Toronto mayor’s decision not to bid for 2024 Olympics a victory for common sense
Chalk one up for common sense over blind ambition.
Toronto will not seek the 2024 Olympic Games, and bless mayor John Tory for denying the siren call of the ultimate ego trip.
In resisting a rush of blood to the head, against a pressing deadline, Toronto now joins the queue behind Oslo and Boston among their countries’ officially-anointed bid cities to put the brakes on after sober second thought.
“Toronto can be an Olympic city, and Toronto already is a world-class city,” Tory said in a Tuesday morning news conference outside city hall.
“I have no doubt (the Olympics) represent a significant opportunity that would put the eyes of the world on Toronto.
“I believe one day, Toronto will be great venue for an Olympic Games, but not in ‘24. I am not saying no to the Olympics, but not this time.”
He left the door open just that far, but he knows that a last-minute, lukewarm application from Toronto was not going to be a winner against places like Paris and Rome and, now, Los Angeles. Toronto has lost out before (see Atlanta, 1996), with a lot better preparation, and Tory didn’t want to be the spearhead of another failed bid.
If L.A. becomes the default choice to stage the 2024 Summer Games — a strong possibility, because it will have been 22 years since the last Olympics in the country that largely finances the Games — the next opportunity for a North American city could be somewhere in the 2030s.
By that time, there’s a good chance the International Olympic Committee’s grandiose visions of what a host city and nation must provide may be considerably humbler.
“When and if (Toronto bids again), we will do it right … it will be sustainable, cost-efficient, innovative and environmentally friendly,” Tory said.
Even so, given more time to lay the corporate groundwork, or a federal government it could count on to still be in power a month from now, or a consensus that the citizens really wanted it, Toronto might have succumbed.
Tory, no sports naÏf, who in another life was the articulate, polished chief executive of the Canadian Football League, had the wisdom to see that Canada’s largest city was 0-for-3 on those criteria.
He hit every nail on the head in his speech, which the anti-Olympic lobby no doubt will interpret as an affirmation of its “Bread, Not Circuses” stance.
Well, that was pretty much the context.
What Toronto could get out of hosting an Olympics — government funding for improvements in transportation and infrastructure and affordable housing — are things the city needs to secure anyway, without begging the IOC to help the lobbying effort.
“We need to build a stronger, fairer city, not for an international audience but for the people who live here,” said Tory.
“In the end, it’s not my job to be rash, it is my job to make the best decision for Toronto. I understand we have to aspire to great things. I also understand it could serve as catalyst for infrastructure.
“But I am convinced we can and must do those things without an Olympic legacy.”
When Oslo went public with its rejection of a 2022 Winter Olympic bid last fall, leaving Almaty, Kazakhstan and Beijing as the meager finalists, it seemed a tipping point in how responsible nations dealt with the conflict of horse sense versus illusions of glory.
Boston followed suit, having come to the very sane conclusion that someone was going to be on the hook for an enormous bill, and it might just be the city.
And now Toronto.
The IOC has long sold the notion of a host city/country joining elite company once it has staged an Olympic Games, but only rarely has there been any evidence that an Olympics was a transformative event.
Calgary? Arguably. Name another.
What, really, is better now about the places that staged Olympics than before? The tradeoff for a few usually badly-needed infrastructure improvements that ought to have been made anyway is often a long period of debt, higher taxes, white-elephant athletic structures and a very fleeting sense of civic or national pride.
Sponsoring governments may break even on the athletic component, but guessing at the final costs of an Olympic Games, compared to the original budget, is a game of blind-man’s bluff.
Governments, increasingly, are not signing up for the risk.
The corporate people he canvassed were non-committal, Tory said, and though he spoke to the leaders of all three major political parties and all were mildly supportive, “you could talk to them all but you really didn’t know who you’d be dealing with after the 19th of October,” he said.
In short, there was too little certainty, and not enough time.
Another four years, or eight, or 12, and it might be a whole different world.
In either direction.
This time, at least, cooler heads prevailed.