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Found: a place in the sun

If it were not for Los Angeles, the '84 Olympics would have gone begging, but Southern Californians say they can solve all the problems and run a Spartan show

What with the downfall of the Dodgers and Joe Namath, the eulogies for Bing Crosby and routine Southern California agonizing over vanishing water, foul air and new cracks along the San Andreas Fault, it almost happened without anyone noticing: last Monday, as the only city in the world bidding for the 1984 Summer Olympics, Los Angeles won the Games by default. The only formality remaining is for the International Olympic Committee to make it official when it meets next May in Athens.

Now what will be the reaction of Californians—prayer, fear and loathing, dancing on the freeways or public hangings for those responsible? One scarcely need say, after the $1.5 billion debacle of Montreal in '76 and the terror of Munich in '72, that the awarding of a Summer Olympics brings with it a large and sinister cloud. Nevertheless, the boosters of the Games are reassuring citizens that the XXIII Olympiad will be neat, clean, efficient and, above all, cheap. Said California's champion of austerity, Governor Jerry Brown, "We are invoking the spirit of Sparta. There will be zero government money spent. Zero." And the mayor of Los Angeles, Tom Bradley, the politician at the spearhead of the Olympic bid, said, "The trend toward astronomical costs will halt here."

Could a tax-free, trouble-free Olympics actually come to pass? Recent history says certainly not, but the optimists of Los Angeles point out that more ancient history tells a different story. In 1932, at the very pit of the Depression, when L.A. was less than half of its present size, the X Olympiad took place there. The Coliseum was built, along with an Olympic Village (first ever and a wonder to behold), various swimming pools, equestrian courses, etc.—the full Olympic panoply. Yet despite the soup kitchens and Grapes of Wrath scenes all over the area, the sponsors of those Games turned a $1 million profit.

No one is foolish enough to predict a windfall this time, but the backers of the L.A. Games say they are basing their claims of low cost—or, more accurately, no cost—on more than the usual sun-blind California optimism. In their favor is their long experience with that wildly neurotic and consummately political entity, The Olympic Movement. The Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games (SCCOG) was organized in 1939 with an eye to helping other U.S. cities win an Olympics and, eventually, bringing it once again to the City of the Angels. There were a few feints and jabs at getting the Games over the years; then in 1969 L.A. launched a major effort to land the 1976 Olympics. Along with Moscow and Montreal, L.A. mounted a complex and expensive campaign to seduce the arthritic codgers and arrogant aristocrats who make up the membership of the IOC. Thanks to a last-ditch melodrama in which Montreal's Mayor Jean Drapeau shed tears (as it turned out, most appropriately) before the assembled IOC, neither Moscow nor L.A. was awarded the 1976 Games. For 1980 the SCCOG agreed to play the IOC's straw-man candidate against Moscow in order to make it seem there was a competitive demand for the Olympics. It was strictly a phony, designed to put L.A. in the IOC's good graces for 1984.

As it turned out, good graces had nothing to do with 1984. No one else applied for the job. The IOC couldn't come up with a rival entry—not even for the sake of appearances. It was pretty demoralizing, but the IOC put a brave face on it. Monique Berlioux, director of the IOC's permanent secretariat in Lausanne, went so far last week as to say that if the lone candidate L.A. "fails to satisfy our requirements" the IOC might decide to scrub the 1984 Games. This is balderdash, of course: the IOC badly needs its share of Olympic TV-broadcast rights to underwrite the high style of living its members and staff have grown accustomed to. There is, however, a real question of whether the galloping giganticism of the Olympics might not scare off all bidders in the future. Whether there will be interest in the '88 Games will depend on how things go in Moscow and whether preparations in L.A. still look as Spartan and untroubled as the SCCOG promises.

So far the SCCOG has proved to be about as tight with money as anyone connected with the Olympics has been since the 1930s when the shrewish wife of Baron de Coubertin withheld even his pocket-money allowance. Private sources have raised $40,000 and the L.A. City Council appropriated $30,000 to finance the SCCOG bid. When the U.S. Olympic Committee met in Colorado Springs in September to choose between New York and Los Angeles as the American bidder, the L.A. crowd flew there in a no-frills air coach, then used common-carrier bus service instead of a battery of limousines as the New Yorkers did. When Governor Brown suddenly decided to fly to Colorado to lend his charisma and clout to the L.A. bid (as Hugh Carey was doing for New York), he chartered a private jet—then dug into his own pocket to pay his way, as did the two state officials who flew with him. L.A.'s presentation to the USOC consisted of a few Xerox sheets stapled together in the left-hand corner. The packet cost $1,500. New York came in with a glossy multicolor print offering that cost about $20,000. The Los Angeles slide presentation was a recycled production from a previous IOC bid, slightly revised at a cost of $700. In all, New York spent $300,000 on its trip to Colorado Springs, 10 times as much as L.A.

