WASHINGTON — The inconveniences of the daily routine in the nation’s capital will be a selling point as Washington, D.C., makes a push to host the 2024 Olympics.
“We are the safest and most secure city in the world,” said Bob Sweeney, president of DC 2024. “The largest expense of any Olympic Games is security, and the fact that we’ve got it pretty built in to our everyday life here in Washington, we would leverage that asset tremendously to put on this high-profile event.”
Sweeney announced Tuesday the formation of a nonprofit group aimed at making D.C. the first American city to host the Summer Games since Atlanta in 1996, and the first to host an Olympics since the Winter Games were held in Salt Lake City in 2002.
The bid has a long way to go. Washington was one of 35 U.S. cities to receive a letter from the U.S. Olympic Committee to gauge interest, and Sweeney expects about 10 to step forward as serious candidates. The USOC hasn’t even decided for certain that it wants to bid for the 2024 Games, which will be awarded by the International Olympic Committee in 2017.
“They need to make sure there is a strong horse to ride,” Sweeney said. “And we certainly intend to be that.”
Los Angeles, which hosted the 1932 and 1984 Olympics, Philadelphia and Tulsa, Okla., have announced their interest. San Diego wants to host a cross-border Olympics with Mexican neighbor Tijuana. Other potential 2024 contenders from around the world include Paris; Rome; Doha, Qatar; and a city in South Africa.
Washington made a push for the 2012 Games a decade ago and was thought to be the favorite to be the U.S. representative, but the USOC chose New York instead. There was concern at the time that the D.C. bid was tainted by hearings held by Congress in connection with the Salt Lake City bribery scandal, the thought being that the IOC would not want to put the Olympics in the city where its then-president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, was grilled by lawmakers under oath.
New York went on to finish fourth in the international bidding, losing out to eventual winner London. Chicago made a bid for 2016 and suffered a stinging first-round exit, with Rio de Janeiro winning the games.
Chicago’s defeat was blamed partly on a revenue-sharing feud between the USOC and IOC. The two sides have since resolved the dispute, and USOC leaders have worked hard to improve their standing in the international Olympic community.
“It’s a different USOC than it was, certainly, for Chicago,” Sweeney said.
Price tag of up to $6 billion
Sweeney, a former president of the Greater Washington Sports Alliance, helped out with D.C.’s 2012 bid and said he has no concerns about the political problems that hurt that effort. He pointed out that Washington was recently chosen to host a major Olympic meeting — the general assembly of the Association of National Olympic Committees — in 2015. D.C. is also making a push to host the 2017 fencing world championships, which would be timely if Thomas Bach, a former German fencer, is chosen as the next IOC president in an election next month.
Sweeney said he hopes to raise $3 million to $5 million to support the D.C. bid by the end of 2014. He estimates the cost of hosting the Olympics in D.C. would range from $3.5 billion to $6 billion, although he expected it would be toward the lower end because a good deal of the infrastructure is already in place.
There will be the need, however, for a new stadium to host the opening ceremony and track and field. Sweeney said he has met with the Washington Redskins, whose lease at their current stadium in Maryland expires in 2026. D.C. leaders will be pushing hard for the team to come back to the city at that time, so a stadium built for the Olympics could become an NFL stadium shortly afterward.
Otherwise, DC 2024 boasts that the area has “more sporting facilities in a 40-mile radius than any other city in the U.S.” and “more than 100,000 hotel rooms.” Sweeney said the events would stretch from Baltimore to Richmond, Va., but would be mostly concentrated around D.C.
“We are the only major capital city in the world,” Sweeney said, “not to have hosted the games yet.”