WASHINGTON – The nation’s capital hosts its fair share of big events each year, but the Olympic Games have somehow eluded the city during their illustrious 117-year history. With the next major Olympic selection cycle looming in 2014, it appears D.C. is gearing up for arguably its biggest bid ever.
“No other American city has the same kind of infrastructure, in terms of already existing facilities and public transportation,” says Robert Sweeney, the head of DC 2024, Washington’s exploratory committee for a potential bid to the 2024 Summer Games.
While folks around D.C. may take constant aim at the city’s Metro system, it’s undoubtedly a plus compared with cities where such options don’t even exist. And with Verizon Center, Nationals Park and RFK Stadium all accessible via public transportation, Washington boasts a number of possible venues that could be quickly renovated for Olympic use.
However, such logistics are only part of the battle. As Sweeney notes with cities like Boston, getting public support can often be an entirely different story. Folks running that bid are still trying to muster public interest, Sweeney says, while adding that he’s perceived a much more positive response from locals in Washington.
Without any sort of public relations campaign underway – Sweeney says the committee is waiting until 2014 to implement such a plan – that support is primarily coming from local business owners. But with major names like Wizards and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis and Redskins owner Daniel Snyder publicly backing the bid in recent months, there’s a local flavor here that doesn’t exist elsewhere.
Given all of those factors, there was an expected confidence in Sweeney’s tone as he described other bids. Seattle, for instance, lacks enough public transportation options despite having some high-quality sports facilities such as CenturyLink Field. On the other hand, Dallas boasts venues and transportation, but he says it lacks the “international feel” of Washington. Sweeney attributes this same problem to the bids from Minneapolis and Kansas City, two Midwestern cities missing the international reputation of a major capital.
And to the local citizens worried about the possible economic repercussions of hosting the 2024 Games, Sweeney adamantly disagrees. While he admits the cost of the actual games will be high, “$3 billion or $4 billion,” he says the short-term negatives are easily overwhelmed by long-term benefits. The biggest detractors might come in the federal government, which contributed nearly half of the $2.7 billion budget for the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City and has its own financial issues to deal with. Sweeney says the real opponents to the Games, on an economic level, are more likely to be politicians than citizens.
“We could make changes in seven years that would otherwise take 40 years to do,” Sweeney says of infrastructural improvements that would be necessary for Washington to host the Olympics.
Sweeney also mentioned other cities, such as Los Angeles and Atlanta, that ultimately benefited from hosting the Olympics in the 20th century. While calling the 1996 Games in Atlanta, “arguably the worst Olympics ever,” Sweeney said even that debacle helped develop the city for the long-term.
Having learned from those past American endeavors into Olympic ground, as well as the city’s failed bid in 2012 featuring a D.C.-Baltimore partnership, it appears the new committee is shooting for a more polished, persuasive bid.
To them, the question doesn’t seem to be whether Washington deserves or needs the Olympics. Rather, it’s whether any other city could possibly offer more than the U.S. capital. Noting the flaws in every other American bid, Sweeney says he expects D.C. to get into the international stage of the selection cycle. And once D.C. is there?
“I think we’re going to win it,” Sweeney said.