Of course, a skinflint's campaign to get the bid is one thing. Something quite different is a full-scale Olympic production—exposed, as it may be, to mad fluctuations of the economy, politics, labor disputes, to say nothing of the inept administration with which recent Olympics have been saddled. To the vast army of cynics that the modern-day Olympics has spawned, all of L.A.'s proclamations of budgetary underkill and super-efficiency seem naive at best, ignorant at worst. And yet....

To begin with, sites are already available in L.A. for every one of the 22 sports scheduled for '84, and local Olympic boosters are fond of pointing out that Los Angeles could hold the Games tomorrow if it wanted. The opening and closing ceremonies as well as all track and field events could (and will) be held at the Coliseum (92,500 seats), soccer at the Rose Bowl (100,000), basketball at the Sports Arena (16,000), gymnastics at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion (13,500), boxing and wrestling at the Forum (18,700)—and so on. The press center would be at the Convention Center. The Village is to be built by a private developer and leased by the SCCOG.

The estimated price of new construction for the Olympics is a mere $33.5 million. This includes a face-lifting of the Coliseum that will cost $4 million. Included in Coliseum improvements are a new running track, theater-type seats in some areas where there are now benches, new turf, a scoreboard wired for Olympic results and perimeter security installations (walls, fences, TV monitors).

Three major facilities are to be built: a 25,000-seat swimming stadium in Sepulveda Basin for $15 million, a canal for rowing and canoeing in the Los Angeles River ($3 million) and a portable wooden velodrome track that could be erected inside one of several existing college stadiums for $500,000.

In addition to these capital expenses, SCCOG anticipates operating expenses of $150 million. The budget is $183,500,000. And, miracle of miracles, receipts are estimated at $184,250,000. Included in this figure is $66 million for television rights (Moscow got $85 million from NBC) and $74 million in ticket sales (there is already a furor over the average $25 price SCCOG has quoted for tickets). The L.A. accountants point out that Montreal receipts were $380 million, so the estimate for 1984 is probably low. And they say that if Olympic coins and medals are sold, and if federal assistance is provided (Lake Placid is getting $50 million for its 1980 Winter Olympics), $350 million more could be available.

Nonetheless, there is talk of establishing a permanent "citizens' watchdog" committee over the Olympics as well as holding a referendum that might overturn the best-laid plans. Attorney Peter Scott, whose law partner David Mixner played a key part in the 1972 Colorado referendum that effectively destroyed the 1976 Denver Winter Olympics, heads a loose group of dissidents. "We have serious questions about the projections of revenue and some of the cost items we feel were left out," says Scott. "We fear it is a real possibility this thing could turn into the same fiasco they had in Montreal." City Councilman Ernani Bernardi, long a fiscal gadfly, says, "We won't jump into a referendum tomorrow. But soon we'll have to make a judgment about how best to protect the taxpayer."

One of the most enthusiastic backers of the Games—yet notably objective and interestingly philosophical about it all—is Governor Brown. He is a consummate politician and could well be running for President by the time the Los Angeles Olympics begin. He could also, as he said, "be in a monastery by then." Jerry Brown's view of the Games is nicely relaxed, perhaps just a bit Zen.

"These are just games and people should see them for fun," he says. "We want them to be modest, a little exciting. We don't want to have the Olympics for the sake of anything but the Games themselves. People talk about the economic impact. It could actually be negative. Prices could go so high during the Games that they would be a detriment to the economy. The Olympics aren't going to generate many new jobs—nearly everything is built. We aren't doing it for state pride or local morale. There shouldn't be any ulterior motives to the Olympics. They're just games, frivolous things. They're not really necessary. But don't forget, some of the least necessary things in life are the most important. Art, religion, friendship, leisure time, games—they make life worth living. There's enough dreariness and seriousness around without making the Olympics into something they're not. They're to enjoy. Period."

And thus perhaps the spirit of Sparta will join with the soul of Pan in the Los Angeles Games of '84. There could be no better combination—and certainly no better Olympics.


Proposed sites for events: 1) Sepulveda Basin, 2) Griffith Park, 3) Elysian Park, 4) the Rose Bowl, 5) Santa Anita, 6) Santa Monica College, 7) UCLA, 8) Coliseum, Sports Arena, 9) Olympic Auditorium, 10) East L.A. College, 11) Whittier Narrows, 12) Marina Del Rey, 13) Forum, 14) El Camino College, 15) San Pedro Bay, 16) Long Beach Convention Center, 17) Long Beach Arena.