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Nick Butler: Los Angeles 2024 Had a Bad Few Days, but so did Budapest and Paris

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Ibrahim Al-Hussein carries the Olympic torch at the Eleonas refugee camp, Athens. Al-Hussein, a Syrian refugee, represented the Independent Paralympic Athletes Team at the 2016 Summer Paralympics and resides in Greece. Photo: Anadolu Agency

The old adage that a “week is a long time in politics,” attributed to former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, is often relevant when considering the hustle and bustle of happenings in the Olympic world.

But the last seven days has been even more tumultuous in, for want of a better term, “real” politics, building up to Donald Trump’s executive order prohibiting citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the country for a 90-day period.

Developments in the French Presidential race and over a possible Budapest referendum have also added intrigue to a 2024 race that is already fascinating.

There are two major questions for the Olympic Movement following Trump’s immigration ban as the sporting consequences continue to emerge.

Firstly, should the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and fellow sporting bodies have condemned the ruling?

“The IOC does not comment on the politics of sovereign countries,” was their brief statement on the matter.

Other bodies, like the International Association of Athletics Federations, have asked for more information about possible consequences but all have stopped short of passing judgement.

Many have pointed-out how the IOC made the Refugees Olympic Team a core strand of its policy last year, repeatedly insisting how sport can “make the world a better place” before selecting a team which included two who had fled Syria before Rio 2016. We were overwhelmed by the sheer weight of press releases and IOC President Thomas Bach never missed an opportunity to pose with the team.

Is it not hypocritical and wrong to take such a holier-than-thou “sport can change the world” approach when it suits them but not when politically inconvenient…? And what, if any, chance is their now of a refugees team at Los Angeles 2024 if Trump remains President?

Well, yes, of course they are being hypocritical, but this does not necessarily mean they were wrong not to join the frenzy of condemnation.

For what good would it have done if the IOC had sent a statement out over the weekend criticizing the policy? At best, it would have a got a few congratulatory handclaps, although many would undoubtedly have opted to instead point-out how they had avoided making similar protests about Russian and Chinese abuses.

IOC President, Thomas Bach, visited the Eleonas refugee camp in Athens, Greece. Photo: Ian Jones/IOC

At worst, it would have angered Trump, who may even have granted them the ultimate compliment of an angry tweet about sporting hypocrisy effectively doubling as a death knell of the Los Angeles 2024 bid.

Some have drawn a comparison with how the IOC avoided criticizing Russian doping problems, but this is a completely different situation because the doping crisis – unlike the immigration ban – directly relates to a sporting issue.

The same point can be made about the United States Olympic Committee and Los Angeles 2024, who have also so far refrained from passing judgement.

At the end of it all, these US bodies in particular must remember that Trump was democratically elected after prioritizing restrictions on immigration throughout his campaign. So yes, making Trump angry is certainly not a reason to avoid doing something, but diplomacy sometimes necessitates a more pragmatic response.

There may became a time when they must come out and condemn Trump’s action but we simply cannot predict if this will mark the high-point of his controversial decisions or just the beginning.

Everything at the moment is simply too unpredictable.

This brings us back to the second point about the 2024 race. There has already been a rush to write off Los Angeles in the media and to suggest that any chance of the bid being successful has now ended.

Colleagues much more experienced with more bidding processes than me have, however, urged caution. It is still over seven months until the decisive IOC Session in Lima and, at this stage, it is simply too early to tell. London 2012 was written off time and time again in 2005 only to fight back late and it is possible the same thing could happen here.

There are significant sporting consequences if the immigration restrictions are continued or even extended. US wrestlers may now be barred from participating in a freestyle World Cup event scheduled for Iran next month in a tit-for-tat response from one of the countries targeted. Anaheim in California is also due to host the 2017 International Weightlifting Federation World Championships from November 28 until December 5.

It is IOC voters who ultimately cast ballots in an Olympic race and most of them will not have even begun to make up their minds yet. Yes, after the last week we can now say that some will undoubtedly be put off Los Angeles 2024 by Trump, but it is likely that many of these would not have voted for a US bid anyway.

