5 Reasons It’s Not Too Late for Washington to Bid for the Olympics

Dream big.
Image via Washington 2024.

In an instance of Boston losing a sporting event before it even commenced, the United States Olympic Committee announced Monday it is canceling that city’s bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. Mayor Marty Walsh refused to sign a contract on the city’s behalf with the USOC because it could have put Boston residents on the hook for any cost overruns.

Without the contract, US Olympic organizers had to ditch Boston. “We have not been able to get a majority of the citizens of Boston to support hosting the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games,” USOC Chief Excecutive Scott Blackmun said in a press release. “Therefore, the USOC does not think that the level of support enjoyed by Boston’s bid would allow it to prevail over great bids from Paris, Rome, Hamburg, Budapest, or Toronto.”

Even though Boston’s bid is done for, the USOC still has until September 15 to formally submit a city to the International Olympic Committee, which will select the 2024 host sometime in 2017. So organizers of Washington’s bid, which was defeated in January when the USOC picked Boston, have seven weeks to get back together if they want to make one last run at the 2024 summer games. Here are a few reasons why they should:

1. The eastern end of DC could use the investment.

Architects of DC’s scuttled Olympic bid envisioned using the Hill East neighborhood, which surrounds Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, as the site of the Olympic Village and international media center. With the Summer Olympics drawing an estimated 16,500 athletes and support staff and 15,000 journalists, the Olympics’ residential and support buildings would ideally be converted to blocks of much-needed affordable housing units after the games. As the Washington Post pointed out when it picked over DC’s failed Olympic bid, every mayor in the city’s history has struggled to revitalize neighborhoods on the city’s eastern end, while the western side has reaped nearly all the economic gains over the past few decades. Olympic Villages do not need to become ghost towns after the visiting athletes go home. Roughly half the housing built for London’s 2012 Olympics is supposed to be converted into low-income units, although the renovations are going much more slowly than planned.

2. Sports facilities that could be re-used.

One of the Washington 2024 organization’s biggest selling points was that the region already has a considerable portfolio of venues that could be quickly converted into Olympic sites: the Verizon Center for basketball, the Walter E. Washington Convention Center for several sports including gymnastics, and Rock Creek Park for tennis, to name a few. A few things would have to be built from scratch, including an aquatics facility for swimming and diving, and a velodrome for cycling. But even these could be cinches: Arlington County has shelved, but perfectly salvageable, plans for an aquatics center at Long Bridge Park, while certain members of the local cylcing community have been pleading for a velodrome for years.

3. It could solve the RFK problem.

The biggest roadblock to knocking down RFK—greater even than negotiating with Dan Snyder—is that there is no uglier example the intersection of local and federal jurisdictions. The National Park Service owns the site, the DC government has a lease on the stadium through 2038, and its only regular tenant—DC United—is out of there as soon as it finishes muddling through its own stadium-building process. Once United is gone, there will be no good reason left to leave RFK standing. But it might take something as big as the Olympics to detangle all the local-versus-federal knots in redeveloping the site. And this is where Snyder and his football team could play a role. As much as he doesn’t deserve free advice, if Snyder really wants to ditch FedEx Field before his lease runs out in 2027, he could do a great deal for his reputation if he were to take a lead role in a privately financed Olympic stadium on the RFK site that could be converted for NFL use after the games.

4. Officials might stop screwing around with the local infrastructure.

Insert streetcar joke here, but nothing would light a bigger infrastructure fire under Congress’s asses than an Olympic bid. Instead of cutting Metro’s federal funding by one-third and threatening to make the system’s existing troubles even worse, as the House is planning currently, an Olympic bid just might be enough of a public-relations threat that lawmakers ratchet up their support for local transportation. More realistically, a Washington Olympic plan could inspire the three local jurisdictions to recommit to improving the infrastructure people actually use. That means building infill stations for Metro in locations like Potomac Yards in Alexandria and Oklahoma Avenue in Hill East, beefing up Metrobus and Circulator routes, filling out the bike network with more east-west routes, and maybe dropping the cockamamie stuff like that stupid Maglev train to Baltimore.

5. The Olympics would be the greatest gift to local journalism.

Washington reporters don’t need to be polled about the Olympics, because they’ve probably already expressed their opinions on Twitter, and often, those opinions oppose DC’s bid:

Opinions like these, however, are incorrect. There is a common economic concept known as “acting in one’s self-interest,” and the Olympics offer big, fat slices of everything big-city reporters should crave on their beats: contracts, grants, infrastructure planning, housing policy, construction, community disruption, bid-rigging, and graft. By 2024, it will have been 28 years since the Summer Olympics were held in North America. The IOC has to be itching for an Olympiad that can be broadcast live to US audiences, but with Boston out, the nearest city still in the running is Toronto. Do you really want to give up nine years of grimy, contentious Olympic coverage so reporters in Canada can be stenographers of a flawlessly polite planning process?

I didn’t think so.

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Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.