Lessons From the Past for a Successful 2028 Olympics

Lessons From the Past for a Successful 2028 Olympics

It is now all but official that Los Angeles will host the 2028 Summer Olympic Games.  L.A. has a strong Olympic track record, previously hosting in 1932 and 1984, but the city must remember the lessons of the past to stage a successful Games the third time around.

(Header image by Wikimedia Commons user Los Angeles, via Creative Commons.  Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.)

Despite all of the well-documented challenges of hosting an Olympics, I am eager and excited for L.A. to host the Games again.  There is something in the symbolism of the world coming together in (mostly) peaceful sporting competition that I find irresistible.  At the same time, what makes L.A. so compelling as a host city is that, as Jules Boycoff put it in a Commentary for the L.A. Times, the Olympics needs Los Angeles more than Los Angeles needs the Olympics.  L.A. has a chance to remake the image of the Olympics, as something that cities should aspire to, rather than something that cities should avoid, but only if organizers remember the lessons of past iterations of the Games.

Do More with Less

The great success of the 1984 Olympics, as the legend goes, is that it was the only one in the history of modern Games to not go over budget.  But this wasn’t because the L.A. organizers were amazing planners.  Rather, the state and local governments refused to guarantee any cost overruns, and the events had to rely on funding from sponsorships.  By all appearances the L.A. 2028 organizers have a similar approach in mind, with a plan that involves no new purpose-built venues, instead relying on the wealth of venues that Los Angeles already possesses along with a handful of temporary sites.  Still, this time around, state and local governments appear certain to guarantee any funding shortfalls, eliminating the urgency for a budget-friendly Games.

And there is more to an “affordable” Olympics than the use of existing venues.  One of the greatest successes of the 1984 Games was Deborah Sussman’s graphic design for the events.  With a limited budget, Sussman used simple materials and vibrant colors to reimagine existing spaces and create an iconic visual identity for the 1984 Olympics without breaking the bank.  Organizers for the 2028 Games would do well to channel Sussman’s innovative approach in planning for this next iteration of the Olympics.

The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, transformed for the 1984 Olympics Opening Ceremony with a temporary structure.    Public Domain   photo via Wikimedia Commons.

The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, transformed for the 1984 Olympics Opening Ceremony with a temporary structure.  Public Domain photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Focus Olympic Developments of Long-Term Local Needs

So much of the failure of past Olympic hosts to leave meaningful and useful lasting legacies after the torch is extinguished comes down to a reliance on purpose-built venues.  These shiny new stadiums look great on TV, but “legacy” post-Games uses are often little more than an afterthought.  L.A. 2028’s reliance on entirely existing and temporary venues hopes to avoid that fate, but it’s also worth considering how Olympics planning can benefit Los Angeles in the long term.

Much has been made of how L.A.’s rapidly expanding rail transit system will help support the Olympics, but that infrastructure development would have happened regardless of the Games.  What’s more, 2028 is still eleven years away, and plans are bound to shift and change in that time.  As the Olympic “bid” morphs into Olympic “plans” organizers should prioritize L.A.’s long-term needs in the decision-making process, rather than meeting the needs of the Games first and fitting in local needs later.  Furthermore, city leaders should actively pursue opportunities to accelerate needed improvements, especially in the areas of transportation and housing, that are focused on the long-term health of the city, but that may also benefit the Olympics in the short term.

Preserve Civil Liberties

Security is often seen as one of the greatest challenges in hosting an Olympic Games.  This is one area where Los Angeles should learn from the failures of the past.  As Max Felker-Kantor highlights in a recent piece for the Washington Post, the 1984 Olympics served as vehicle for the militarization of the Los Angeles Police Department, largely at the expense of the city’s communities of color.  Though the LAPD’s history of racial tensions precedes the 1984 Olympics, concerns about excessive force continue to this day as the LAPD led the nation in the use of deadly force for the past two years, and appears on pace to repeat again this year.  Rather than an excuse for a law enforcement crackdown, the 2028 Olympics should be an opportunity to demonstrate that a city can host a major event without sacrificing the rights of its residents.


All in all, Los Angeles has the potential to stage an exemplary Olympic Games.  L.A. can once again show the world that the Olympics doesn’t have to be a budget boondoggle with white elephant venues, and (probably for the first time) that human rights don’t have to be sacrificed in the name of security, but only if organizers and planners learn from the lessons of past Games.