Can one summer Olympics be held in two countries? Or in Oklahoma?
Those are questions that have surfaced in recent days as the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) looks for bid cities to host the 2024 summer Olympics.The USOC has contacted 35 cities as part of a feeling-out process.
Of those 35 cities, Tulsa, Okla., was the smallest, with only 400,000 residents. But the mayor of Tulsa is not dismissing the notion of hosting the summer Games out of hand, despite the fact that the city would need to more than triple its number of hotel rooms (to at least 45,000) and find more than $3 billion to build infrastructure like an Olympic stadium.
"I see this as a great opportunity, I really do," Mayor Dewey Bartlett told The Associated Press, encouraged by the city's success in hosting the Bassmaster Classic in February.
USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun said the bid "would have its challenges," according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. "We haven't looked at it carefully. We just learned about it.”
Yet the problems might not be so difficult. No Olympic Games have been shared between two neighboring host countries, but the world of soccer has been dividing is major events between countries for years. South Korea and Japan shared the 2002 World Cup, and the European Championships were held in Austria and Switzerland in 2008 and Poland and Ukraine last year.
In Euro 2012, for example, Poland and Ukraine set up special "green lines" at customs posts on the border, which allowed fans with game tickets and nothing to declare to pass through via an expedited process.
Of course, the World Cup and European Championships are spread out at eight sites over an entire month, while the summer Olympics – while mammoth – want to be as compact as possible to limit travel for athletes, fans, and VIPs. Soccer tournaments are a string of big events evenly spaced out, while the summer Games are a constellation of small events packed together in time and space.
But San Diego and Tijuana are hardly worlds apart. The driving distance is 17 miles. For the winter Games, which have increasingly devolved into city sports (skating, hockey) and mountain sports (skiing, sliding), 17 miles would be nothing.
Even the London and Beijing summer Games were far more far-flung. London held its sailing events in Weymouth, more than 100 miles away; Beijing held them in Qingdao, more than 300 miles away. Beijing even held its equestrian events in Hong Kong – a 3-1/2 hour flight away – for quarantine reasons. (The equestrian events for the 1956 Melbourne Games had to be held in Stockholm for the same reason.)
The fact is, the process is just starting – the USOC does not need to submit its 2024 bid city to the IOC until 2017. But whoever the USOC chooses would seem to have a strong chance at winning.
The US has not hosted a winter Olympics since 2002 and a summer Olympics since 1996. That's quite a dry spell for the country that is unquestionably the economic engine of the Olympic movement. The reason is that the USOC and the IOC have been fighting over how much money the USOC should share with the IOC.
While that dispute lingered – and grew worse – New York was surprisingly eliminated early in the competition for the 2012 Games, and Chicago's bid for 2016 was humiliatingly defeated despite President Obama's personal lobbying. Reading between the lines, the USOC didn't even submit a bid city for the 2020 summer or 2022 winter Games.
But a deal was struck earlier this year, and USOC officials are starting the process for 2024 methodically, perhaps sensing the bid is theirs if they present a strong candidate.
Mr. Blackmun mentioned Los Angeles and Philadelphia as other potential bid cities. By reaching out to 35 cities, the USOC is trying to create a little national goodwill by letting many cities – like Tulsa – into the process. But it is also emphasizing that, this time, it will be running the show.
In the past, local politicians have driven the effort in attempts to burnish their credentials or clout, leaving the USOC to try to sell the product to the IOC. This time, it will be in control every step of the way.
"Politicians like credit and glory. There will be lots of credit and glory to go around if the bid wins," writes Alan Abrahamson in a blog on the USOC website. "It may seem elemental but a bid wins by swaying votes within the IOC. There, success or failure truly rests with the USOC."
In that process, only San Diego would be able to offer the IOC the first ever cross-border Olympics. And for an organization that purports to foster international cooperation and friendship, that could be the strongest selling point of all.