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  • Op Ed: Olympics in the Trump Era


    01/23/17

    (ATR) Welcome to the Donald Trump era of the Olympics.

    Unpredictable, quotable, controversial and impulsive, the new U.S. president takes office in the final months of the campaign for the 2024 Olympics with Los Angeles in a strong race against Paris and Budapest.

    With this third bid from Paris in recent years and a third from the U.S., rumors persist – and are denied - that the IOC may select two cities at once at the IOC Session in Lima this September.

    It’s an idea with some merit. With only three cities in this race and just about zero talk anywhere in the world for 2028, the IOC could take advantage of the quality on offer. It’s not in the rules to do it like this and plenty would have to happen to make it so.

    But once Donald Trump sizes up the situation, he may well be the force that propels the IOC to take the leap.

    It’s just the sort of intrigue that Trump would relish. Wheeling and dealing with his good friend Viktor Orban, president of Hungary. The same with whoever wins the national election this May in France -- perhaps a fellow populist?

    And Trump has Thomas Bach’s number, too. The two men talked by phone for about 20 minutes last November after the election. Bach himself has fueled interest in a twin decision on 2024 and 2028 with comments last month that the IOC bid process produced too many losers. The IOC has knocked back interpretations that Bach was signaling the possibility of the two-city decision.

    Regardless, the call organized by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti had the effect of opening up the lines of communication between Bach and Trump.

    But with Trump, who needs the phone? Impromptu Twitter posts that are his preferred bully pulpit may be inescapable in the Olympic campaign. Unpredictable as to what he might say, and possibly not conforming to IOC rules of conduct for bid cities, Trump could keep the campaign lively.

    All of this assumes Trump will be part of the U.S. bid. So far bid leaders have made public assurances he is. But we have yet to hear from Trump about his support for a Games in a city and state that overwhelmingly voted against him.

    The LA bid team and the USOC say they have not launched their outreach to the White House. Neither has the new president signaled who might be the point person to handle this early diplomatic mission for his administration.

    It will need to happen soon, because the IOC Evaluation Commission for 2024 arrives in late April for a three-day inspection of Los Angeles.

    Trump will be expected to deliver a
    Trump swears in senior staff at the White House, some of whom will handle Olympics matters for their boss. (Getty Images)
    greeting for the IOC team at some point. Whether that means a live appearance by the President, or one recorded by video, arrangements need to be made. Interestingly, the timing coincides with the end of the first 100 days of the Trump administration.

    Given the emphasis Trump says he will place on “America first” in U.S. relations with the rest of the world, it would seem that the idea of winning an Olympic Games could be irresistible.

    But there’s the debacle of the 2016 bid from Chicago that Trump will not forget. He is highly critical of Barack Obama for travelling to the 2009 IOC Session in Copenhagen to campaign for Chicago. Trump says Obama never should have gone and that the IOC rejection was a sign of lack of respect for the U.S.

    Whether Trump goes to Lima for the IOC Session could depend on his certainty that the U.S. comes away with a prize, whether 2024 or 2028.

    If he does get involved in the 2024 race, IOC members who may not care for him could be rankled. First is the notion of setting the established bidding process off kilter. Add to that political differences, his rhetoric on Muslims, the whole “America first” attitude -- all could be off-putting to some IOC voters.

    But with fewer options from cities bidding for the Games, the IOC may have to do what it is supposed to do: put politics aside for the good of the Olympics.

    Beyond the decision for the 2024 Games, Trump will be president during the next two Olympics. He’ll have the chance to be cheerleader in chief for Olympians in PyeongChang and Tokyo. The coming months and years will tell whether these Games will be held against the backdrop of military tension in the region or battles over trade.

    The ongoing row between Russia and world sport over doping may come up when Trump meets Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time. One might believe Trump would listen sympathetically to complaints from Putin about unfair treatment by the sports establishment.

    Trump’s position on climate change also could be an issue for the Olympics. While fickle ski conditions in recent winters may or may not be proof of human-induced warming, they are leading to frequent event cancellations in both the Americas and Europe. Ironically, among the early casualties of the White House website under the Trump presidency were its pages about climate change.

    It will be complicated. Welcome to the Olympics in the Trump era.

    Donald Trump: Number-one in the Around the Rings Golden 25 for 2017.  

    Written by Ed Hula. For general comments or questions, click here.

    Your best source of news about the Olympics is www.aroundtherings.com, for subscribers only.