Reporting David Elfin
WASHINGTON (CBSDC) - So the Greater Washington Sports Alliance wants to bring the Summer Olympics here in 2024. By then, it will have been 28 years since the Summer Games were held in the United States and 22 years since the Winter Olympics were contested here (although they were just north of the border in Vancouver in 2010) so it would certainly be about time for the world’s biggest sporting event to return to the world’s most important nation.
And no matter what New York/Wall Street says, Washington is the nation’s most important city. Oddly, neither the financial capital nor the seat of government has ever played host to an Olympics. Neither have the third-biggest American metropolitan area, Chicago, nor the fourth-biggest, South Florida. But No. 2 Los Angeles did so in 1932 and in 1984.
Unlike our losing bid for the 2012 Games that went to London, this campaign isn’t a joint effort with Baltimore although the Ravens’ M&T Bank Stadium could wind up with some events. That’s the newest of the possible major outdoor venues which include FedEx Field, Byrd Stadium, Navy-Marine Corps Stadium, D.C. United’s proposed new home, and, if it’s still standing somehow, good old RFK. Maybe Nationals Park and Camden Yards could even be used if baseball agrees to send the National and Orioles on extended road trips.
Verizon Center, Comcast Center and Patriot Center are the major indoor venues. I’m sure the local kayaking and rowing community would be thrilled to have those sports contested on the Potomac while sailing would presumably take place on the Chesapeake Bay.
The last stateside Summer Olympics were held in Atlanta in 1996. While traffic on the Perimeter can be bad, it can’t compare to the Beltway, I-66, I-95 or 270. Of course, schools are closed and many locals are on vacation during the summer, but even though Metro is one of the nation’s busiest transit systems, I can only imagine what a zoo traffic will be with an Olympics added on top of our usual mess. On the other hand, if they made it work in London last summer …
The bigger question is do we want an Olympics in Washington?
It’s not as if we need the Games as a marketing tool as might have been the case for Atlanta and for Salt Lake City, where the Winter Olympics were held in 2002. Few cities are better-known around the world than Washington. The White House, the Capitol, the Washington Monument and the Lincoln, Jefferson and Vietnam Memorials are iconic. The Smithsonian’s museums are also internationally famous.
Next, consider that it could reportedly cost more than $5 billion to play host to the Games. As someone who fell in love with sports more than four decades ago as a kid in Washington, has watched every Olympics going back to 1968, cheered loudly from the stands at RFK, Cole Field House, Capital Centre et al, and has covered sports for more than 30 years, I appreciate how they can galvanize a community.
As then-Mayor Walter Washington said during the Redskins’ 1972 NFC title-winning season, they were “the glue” bonding rich and poor, black and white, city and suburb. The Washington area has grown enormously since then and added the Wizards, Caps, Nats, United and Mystics, but the Redskins, despite their many down years, remain a unifying force and easy break-the-ice topic. Robert Griffin III is probably the most discussed person in the area other than President Obama.
And yet, I’m troubled by the prospect of billions being spent on an Olympics when we have many troubled schools, a shrinking availability of affordable housing, roads, bridges and pipes that are way past their due dates to be replaced, and a local economy that is finally starting to feel the effects of the federal budgetary sequester.
Hopefully, the Washington area will be in better shape when the winning city is selected in 2017 and when the Games take place in 2024, but the bid has to be submitted next year.
It also concerns me that before I began writing this column and went to the web site of the Greater Washington Sports Alliance, that there was no mention of the Olympic effort. That’s hardly the way to start generating interest in what will need to be a major effort to impress the United States Olympic Committee, which will choose which American city will compete for the approval of the International Olympic Committee.
I’ve covered Super Bowls, Stanley Cup finals, Wimbledon, Final Fours, NBA playoffs, college football championships and major league games. I’ve never covered an Olympics – I was headed to Sydney in 2000, but we changed sports editors and there went that dream. Covering the 2024 Olympics in my hometown would be a fitting capstone to my career, but I’m truly torn about whether playing host to the Games would be smart for Washington.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin