Detroit: Olympic city? | U-M Detroit


Source: Michigan News

Stefan Syzmanski

Stefan Syzmanski

The fate of the late 2020 Tokyo Olympics, now slated for July 23 to August. 8, 2021 seems more unsafe than ever as North Korea has reportedly decided to back out because of the pandemic.

Several other test events have reportedly been delayed or canceled, and officials in Osaka, Japan formally requested that the leg of the city’s torch relay be canceled due to a surge in COVID cases. Tokyo’s predicament on how to safely host the Olympics amid a global pandemic comes at a time when fewer cities are bidding on the Olympics, and that could give cities another hiatus.

Stefan SzymanskiStephen J. Galetti, Professor of Sports Management at the University of Michigan, explains Detroit’s chances of ever hosting the Olympics and the virtual exhibition he’s developing to coincide with the Tokyo Games.

Until recently, competition between cities competing to host the Olympic Games was fierce. Why is the International Olympic Committee having a hard time convincing cities to apply for the Olympic Games?

The cost of hosting the Olympics has risen in the age of television as cities and nations compete for the privilege and the IOC calls for bigger and bigger accommodations. In recent years, the IOC has found it increasingly difficult to attract bidders as taxpayers have lagged behind at the expense and the fact that dedicated Olympic-scale facilities can rarely be fully used after the event.

With only two bidders for the 2024 Games after all other cities pulled out, the IOC urged Paris and Los Angeles to take one each of 2024 and 2028 instead of risking running out of bidders for 2028.

Could Detroit one day host the Olympics?

Detroit is remarkably well equipped with potential sports facilities in close proximity – Ford Field, Comerica Park, and Little Caesars Arena, combined with the space at the TCF Center and the ability to use Belle Isle and the Detroit River for many events. These rooms could already host most of the Olympic events.

The road infrastructure in the city center is ideally suited to moving large numbers of people in and out quickly. The real barrier to Detroit is perception – and this is where the IOC could really be a game changer. Instead of focusing on glamorous cities that don’t need a boost – LA, Paris, Rio, London, Beijing – the IOC could reinvigorate the Games by positioning them as a means to empower a city that really needs it.

Additionally, the Detroit Games would create an opportunity for cross-border collaboration with Windsor and would be a source of pride for Michigan and a magnet for sport-loving Midwesterners.

Detroit has bid for the Olympics before. What is the story?

Detroit has bid for the Olympics seven times and has informally expressed interest two more times. The possibility was first raised in 1920 with a plan to build a stadium for the 1928 Games.

The first formal bid was in London in 1939 and bid for the 1944 Games (not due to World War II). Detroit was the officially endorsed US offering by the US Olympic Committee from 1952 to 1972.

The city came closest to offering offers for the 1956 and 1968 Games, the latter supported by a video message from President John F. Kennedy. Detroit narrowly lost to Mexico City, and it will always be one of the great vagaries of history – had the 1967 events in Detroit played out the same way if the city had been close to hosting the Olympics.

Do you think Detroit’s chances will be better if fewer cities bid for the Olympics?

I think the IOC owes Detroit. Detroit had stood in line for 30 years and deserved its shot. It still deserves it. Now would be a good time for the IOC to rethink its strategy of putting the games in glamorous places that don’t really need them – and making more of a grassroots party. As the IOC adapts to the changing environment, Detroit’s chances are likely to improve.

Does Detroit have the hotel space to host the Olympics?

Detroit has many possible places to stay within 50 miles, but far fewer five-star hotel rooms that the Olympic bigwigs usually like to stay in. This is just one example of how a Detroit game can bring the IOC back in touch with its real-world audience.

Can you tell us something about your exhibition?

The exhibit was originally intended to be a physical exhibit at the Detroit Public Library to coincide with the Tokyo Games. Due to the pandemic, we decided to use a virtual platform. The exhibition will discuss the history of Detroit’s failed Olympic bid, the concept of a future Detroit Olympics, the Detroit Olympics, and Olympic architecture in the past and future. We could try offering a physical exhibit if or when it is deemed safe in the future given the ongoing pandemic.

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Dusty Kennedy