What Glimmers Isn’t Always a Gold Medal

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Long Beach’s inclusion in new Olympics bid brings excitement and concerns

By Matthew Gozzip  Athletics Editor

The Olympics could be coming back to Long Beach, for better or worse. 

Last Thursday, the Los Angeles (LA) 2024 Exploratory Committee announced that the city of Long Beach would figure more heavily into LA’s 2024 Olympics bid after notably being left out of the original plans.

The Exploratory Committee, the group in charge of moving the bid forward to impress the International Olympic Committee (IOC), conducted several meetings this past summer in Rio with the international federations who govern each sport and realized revisions were needed to secure an upper hand over global competitors from Rome, Paris and Istanbul.

 Last week, the committee announced several new plans to reduce operating costs and include more of the local communities in the greater LA metropolitan area. The modified plans included the use of the Honda Center in Anaheim; the Riviera Country Club in West LA; and Long Beach’s Arena, Convention Center, Waterfront and Pier. The appeal to LA’s bid revolves around LA’s availability of already existing venues and Long Beach fits squarely in this criteria.

Long Beach is one of several planned venue clusters, areas where multiple events could be held at any given time. The Long Beach Olympic sports park would include the Long Beach Convention Center and the newly renovated Long Beach Convention Arena; a racecourse similar to the Long Beach Grand Prix along the Long Beach Waterfront for the triathlon; temporary venues for BMX and Water Polo; and sailing waters near the Belmont Pier.

Mayor Robert Garcia sees Long Beach’s inclusion in the bid as an opportunity to further the city’s profile globally. “This is validation of Long Beach being an international city,” Garcia said. “We have hosted (Olympic) games and events in this community, and we have almost more Olympians than any other major metropolitan area. We are committed to ensuring that the Games provide an economic benefit to our hotels, tourism and community.”

The city certainly possesses the necessary planning and track record to host the Olympics again. When the Olympics came to LA in 1932 and 1984, Long Beach hosted archery, fencing, sailing and rowing. Water polo would be one of the sports that would be played in Long Beach, a perfect marriage between setting and a supportive culture surrounding the game in the city. On the final night for the World League Super Final in water polo, 6,000 fans attended the match even though the US was not playing.

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A lot of the controversy tied to hosting the Olympics involves the expensive costs for building new venues that eventually go unused. Fortunately, only the BMX course and water polo arena need to be constructed. No estimates on their cost have been made but these are relatively inexpensive venues. Since Long Beach is a venue cluster, most of the facilities being used are centralized together. This would cut down on security costs as well as allowing tourists from all over the world to see multiple events that are in walking distance of each other.

Despite the city’s preparedness and the potential benefits from hosting the Olympics, questions remain around the true motives for hosting such a large event. Many critics on social media have been quick to comment on the amount of poverty, homelessness and crime in Long Beach that needs more financial consideration instead of funding for Olympic aspirations. According to the Long Beach Community Action Partnership, an agency made specifically to serve low-income peoples in Long Beach, more than 22% of the city’s residents live in poverty. 

The tourism from the travellers could pay its dividends but as many saw in Rio, Brazil neglected to serve its own citizens first. Lack of plumbing and overall pollution plagued the headlines leading up to this past Olympiad causing near toxic conditions for athletes to compete in open water sports. Long Beach and it’s neighboring shores are currently up to health standards but the Port of Long Beach still provides a potential hazard, especially when the prospective events would take place eight years from now. According to an article from the San Gabriel Valley Tribune in 2013, all nine oceanfront beaches in Long Beach received failing grades. That was only two years ago. Who knows what the local ecosystem will be like in a decade. 

On top of potentially unforeseeable circumstances, there is a glaring elephant in the room when discussing a large sporting event in LA: the traffic. At the moment, the public transit system and light rail project that was supposed to be connect the San Bernardino, Los Angeles and Orange Counties is not making  much headway. Most of the projects are expected to be finished by 2020 but that is not certain. Construction in metropolitan cities is usually slow going (freeway construction, skyscrapers, etc.) and can only compound already present traffic problems. The average tourist amount for the Olympics (based on the past two years) hovers somewhere over more than half a million visitors. If the transit system is not a definite solution, it could be a crippling problem.

The jury is out as of now on the potential effects that the Olympics will bring to the city but there still is certainly time for planning and critique to be made. The IOC does not designate a host city until September 13, 2017, allowing time for more changes to the proposal to be made in the coming year. Whether certain projects move forward or not, realizing the financial and human cost of hosting part of the biggest sport event in the world should be closely considered.

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