from the politics and the ups and downs of politics.”
While details have been kept secret, the Los Angeles presentation – which includes Mayor Eric Garcetti, a Democrat – is likely to deal head-on with the US election result and seek to reassure Olympic officials that the bid represents openness, diversity and inclusiveness.
“We’re not going to pretend like there wasn’t an election but we’re not going to be defensive about it,” Wasserman said. “I think there are some things we’re going to say that will surprise some people.”
Perhaps as a contrast to Trump’s image, the bid team selected sprint star Allyson Felix, a Los Angeles-born African-American athlete who has won six Olympic gold medals and three silvers – as one of its key speakers for the presentation. Felix won two relay gold medals and a silver medal in the 400 metres in Rio de Janeiro in August.
“She’s born, bred, raised and developed in Los Angeles. She’s a hometown girl,” Wasserman said. “I can’t think of anybody better to tell our story.”
The Doha audience will include officials from 205 national Olympic committees, dozens of international sports federations and, most importantly, dozens of members of the IOC, which will vote on the host city next September in Lima, Peru.
Under tighter IOC rules, these are the first of only three presentations during the two-year bid race. The second will be at a private technical briefing for IOC members in Switzerland in July, and the third will be the final presentations on the day of the vote in Lima.
Whether Trump will be part of the Los Angeles bid team in Lima remains to be seen. President Barack Obama went to Copenhagen in 2009 to speak on behalf of Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Olympics, but his appearance didn’t help as the city went out in the first round of an election won by Rio de Janeiro.
“We’re getting way ahead of the game,” Wasserman said. “We’re going to make the right judgment at the right time for our bid.”
Paris and Los Angeles, which have each held the Olympics twice, have been viewed as close front-runners in the 2024 race. Paris last held the games in 1924, with Los Angeles hosting in 1984.
Paris bid leaders said they plan to use today’s presentation to announce plans for collaboration with national Olympic committees.
“We are feeling the excitement,” Paris bid co-chairman and three-time Olympic canoeing gold medallist Tony Estanguet said. “I feel like an athlete. I feel the adrenaline.”
Like Los Angeles, the Paris bid could be influenced by a presidential election. Far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen is among the contenders in next spring’s French presidential race.
Estanguet downplayed any concerns over a potential Le Pen victory, saying the bid has support across the political spectrum. He said France was also working hard to guarantee security following a spate of deadly attacks.
“It can happen anywhere in the world, but we have a strong base and lots of experience in security,” he said.
Budapest, meanwhile, is expected to portray itself as the right-sized, affordable alternative from central Europe.
“Holding the Olympic Games in Budapest would help to pave the way for a greater range of mid-sized cities to host the games, in addition to the larger capitals and mega cities that have hosted the games in recent times,” bid chairman Balazs Furjes said.