By Dave Zirin and Jules Boykoff / The Nation
This week, the International Olympic Committee rolled into Los Angeles, host of the 2028 Summer Olympics, to hobnob with the city’s political elites. With IOC President Thomas Bach on hand, along with Nicole Hoevertsz, the IOC executive board member and former Olympic synchronized swimmer from Aruba who is chairing the Los Angeles 2028 IOC Coordination Commission, they announced the dates for the LA Olympics and Paralympics. Standing in front of a swim stadium, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti expressed his excitement. It was a set-piece spectacle under the California sun.
But if you scratch the Olympic surface and sniff, you’ll get a whiff of something very different: the distinct scent of false promises and very real evictions to make way for Olympic facilities. Eric Sheehan, an organizer with the anti-Olympics group NOlympics LA, managed to finagle his way into the press conference. He told us, “My intent was to throw a wrench in the gears of this moment and to bring attention to the plight of the tenants across the street from the Coliseum at Flower Drive and the evictions they’re facing.”
Right before the photo-op that concluded the press conference, Sheehan sauntered up in front of the Olympic power brokers and unbuttoned his shirt to reveal a T-shirt that read “Fuck the Olympics.” As security guards approached him, “I started letting everyone know about the effects that the Olympics are going to have on this city,” he told us, “from the eviction of tenants to a massive increase in the police budget.” Security escorted Sheehan off the grounds, but he continued to call out the coming games from outside.
Angelenos—including the tenants from Flower Drive who are being evicted as the city prepares to host the Olympics—are right to be skeptical. Numerous promises from LA Olympic boosters are already wilting in the California sun.
When Garcetti appeared on Late Night With Seth Meyers in 2018, he stated, “I’m confident that by the time the Olympics come, we can end homelessness on the streets of LA.” Meanwhile, back in reality, homelessness is actually climbing throughout the region. The last point-in-time count, which was conducted in 2020, found that 66,436 people were experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles County. That’s a 13 percent increase from 2019. Los Angeles saw its homeless numbers jump by 14 percent. As police have cracked down on the city’s unhoused residents, many have fled to the harsh environs of the Mojave Desert along the northern county border. Under Garcetti, the humanitarian crisis known as homelessness has only intensified.
In 2017, Garcetti announced the “Twenty-Eight by ’28” initiative, promising to complete on an accelerated time scale 28 transportation projects before the 2028 Olympics. Garcetti stated at the time, “The 2028 Olympic Games gives us the chance to reimagine Los Angeles, and ask ourselves what legacy we will create for generations to come.… This initiative is our opportunity to harness the unifying power of the Olympic Movement to transform our transportation future.” By 2019, the Los Angeles Daily News was already dubbing the plan “doomed” and arguing that it would actually worsen the experience of transit riders. The projects require an infusion of billions more dollars.
Meanwhile, the LA28 Olympic Organizing Committee, the private group tasked with staging the Games, has insisted that new transportation infrastructure is not required for the Olympics. The Olympics are already infamous for their Etch A Sketch economics, with every single Olympics since 1960 seeing a rise in costs between the bid and delivery phases, so advocating new transportation infrastructure would only add to the five-ring price tag. The cost of the 2028 Los Angeles Games has already leaped from $5.3 billion when the city was bidding on them to an estimated $6.9 billion today, and that does not include billions in security costs that will be covered by the federal government, which truly means that it will be underwritten by taxpayers across the US.
LA Games organizers aren’t above having it both ways. LA28 Chair Casey Wasserman told the Los Angeles Times, “If the Olympics coming can be a catalyst to accelerate things that are sort of in the line, we’re all for it. But we don’t want to be the reason and the only reason it comes.” In other words, Olympic honchos won’t mind taking credit for spurring the transportation network, if it is successfully built by 2028. But they won’t take responsibility for it if it fails.
There are also wider factors outside the control of everyday Angelenos that demand our attention. Just as scientists have long warned of difficult-to-contain infectious diseases like Covid-19, climatologists have made it clear that if nothing is done about climate change, it will ravage California. Global heating is not some futuristic abstraction; a parched LA is already feeling its effects. LA summers promise to be hot and potentially smoke-filled thanks to increasing wildfires. It doesn’t take an avant-garde poet or a science-fiction maven to conjure dire climate scenarios by the time 2028 rolls around.
The Olympics will be staged in July to accommodate NBC’s calendar. After all, 73 percent of the IOC’s revenue comes from broadcaster fees. At the press conference, LA28 organizers announced the dates for the Olympics and the Paralympics: July 14 to 30 and August 15 to 27, respectively. California’s fire season typically peaks between July and October, although some experts are now suggesting that the state’s wildfire season is essentially year-round. There’s a decent chance that climate change and wildfires could scupper the Games, or at least drastically affect them. Yet this also went unmentioned and undiscussed at the presser. When one factors in the carbon footprint that comes with the Olympics—despite their efforts at greenwashing—the question about whether Los Angeles’s very ecology can support the Olympics is one of great urgency. But Bach, Wasserman, and Garcetti seem intent on—and content to—spend six more years rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Although, if they are true to character, they’ll also be first in the lifeboats before it all sinks.