United States President Donald Trump. Photo: SI.com

Others, like St Lucia’s Richard Peterkin, may still support the LA bid, despite opposition to Trump, if the bid team can still maintain a disconnect between themselves and national politics. This is easier in the US than elsewhere because of its sheer size and devolved structure. Los Angeles 2024 was already attempting to shape themselves as a Californian effort as much as a nationwide one.

However, after the last week it seems slightly less certain if Trump will support and help the bid, as he has previously pledged to in conversations with Bach and LA Mayor Eric Garcetti.

He is, as we have pointed-out before, a sports fan and it remains possible this will override any opposition on the grounds that the Olympics represents “bridges not walls”” values so different to the ones he is currently espousing. Trouble is, Hillary Clinton gained 4.3 million more votes in California than Trump and the state is a Democrat hotbed. Staunch Olympic backer Garcetti has already criticized the executive order on the grounds it “unfairly targets refugees” and “there is no evidence that this approach will improve national security.”

“Los Angeles will always be a place of refuge, where the most vulnerable people fleeing war, or religious or political oppression, can find a safe and welcoming home,” he added.

Trump has restored relations with some of those who opposed him during his campaign. But he has also gained a notorious reputation for holding grudges and lashing-out at those who oppose him –  mostly through his favorite medium of Twitter. Is it not possible that he may lose interest in the bid precisely to avenge Garcetti and California?

I hope not, but his unpredictability makes this a possibility, and bid figures like Republican chief executive Gene Sykes – a former Goldman Sachs colleague of Treasury Secretary nominee Steven Mnuchin – have a huge battle on their hands.

It will be fascinating to see what happens next and their rival bids from Budapest and Paris will certainly have enjoyed the recent developments.

Trouble is, they haven’t done much better.

Left-winger Benoît Hamon crushed former Prime Minister Manuel Valls yesterday to secure the Presidential nominee for the Socialist Party of former President François Hollande, who has already announced he is not standing. This is thought to help Emmanuel Macron, a protégé of Hollande standing as an independent, and potentially split the centre-left vote.

Republican François Fillon was the favorite for May’s election after being selected following primaries last year. But he has faced a tumultuous week of his own after allegations that he employed his Welsh wife, Penelope, in a fictitious job as Parliamentary assistant. He denies the claims and is attempting to bounce back, but time will tell how damaging it will be.

This all seemingly boosts the prospects of the National Front and its leader, Marine Le Pen, for whom a victory would be viewed in many quarters as more damaging for Paris 2024 than a Trump Presidency for Los Angeles.

Given how the Presidential run-off is scheduled for May 7, there will be a lot less time for Paris 2024 to recover the impetus before the Lima vote.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, center, speaks during a news conference Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017, in Los Angeles. Photo: AP/Jae C. Hong

All this would appear to boost Budapest, with its appealing city and strong message. Unfortunately, this is not the case as the bid are not only struggling with their international campaign but have also now suspended their promotional attempts due to the possibility of a referendum taking place.

Youth organization Momentum Mozgalom launched an attempt to collect the sufficient number of 138,000 signatures for a referendum within 30 days – so February 18 – earlier this month. They now claim to be more than halfway to their target as 70,000 people have signed the document.

Suspending their promotional campaign has been interpreted by many as an virtual admission that they expect a vote to be held and that they are not particularly confidence of success.

Budapest bid is seen as the main obstacle to the IOC awarding both the 2024 and 2028 Games in Lima. Paris could, therefore, receive the earlier edition, before Los Angeles gets the rights four years later and, hey presto, there is no chance of Trump still being at the helm.

This is all distinctly hypothetical, of course, but does show that despite all the worry and protests over the weekend, it is simply too complicated to criticize people for not saying certain things and too early to predict outcomes in a vote due to take place on September 13.

Wilson thought one week was a long time in politics, so imagine what can happen in seven months…

By Nick Butler

Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz

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