Not so many weeks ago it seemed the only thing that might stop Los Angeles from hosting the Summer Olympic Games of 1984 would be a catastrophe—earthquake, tidal wave, an invasion of giant ants, some unthinkable cataclysm that perhaps lay even beyond the imaginations of Lucas, Kubrick and Spielberg combined. Nothing so dramatic came to pass. Yet as recently as early last week the Olympic flame was weak and flickering in L.A., dangerously near being snuffed out.
Still, not even a respectable mud slide could be blamed. The kind of demi-disaster that chilled—and all but killed—Los Angeles' hopes for 1984 was far less spectacular. Measured on a Richter scale, it would peak out no higher than the point on a politician's head. Indeed, the forces that combined against the first U.S.-hosted Summer Games in 52 years are barely forces at all, for they consist of an accumulation of circumstance and coincidence, of miscalculation and bad manners, of bruised egos and organized crepehangings.
Nevertheless, Mayor Tom Bradley, his city's once optimistic leading proponent of the Games, reflected a siege mentality when he spoke of the situation last week: "We could say to hell with it and abandon the Games completely, but I think there have been too many people involved, too much effort expended, too many months of too many lives given to this effort for me to play the demagogue for short-term political advantage and walk away from this bid. We'll stick it out."
Anton Calleia, one of Bradley's top city hall assistants and his budget director, has also been the project manager of the Olympic bid. He spoke of it in resignation and sorrow: "I am paid to be an optimistic man, but in this matter I am most pessimistic. The bid is in trouble. What began as a wooing exercise from the City of Los Angeles toward the International Olympic Committee has turned into an adversary relationship. And now the whole issue has become a political football at city hall, too. The situation has polarized both here and at IOC headquarters in Lausanne, and all I see is conflict, constant conflict."
What exactly happened to turn the City of Angels into the City of Angst? It is not easy to say, for the battle is still joined and much of what is happening is drowned out by the shrill bleats of politicians seeking preferment and power. In all this confusion at least one thing is certain: never have politics been played harder than they have been in the infighting over Los Angeles' bid for the Games of '84. The stakes range from East-West international prestige to prizes in mano a mano contests among petty bureaucrats. The participants include city councilmen who want to be mayor, a mayor who may want to be governor, a governor who may want to be President.
Some got into this game of Games for no other reason than that they are politicians. David Wolper, the movie producer and an Olympic proponent deeply involved in the Los Angeles bid, explained this phenomenon recently. "Most city hall politicians don't have things to do that get them into the newspapers," he said. "They deal with issues like fire prevention and garbage collection, and it's very hard to get your name in the paper or your face on TV when all you have to talk about is firemen and garbage cans. So whenever something glamorous like the Olympic Games comes along, city politicians are going to make it into an issue because anything is better than firemen and garbage cans."
For others, whether or not L.A. gets the Olympics is a more momentous matter. The U.S. Olympic Committee is attempting to maintain at least the image of authority over the Los Angeles crowd while the IOC struggles to retain at least a facsimile of absolute power over a dwindling and steadily less viable international Olympic structure. And in the wings stand the eager politicians of Munich and Montreal who will use whatever clout they have with the IOC to get the Games for themselves if L.A. loses out or bows out.
Since so much of the current mess is political, it follows that illusion has replaced reality to a great extent. Rhetoric and bombast emphasize what seems to be instead of what is. To uncover reality, one must go back to the beginning.
Foremost among the reasons that made the L.A. bid for the Games seem so invulnerable was the fact that it was the only one. Once Los Angeles, with its glittering AAA municipal credit rating, had wrestled the right to represent the U.S. in the bidding from bankruptcy-threatened New York, suddenly there was no one else to compete with. As of last November's deadline, no other city had even filed an application with the IOC.
In retrospect, the advantage of that particular "reality" may have been but the first illusion. John C. Argue, who has chaired the local boosters' group, the Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games (SCCOG), for six years, says, "It would have been better if many cities had bid. In fact, I think it proved to be a tragedy that we were alone, because it made it seem as if we were buying a bad deal full of trouble."