- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 12, 2005

Organizers of New York’s bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics owe at least an apology to Washington, San Francisco and Houston — its top competitors for the U.S. Olympic Committee nomination for those Games. But it almost certainly will not be forthcoming.

New York’s already shaky chances suffered a fatal blow last week when state funding for a $2.2billion stadium on Manhattan’s West Side, which would have served as the centerpiece for the Games, failed to receive needed lawmaker approval. The setback just a month before the International Olympic Committee will pick the host confirmed years of suspicions that New York could not deliver on its Olympic promises and that its support from the USOC was a flawed selection of style over substance.

A quick history lesson: New York won that USOC nomination for 2012 three years ago in murky circumstances. Washington, bidding jointly with Baltimore, was knocked out in a semifinal round when the USOC cited “anti-American sentiment” by the IOC directed squarely at the nation’s capital — an issue never formally raised in a long series of site visits and written evaluations of the local bid.

Then San Francisco suffered a similarly cheap blow when the USOC imposed a surprising ban on bid organizers there from presenting their plan for a fiscally responsible Olympics. The ban arrived just minutes before San Francisco’s crucial final pitch to the USOC board of directors.

Fast forward to the present. Paris is a clear favorite to win the 2012 Games, and New York is scrambling to make a last-minute proposal for Queens to serve as the replacement site for the Manhattan mega-stadium, with some type of an answer expected to the IOC by tomorrow.

Perhaps Washington never would have stood a real chance in a stacked global competition that also includes London, Madrid and Moscow. But New York’s all-too-predictable stumble, marking yet another chapter in a decades-long war in New York against public outlays for major sports facilities, has generated a new series of what-if conversations.

Dan Knise, executive director of Washington’s 2012 bid, has held several informal conversations with USOC officials in the last week about possibly re-entering the races for the 2012 or 2016 Summer Olympics. Knise described those chats as “just two guys talking” because the USOC is obligated to support New York through next month’s 2012 vote and could assume the same stance should New York return for the 2016 race. But the local hurt over losing to the troubled entry up Interstate 95 is still not gone.

“The stadium issue is definitely a problem for them,” Knise said. “But they need to continue through the IOC vote and not back out.”

The problems securing stadium funding in New York, as well as the tortured D.C. Council fight last fall to approve financing for the Washington Nationals’ planned stadium in Southeast, beg the question whether the same thing would have happened here. The local 2012 bid was centered by a proposed Olympic Sports Complex on the grounds of RFK Stadium and the D.C. Armory. The complex was to house an 80,000-seat main stadium, as well as facilities for swimming, boxing, beach volleyball, handball, archery and the primary media center.

By staying on the RFK grounds, the Olympic effort likely would have mollified council members who still oppose the ballpark location near the Anacostia River waterfront and its forthcoming displacement of businesses and residents there. The final price tag for the city’s proposed investment in the Olympics was never set. But when combining facility costs with required public covenants to cover overruns and related infrastructure improvements, the effort held the distinct likelihood of making a $607million baseball stadium look quaint by comparison.

The main stadium at RFK, however, would have also been the centerpiece of an effort to bring the Washington Redskins back into the District when its covenants with the state of Maryland expire in 2027 — a city dream that still may resurrect itself in a decade or two.

“At the end of the day, baseball got done [with the D.C. Council], and I think the Olympics would have happened as well,” Knise said. “The city council is a careful steward of the public money, but baseball did happen, and there was a lot in our bid to rally around, too.”

For now, however, that’s nothing more than a missed opportunity. New York is carrying the torch for the USOC, and it’s hard to argue the American Olympic movement is richer for it.

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