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Original Issue

High-level negotiations pay off

An agreement made in midair was what it took to save Los Angeles' bid to host the 1984 Games and keep Lord Killanin of the IOC from reading the riot act

When Lord Michael Killanin, president of the International Olympic Committee, came to Los Angeles last November to be the guest of honor at a luncheon, he said rather plaintively to his hosts, the Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games, "Money seems to be the only thing that has been mentioned."

Last week Killanin met again with a group of Angelenos, this time in Mexico City, and again the subject was money. The occasion was a two-day meeting among representatives of the IOC, the USOC (United States Olympic Committee), the GAIF (General Assembly of International Sports Federations), the SCCOG (the Southern California group), the Los Angeles City Council and Mayor Tom Bradley's office.

By the time the delegates had checked out of the gaudy Fiesta Palace Hotel on the Paseo de la Reforma, the Californians had learned a lesson in international diplomacy, the Olympic officials had broadened their knowledge of American municipal politics, and Los Angeles was a virtual shoo-in to be chosen the host city for the Games of the 23rd Olympiad when the IOC meets in Athens during the third week of May.

For weeks before the Mexico City conference, the IOC and Los Angeles seemed to be on a collision course that might result in the IOC's choice of a site for the 1984 Olympics being put off another year. That way cities such as Montreal or Munich would have time to work up a proposal for a return engagement. The problem arose in January when Los Angeles, the sole bidder for the 1984 Games, decided to press its advantage and replied to the detailed "questionnaires" of the IOC and the various international sports federations in language to which these groups were unaccustomed. "It was hard-nosed, we admit," says Anton Calleia, who is Mayor Bradley's chief administrative assistant and was spokesman for the Los Angeles delegation in Mexico.

But that was merely aggravation; it was Los Angeles' apparent intention to disregard the IOC's Olympic rules and bylaws that caused things to really hit the fan. For instance, Rule 21 reads, "Cities entrusted with the organization of the Olympic Games...shall be liable to pay to the IOC whatever sum the IOC shall have fixed.... All sums arising out of the celebration of the Olympic Games...belong to the International Olympic Committee. It reserves the right to grant a portion to the Organizing Committee and to allocate a portion to the International Federations and the National Olympic Committees."

Regarding that rule, Los Angeles wrote the IOC that "These provisions...are unacceptable to the City of Los Angeles.... All sums will be received and controlled by the OCOG [the organizing committee that will be formed once the Games are awarded] which has the responsibility for staging the Games...."

In essence, Los Angeles was challenging the IOC rules. Lord Killanin's reply was brief and blunt: "The Olympic Games are the sole property of the IOC, which owns all rights over them and is the final authority.... Therefore, the Games cannot be the sole property of the Organizing Committee."

Meanwhile, the European press got hold of Los Angeles' reply to the federations' questionnaires and professed to be outraged by the city's effrontery. "Belligerent" and "arrogant," thundered the Manchester Guardian. Thomas Keller, a Swiss who is president of GAIF and the head of the International Rowing Federation, was in London at the time for a meeting. The Los Angeles financial proposals, he said, were unacceptable. "There are many other cities which could handle the Games.... I am going to Mexico City to help Lord Killanin tell the Los Angeles people this. We shall now have to call again for the bids."

When Killanin's letter reached Los Angeles, Mayor Bradley was out of town. John Ferraro, the president of the Los Angeles City Council and acting mayor in Bradley's absence, answered for him. Ferraro, a huge rumpled man who played tackle for USC in the early '40s, is a key proponent of the Games and a person of considerably more diplomacy than the drafters of the initial L.A. response. "It is not our intent to usurp the authority of the IOC," Ferraro wrote, "rather to exercise delegated responsibility and authority pursuant to specific contractual agreements. As elected representatives of our people and as guardians of the public treasury, our commitments on behalf of the city must at all times be finite."

Obviously, Los Angeles, the site of the 1932 Olympics, did not want to have to withdraw its bid. It has been trying since 1939 to get a second crack at the Games. On the other hand, the Los Angeles group dared not appear to be giving any ground on money issues in Mexico City. Its support back home depended on its hanging tough. A poll taken last fall indicated that 80% of Angelenos favored hosting the Games, but only 35% still wanted the Games if they were not financially self-sufficient.

As for the IOC, it could hardly allow the insubordination of a bunch of churlish Californians to undermine its authority for years to come. Yet, the IOC did not want to lose Los Angeles as a bidder, because there was no immediate replacement and because the committee needed Los Angeles, with its "Spartan" concept of financing, to repair some of the damage done the IOC image by Montreal's $800 million deficit after the 1976 Games.

In the end, both sides gave way. The Californians submitted to an IOC wrist slapping for their bad manners, and the IOC acknowledged the Californians' right to refuse to pay for anything they had not agreed to contractually. A paragraph to be inserted into the general-policy section of the Los Angeles bid was worked out on a flight between Los Angeles and Mexico City by John C. Argue, a lawyer who is president of the SCCOG, and David McKenzie, an attorney who is Australia's senior member of the IOC. It was laughably simple. "The Los Angeles Organizing Committee recognizes the priority of IOC Rules but reserves the right to reject any changes to the positions stated in the Responses to Questionnaires if such changes are directed to or have the effect of in any way requiring additional expenditures in the organization or running of the Games themselves."

That out of the way, the mood of the meetings was so buoyant that even Javiar Ostos, head of the notoriously demanding International Swimming Federation, was not unalterably opposed to the idea of using temporary pools installed in Dodger Stadium during the Olympics.

Assuming Los Angeles receives the final approbation of the IOC in Athens next month, its Organizing Committee will have cleared only the first hurdle. If the organizers are to succeed in their "Spartan" approach they must, for the next six years, resist the demands of the profligate, neutralize the enmity of the penurious and fend off attacks by the politically opportunistic. They have a powerful and influential adversary in the Los Angeles Times, which seems to have chosen the role of full-time wet blanket. When it was suggested to the Times' Kenneth Reich that he seemed to be reaching for the negative in his coverage, Reich replied that it was "the story the public wants to read."

Perhaps so. But the 1932 Games remain large in the memory of those who saw them, and nothing can diminish the excitement of that memory. This time around Los Angeles has earned, by default, the right to try to stage the Games its own way. For the sake of the future of the Olympic Games, everybody—the IOC, the USOC, the GAIF, athletes and fans everywhere—should all be praying that L.A. can pull it off.