How Los Angeles, Paris are rewriting the Olympic bidding process

LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- It was a more muted and interim triumph than Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo or Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti once envisioned, but they publicly savored it together.

The International Olympic Committee voted Tuesday to approve a proposal that gave the two mayors more control over the destinies of their Summer Games bids than any mayor in decades. The bid committees, with the mayors' crucial influence as host-contract signatories, now have the chance to come to terms this summer on a deal that would ensure both will host: one in 2024, one in 2028.

Garcetti and Hidalgo were confident that the measure would pass and that IOC president Thomas Bach, who was asking members to give up some power, wouldn't have put it to a vote if he were unsure. If the vote had failed, Paris and L.A. would have immediately resumed sprinting down the finishing straightaway of the usually expensive and stressful bidding competition until the final 2024 vote in Lima, Peru, on Sept. 13.

At a private meeting at a Lausanne hotel on Sunday, the mayors had spoken in broad strokes about finding common ground. On Tuesday, during the 30-minute coffee break during which the last details of the IOC proposal were being drafted, Hidalgo and Garcetti stood together at the edge of the atrium-style lobby of the SwissTech Convention Center and conferred again briefly before returning to observers' seats not far from each other in the meeting room.

After the unanimous vote, Hidalgo said she and Garcetti looked at each other and then spontaneously rose, hugged, and took each other's hands. "He said, 'What if we go up there?' and I said, 'Of course,' and off we went," she said in an interview Wednesday, referring to the mayors' decision to walk onstage, greet Bach and say their thanks to the full membership. "We didn't premeditate it at all."

Now comes the truly uncharted part.

"There will be conversations in short order to really dive into the details," LA 2024 bid chairman Casey Wasserman said by phone Wednesday before leaving Lausanne. "Both mayors will be there for the close. Their direction and perspective will drive the result."

The two camps now are tasked with hashing out an agreement regarding which city will wait until 2028, and under what conditions. All indications are that it will be L.A., and hopes are high that terms can be made public around the third week of August. "I think it's going to go fast," said a source inside one bid committee who asked for anonymity. "Now that it's a pretty baby, everyone wants to be the father."

Both Hidalgo and Garcetti would have to present any new terms to their respective city councils and help resell those terms to the public.

"We have a 100 percent need to be transparent and completely open and share 100 percent of the information with our residents," Garcetti said in an IOC joint news conference on Tuesday. "In Los Angeles, I've always said we could do it almost tomorrow, and we could do it, if you chose, 50 years from now. ... We're in a very safe place, I think, to communicate both the strengths of '28 and '24 to our residents and to get their sense of it, and to move forward."

Negotiations will take place on two levels of content, with the involvement of lawyers for the bid committees, the national Olympic committees and the IOC. "It's not just about cooperation, it's about deeper coordination," Wasserman said.

First will come the practical and legal details of how Games operations might be affected by synergy in staff and resources, and then possible compensation for the city that waits. Financing for a 2028 organizing committee that would form earlier than usual could be on the table. Bach appointed a fast-track evaluation commission to review specific 2028 matters.

Second are the loftier goals both mayors have for the arrangement, such as educational and cultural exchanges and parallel initiatives in environmental, small business and refugee issues.

Sitting at a lakeside restaurant Wednesday watching sailboats and paddleboards bounce on wind-churned whitecaps, Hidalgo said she and Garcetti are highly motivated by both positive energy and the stakes for their reputations.

"[Bach] knows that the mayors take big risks," she said. "I'm taking a big political risk in facing public opinion, which is largely supportive, but there is always a percentage who are not OK with it. When you win, it's never thanks to the mayor, and when you lose, it's always because of the mayor."

Achieving a new kind of Olympic truce, albeit temporary, could mitigate risk for the IOC, as well. Bach dismissed the notion of increased uncertainty with increased lead time, saying he didn't see an exponential difference between seven and 11 years.

The momentum for the dual Paris/L.A. Summer Games allocation came from him and other IOC leaders who wanted to stabilize an increasingly unpredictable bid ecosystem and prevent further erosion of their image. IOC members also voted Tuesday to approve some stopgap changes in the bid procedure for the 2026 Winter Olympics.

Bidders for future Games have thinned, and some former hosts are still flailing in sand traps of debt, most notably Rio 2016. That volatility stands in contrast to the stability of the IOC's long-term fixed revenue streams from sponsors and broadcast rights. The IOC has amassed assets of $3.2 billion versus liabilities of $1.2 billion, figures cited in a brief financial report delivered verbally during Tuesday's session.

If an L.A.-Paris accord is approved in September, it will create breathing room for the IOC to consider how it might help put future host cities in a position to succeed -- financially and otherwise -- rather than visiting those cities to praise or scold them as deadlines approach. Veteran IOC member Richard Pound of Canada spoke after the meeting about a recruitment model, in which the organization would solicit and support cities, rather than wait for supplicants to line up every four years.

But Wasserman said it would be an oversimplification to contend that the IOC acted out of weakness this week. "There are always going to be cities that want the Olympic Games," he said.

The IOC is lucky in the sense that it wound up with two 2024 bid committees capable of cooperating and a pair of mayors who have an established relationship. What if the only cities left standing had come from countries with hostile relations or diametrically opposed forms of government? How likely is a repeat of this juxtaposition of two urban areas capable of handling and absorbing the unwieldy event and possibly -- an important qualifier -- emerging without serious post-Games issues?

It's likely that the traditional and expensive theatrical production around September's bid announcement will be drastically scaled back, and the weeks to come promise to be somewhat anticlimactic, calling for an attitude shift by both bid committees. Hidalgo and Garcetti have both counseled the bid leadership to stay focused amid the transition.

"The tension and the drama will be reduced, but there's still going to be the excitement of the Games being official," Wasserman said.

Then, the grandson of film industry giant Lew Wasserman referred to a movie about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team's victory over the Soviet Union: "When I watch 'Miracle,' I know what happened, but I still feel that emotion."