Should the Homeless Capital of America Host the Olympics?


Delegates from the International Olympic Committee descend on Los Angeles today.

They will meet with Mayor Eric Garcetti and the leaders of the LA2024 committee seeking to bring Los Angeles its third Olympic Games.  Los Angeles is one of just two cities still holding on to their bids for the games, and the IOC is pondering whether to award both the 2024 and 2028 games at once, to both Los Angeles its rival, Paris, France.

Both cities are world capitals. Unlike past hosts like Rio de Janeiro and Sochi, both have modern sports, tourism and media infrastructure already in place.  And both are making the claim that, due to these advantages, the games can turn a profit for the IOC and leave their municipalities and countries without a dime of overhanging debt when the torch is snuffed.  This is in addition to the myriad benefits that the IOC and their booster committees claim would accompany a successful bid – increased tax revenue, improved world reputation and visibility, economic development, and long term benefits to local sports and tourism.

Many of these folks point to the last time Los Angeles hosted in 1984.

That year, the Soviet Union and its allies boycotted the games in retribution for the West’s boycott of the Moscow 1980 games.  They were awarded to Los Angeles in 1978, just two years after the debt-ridden debacle that was the 1976 Montreal Games.  The 1984 games in LA were a roaring success, we’re told, because the city would not guarantee any cost overruns, and the USOC was forced to find private money to renovate existing structures to support the event spaces and housing needed for the influx of athletes, bureaucrats, corporate sponsors and media.  Ostensibly, this was a success, and generated a surplus that continues to fund US Olympic activities to this day.

But dig a little deeper and you’ll see that this success was very limited to the Olympics themselves and were quite possibly a disaster for the people of Los Angeles.

In order to ‘clean up’ the city for international and corporate approval, the LAPD was militarized overnight to push the homeless and undesirable elements to the margins of the city.  This ramp up of police activity marked the beginning of the very police units that later terrorized the poorer inhabitants of Los Angeles, leading to an era of essentially fascistic rule of a racist police department over a major American city.  That era ended with widespread riots in 1992, just as the Barcelona games were preparing to kick off.

These abuses are not a thing of the past.

Violence at the Olympics are nothing new.  Terrorism is a problem, but the largest death toll at a single games was at the 1968 Mexico City games where police killed hundreds of protesters.

In the run up to the FIFA World Cup and Olympic games, killings by police in Rio de Janeiro shot up by 40%, who were responsible for 1 out of 5 murders.  Police instituted a very public policy of ‘pacification,’ a process by which armed cops (essentially soldiers) invaded the crowded slums of Rio and shot, beat and detained countless residents in a preemptive campaign of fear designed to keep the population away from the games themselves.  The Rio de Janeiro games saw tens of thousands of poor residents displaced by construction projects and ‘safe zones’ designed to cater to IOC members, athletes, and media fly-ins.  Promises to revitalize areas of Rio were made true, and then the people who actually lived there were told they were now homeless.  While gentrification and urban appropriation usually takes decades, the Olympics causes it to happen in a matter of months, all for the glory of national pride and Coca Cola.  All of this at the same time that Brazil was engaged in a heartless austerity regime designed to further impoverish the most vulnerable and make more of its resources available to international capital interests. The Rio games ran over costs by more than 50%, costing the people of Brazil more than a billion dollars.

The Olympics lead to sharp increases in human trafficking.

Like most global sports events, the demand for sex work spikes dramatically during the Olympics.  Since this demand can hardly be met by local sex workers, and because of the perverted predilections of those connected with the games, human trafficking and sex slavery is especially acute, so much that services pop up every four years to try and help the individuals who are enslaved.  The increased police presence never seems to retard this practice.

The Olympics are totally inaccessible to poorer people.

For an event so dependent on public funds, closing public roads, and demanding public attention, it is curiously designed for private interests. Bid documents show tickets to the opening ceremony will cost at the lowest $1,700, with marquee sporting events costing upwards of $500.  Sure, you can get a ticket to a qualifying round of shooting for $34, but if you want to see any of the world’s top athletes in track and field, basketball, or swimming, be prepared to pay the equivalent of a month’s pay for a family of four just to sit in the back.

But if you are a vice president at NBC, or one of the games’ many corporate sponsors, or if you are on the International Olympic Committee itself, be prepared for the royal treatment.  Coca Cola and McDonald’s pay huge sponsorship fees to the games, most of which goes to supplement the insane salaries of IOC members and their fancy new headquarters in Switzerland while, again, the risk of the games themselves is entirely shouldered by the host cities.

Just look at some of the demands made by the IOC to Norway when they bid for the Oslo Games:

  • They demand to meet the king prior to the opening ceremony. Afterwards, there shall be a cocktail reception. Drinks shall be paid for by the Royal Palace or the local organizing committee.
  • Separate lanes should be created on all roads where IOC members will travel, which are not to be used by regular people or public transportation.
  • The IOC members should have separate entrances and exits to and from the airport.
  • IOC members shall be greeted with a smile when arriving at their hotel.
  • Meeting rooms shall be kept at exactly 20 degrees Celsius at all times.

The people of Norway thankfully laughed in their faces and told them to get lost.

The true outcome of this supposedly international celebration of ‘amateur athletics’ is little more than a quadrennial jubilee for European bureaucrats and their corporate sycophants to enjoy the hospitality of world class hotels and enslaved prostitutes without having to wait in the traffic they create.


But if it’s going to happen somewhere, why not here?

Los Angeles has the highest rate of homelessness in America, with 13,000 homeless in the city proper alone.  When you factor in the county as a whole, which you absolutely should, you’re looking at over 50,000 people and growing without secure housing, in one of the richest metropolitan areas on Earth.  Thousands of these are children.

Voters approved two measures in the last two elections – H and HHH – which promise to direct much needed funds to building $1.2B in new affordable housing in the city and adding millions more in supplementary services.  And while the city council is already messing with the definition of what qualifies as affordable housing, the people of this city have shown a commitment to send their own tax dollars on alleviating this problem.

Committing public funds and guarantees to a project that will invariably displace even more Angelenos and further exacerbate this growing tragedy is entirely in violation of their stated wishes.

Likewise, turning the already militarized and unaccountable LAPD into the streets of Los Angeles with a mission to clean it up and suppress dissent around an event designed for the rich and famous may work for Oscar week, but it will cause serious issues for the year surrounding an Olympic games.

While the Olympics as a whole may be popular, tell the folks of Boyle Heights, Crenshaw, Echo Park and HIghland Park that only will traffic in their neighborhoods be at a stand still for months before and after the games, the current residents of Skid Row will be pushed by force into their neighborhoods, where literally no services are available to them.  This effort has already forced homeless residents into parks and parking lots in Leimert Park and Mid City, and relations between them and neighborhoods is markedly worsening.  This kind of economic displacement for the purpose of corporate profit and political theater can lead to extreme friction between populations, police, and property owners.

We know where that leads.

Some members of the Democratic Socialists of America – Los Angeles have started an already very visible campaign to oppose these games, and they lay out their reasons marvelously here.  Hat tip to them for all the links and information, and I wish them the best of luck.






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