Nick Butler

Lima’s Westin Hotel, September 12 next year, picture it if you will on the eve of the vote to decide the host of the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Leaders from each of the three contenders have swept into town to convince wavering International Olympic Committee (IOC) members of the respective merits of Budapest, Los Angeles or Paris.

In one suite, you have United States President Donald Trump preaching about walls and the dangers of Mexican immigration. Next door, say hello to freshly-crowned French counterpart Marine Le Pen, the National Front leader outlining radical plans to fight-back against the Islamic threat supposedly sweeping across France. And, in another, meet Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, the conservative firebrand forced to step-up his attacks of migrants sweeping across borders lest he be depicted as the lily-livered liberal of the group.

It sounds like some sort of liberal dystopia, with the Olympic ideals lost in a wave of right-wing propaganda. But, in reality, even in the unlikely scenario that both Trump and Le Pen do sweep to power, I doubt the situation would be quite that bleak.

Not that you would think it, judging by some of the predictions so far about how Los Angeles’ bid would be trumped by “The Donald” should he become President after the election tomorrow. 

The subject was first raised publicly by American journalists during the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. "An America that turns inward, like any country that turns inward, isn't good for world peace, isn't good for progress, isn't good for all of us," responded the city’s Mayor Eric Garcetti. "I think for some of the IOC members they would say, 'Wait a second, can we go to a country like that, where we've heard things that we take offence to?'"

A Donald Trump Presidency would certainly make the 2024 Olympic race more exciting, but would he harm the chances of Los Angeles 2024 against rivals Budapest and Paris? ©Getty Images
A Donald Trump Presidency would certainly make the 2024 Olympic race more exciting, but would he harm the chances of Los Angeles 2024 against rivals Budapest and Paris? ©Getty Images

Officially, Garcetti and other bid leaders maintain that whoever wins the Presidency will have little impact on the race, and that whoever is chosen will support their efforts. But this is invariably followed by an "off the record" briefing in which they give the panicked impression that nothing could be worse than a Trump victory.

"If Trump wins, then an Olympic bid will be the least of our problems,” one bid official has repeatedly told me.

In a USA Today article last week, it is argued that such an outcome "would make it very difficult for Los Angeles to try to win over IOC voters from Islamic and Latin countries, as well as female IOC members".

You do wonder, however, how much these opinions are shaped by the personal political preferences of those involved. Garcetti, remember, is a staunch HIllary Clinton backer who is about as liberal and Democrat as they come in America. Other bid team members formerly worked for his administration, while it is fair to say that most of those involved in US sports politics are not Trump supporters.

Conventional wisdom seems to be that by the time next September rolls around, a President Trump would have done something so catastrophically bad that the world would be so fractured that no one would either consider the thought of a US Olympic bid.

Others, however, have reminded us that the gridlocked US political system is designed to constrain the power of the President and that those who have gone too far have invariably been halted by the Senate, Supreme Court or some other body. It would be hard for him to now U-turn completely and abandon some of his more outlandish proposals, but a President Trump would surely be less radical than a candidate Trump.

It is also by no means a given that a President Clinton would be a positive for the LA bid. America’s problem in the recent past in a sporting sense has been a perceived arrogance enticing a lack of trust - two distinct characteristics associated with the former First Lady and Secretary of State.

Hillary Clinton was present at the 2005 IOC Session in Singapore to support New York City 2012 ©Getty Images
Hillary Clinton was present at the 2005 IOC Session in Singapore to support New York City 2012 ©Getty Images

My two colleagues who were present in Singapore in 2005 disagree over her effectiveness backing New York City and, while she is seen as a staunch supporter of sport, it is easy to see her rhetoric on human rights and greenhouse gas emissions antagonising certain IOC members as much as Trump’s "Wall".

In comparison, Trump, despite being a sports fan, was curiously quiet on social media during August's Olympic Games, and, according to one US media article, his interest was limited to seeing how high Mexican pole vaulters could go. Is this because his image of a broken, stagnant in American was so at odds with the medal table topping performances of a thoroughly multi-cultural team in Rio 2016?

Indeed, arguably his biggest role in Olympic circles is being IOC Athletes' Commission chair Angela Ruggiero's boss on the 2007 series of The Apprentice... (she was 11th to be fired but Trump claimed to be a "big fan", for the record).

As with everything Trump-related, it is simply hard to predict how he will act. Given the mainstream hostility towards him in virtually every country in the world - bar Russia - it is certainly possible that some members would be put off. But, so long as he does nothing too devastating, the impact is likely to be relatively small.

The IOC member electorate, remember, are mostly swayed by what they can gain from a particular bid, be it personally, politically, diplomatically, or for the sake of a sport or organisation they are affiliated with. Los Angeles can offer plenty of incentives here, I imagine, so still have plenty of cards to play even if their President is a negative. 

It is also thought that several powers-that-be in Olympic circles are also desperate for the Games to return to the US, so this could also negate any Trump-factor. Some members, though not many, might even be influenced by the technical merits of the respective bid…

Where the President of a prospective host nation can have a telling impact is in the final week of a campaign. At that stage their presence can make or break a bid. Tony Blair, Vladimir Putin and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva were all seen as having a decisive role in the success of the respective London 2012, Sochi 2014 and Rio 2016 attempts. 

Likewise, the failure of Paris 2012 and Chicago 2016 has been blamed on the personal shortcomings of Jacques Chirac and Barack Obama when they appeared in Singapore and Copenhagen.

It is by no means a given that either Clinton or Trump would attend the IOC Session in Lima anyway, and I suspect Los Angeles would certainly try and keep Trump out of the fray as much as possible. Recent rhetoric has focused on a "Californian" bid rather than a nationwide one and we expect to see the affable Garcetti at the fore rather than the President.

Mayor Eric Garcetti appears a more likely political leader of the Los Angeles 2024 bid, as he was at Rio 2016 ©Getty Images
Mayor Eric Garcetti appears a more likely political leader of the Los Angeles 2024 bid, as he was at Rio 2016 ©Getty Images

Olympic officials lurking here today seem confident of a Clinton victory. But they do not seem too bothered at the prospect of Trump either. One IOC member even claimed that "a far bigger problem is either Le Pen or Nicolas Sarkozy becoming President of France next year".

It is even possible that a Los Angeles 2024 bid which presents itself as the enlightened and ethnically diverse antithesis of Trump's America could increase its appeal.

Of course, if Trump wins, he may well decide that he wants the limelight and the excitement of attending the Lima Session anyway.

But even if that happens, it would be foolish to automatically write him off and say his contribution would definitely be a negative one. 

And, if nothing else, if he does win and turn up in Lima, then it would be a lot of fun for us journalists and everyone else watching.