LOS ANGELES: Donald Trump may have given his unequivocal support to Los Angeles’s bid for the 2024 Olympics but the tumultuous first few weeks of his presidency have dealt a blow to the city’s hopes of staging the games, analysts say.
Los Angeles and Paris are regarded as front-runners ahead of Budapest in the race for the Games, which will end at an International Olympic Committee meeting in Lima in September to choose the winner.
Domestic politics could give an unwanted kick to all three.
Trump has repeatedly backed the LA 2024 campaign, even while Los Angeles’s Democrat Mayor Eric Garcetti, a key leader of the bid, has criticized his administration’s policies on immigration.
“I’ve actually spoken to the Olympic Committee in Europe. And they, I think, were very happy when they spoke to me,” Trump said earlier this month.
“They wanted to have an endorsement from me and I gave it to them very loud and clear. I would love to see the Olympics go to Los Angeles. I think that it would be terrific.”
However, since Trump’s phone call with IOC president Thomas Bach, his administration has been plunged into controversy over the sudden imposition of a travel ban on refugees and migrants from seven Muslim-majority nations deemed to be a security risk.
‘Dealt a death blow’
While the Trump travel ban was ultimately halted by a US federal court, the controversy has left LA 2024 dealing with a public relations problem at a time when it needs to win the hearts and minds of Olympics voters.
“I think what Trump has created has dealt a death blow to the opportunity for Los Angeles to be the host for 2024,” said Derick Hulme, a political science professor at Michigan’s Alma College.
He questioned whether the IOC would be willing to choose Los Angeles if there were unknowns about the ability of all competitors to enter the United States freely.
“The IOC is a risk-averse body and is going to be very, very hesitant to award the Games to a country where it will have little confidence that all athletes will be able to attend the Games,” said Hulme, whose books include “The Political Olympics: Moscow, Afghanistan and the 1980 US boycott.”
“As long as Donald Trump is president, the US is effectively out of the running for the hosting of major sporting events. The US is too risky a choice for the big international federations to settle on.”
Other experts were more circumspect, noting that the IOC had recently awarded Olympics to China and Russia.
Judged on merits?
Jules Boykoff, a professor at Pacific University and author of “Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics,” said Trump had given more “space on the radio dial” for “xenophobes and racists.”
“That will not play well with members of the IOC,” Boykoff said.
“But the other way to look at it, is that it won’t matter at all, because the IOC in its history has given Games to authoritarian regimes, look at Beijing, Sochi.”
Hungary also has an outspoken leader, Viktor Orban. And Hulme noted that Paris’s bid could itself suffer political blowback if far right National Front leader Marine Le Pen succeeds in France’s presidential elections in April and May.
“If the French don’t go down the far right route, France will be the host of the Games,” Hulme told AFP.
“If France does, then the IOC is in a very, very difficult situation. It becomes much more problematic to figure a way to go forward.”
LA 2024 officials insist they are confident IOC voters will weigh the bid on its merits rather than the political climate.
“We want to be judged on the merits of our bid, not politics,” LA 2024 chairman Casey Wasserman said. “The IOC has always acted for the best interests of sports, not politics, and we trust they will in this process.”
“We have no concerns. We have enjoyed sharing the story of LA with the Olympic movement and its members. We’re sure the merits of our bid are strong. I’m confident the members of the IOC will see it as that.”
Boykoff meanwhile warned that Garcetti, who has been sharply critical of Trump, would need to walk a fine line in the months ahead.
“It injects a certain amount of unpredictability into the situation,” Boykoff said.
“One wrong move on the part of Mayor Garcetti in the eyes of Donald Trump and Trump could go on some kind of Twitter rampage. It’s not hard to envision that.”