Sports fans and economic boosters alike had good reason to applaud the recent announcement that Los Angeles will host the 2028 Summer Olympics. The games will be another showcase for the city and for California — as well as a celebration of athleticism and international cooperation.
There’s risk, too, however. Host cities around the world that have invested heavily in the event with the hope of long-term economic gain have more often than not been disappointed.
Rio de Janeiro, which hosted the 2016 Olympics, is still battling its financial demons. The Rio Olympics still owes $35 million to $40 million to creditors. The 2016 Olympics cost at least $13 billion, according to an analysis by the Associated Press.
Much of that money paid for infrastructure that now sits idle. The sports venues constructed for the games now go mostly unused — including a $20 million Olympic golf course. The Olympic Village apartments are almost entirely vacant, with fewer than 10 percent having found buyers.
Los Angeles has a plan in place to avoid such a costly Olympic hangover, but it will require discipline and careful oversight to implement. It’s all too easy to become captivated by the show and lose sight of the expense.
For example, LA is planning on building much less infrastructure for the 2028 games. The target cost is $5.3 billion — and only $1.2 billion of that is for infrastructure upgrades. The city will use existing stadiums and other facilities wherever possible, constructing only four new permanent venues, each of which already has a planned post-Olympics use.
Organizers also won’t build a brand new Olympics Village to house athletes. Instead, dormitories at the University of Southern California and UCLA will be used to house competitors and others.
Actual Olympic costs have a way of outpacing projections, of course, which is why California legislators approved up to $250 million for cost overruns, a measure that may need to be reapproved now that Los Angeles has secured the 2028 Olympics rather than the 2024 games. When they update it, lawmakers should make sure that this isn’t just a blank check but a promise that needs oversight and prudent management.
A report by the state Legislative Analyst’s Office praised city and state leaders’ efforts to “strictly limit public financial exposure” and recommended sticking to that stance. The office also advised strong legislative oversight of the negotiations with organizers and ongoing preparations to ensure problems that could inflate taxpayer obligations can be caught and handled early.
Even without such California taxpayer backing, Los Angeles organizers would be wise to keep a tight rein on spending. One of the best places to start, as Henry Grabar wrote in a column for Slate magazine, is the fancy treatment of International Olympic Committee members. Organizers also might consider scaling back the ostentatious displays that have defined recent Olympic games.
The focus belongs on the athletes and the competition, not the pomp and circumstance.
The 2028 Olympics could be a time for Los Angeles and California to really shine — not least by showing how to put on the games effectively, efficiently and realistically.