Alumni spearhead campaign to bring 2024 Olympics to D.C.

Media Credit: Leah Edwards | Hatchet Photographer

Russ Ramsey, former head of the University's Board of Trustees, is leading a campaign to bring the 2024 Summer Olympics to D.C.

GW alumni are making the case for bringing the 2024 Summer Olympics to D.C. – and those plans could include the University.

Washington 2024 has less than 100 days to decide how they want to pitch the city’s stadiums, buildings and other attractions as reasons why D.C. should host the games. Russ Ramsey, the group’s executive chairman who led GW’s Board of Trustees for six years before stepping down in 2013, hopes to include GW’s downtown campus in the plans.

“By coming here and being exposed as a 17-year-old freshman to all the wonders of this great city and all the diversity of people and interests and ideas, it changed my life forever,” Ramsey said. “Other folks have said that we’re the fittest and the most walkable city, and so all of those combine to make a recipe for what I think would be really one of the most exciting Olympics ever.”

He is one of at least four members of the GW community, including trustee Linda Rabbitt and alumnus and partial Washington Nationals owner Mark Lerner, who are spearheading the effort. Their media blitz, which began this month, pits D.C. against Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Lisa Delpy Neirotti, an associate professor of tourism and sports management who is assisting the campaign, said GW is under consideration as a venue for events like badminton as well as a hub for domestic and international journalists covering the games. She said the University could also house some of the thousands of employees and athletes in several of its 25 residence halls.

If the national committee chooses D.C., the city would then compete with others around the world. And if it beats those cities, it would mark the first time the U.S. has hosted the Olympics since 2002, and would be the first time D.C. has ever hosted the games.

If the District wins the bid, GW would likely take center stage, Neirotti said.

“It would be a benefit for GW because we’re in the center of town, so more people would be exposed to GW,” she said.

Neirotti, who takes students to the Summer and Winter Games as part of a tourism class, said she was not chosen as a board member for the campaign because those spots are for “people who have donated,” but she remains in close contact with Ramsey.

Ramsey, who came to GW on a baseball scholarship and was named to the GW Athletic Hall of Fame in 1995 for his role in the team’s championship season in 1979, said the group will emphasize how hosting the two-and-a-half-week-long event in the nation’s capital would benefit the countries that participate.

“It’s the most international city in America,” Ramsey said. “In a world that seems to be so divided, we think this could foster greater unity.”

Ramsey has met with college and city-wide teams for weeks as he tries to build support for the campaign. Last week, he met with members of the GW club rugby team after its game against Georgetown University. Rugby is coming back to the Summer Games in 2016 for the first time since 1924.

Ramsey received an honorary degree at Commencement in May, just minutes before celebrity chef José Andrés received his own honorary degree and sent off the graduating class. Andrés joined Washington 2024 in September when the entire board was announced.

Mark Ein, owner of the Washington Kastles, said he joined the board because he wants to show the world that the “new Washington” is different from the politics-driven side of the city.

“It’s a city that is in the center of our county but also in the center of democracy, but there’s a whole other part of Washington that’s independent from that, and it’s really the reason that the region is thriving,” he said.

Other members of the campaign board – like Anthony Pierce, a partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, a law firm with a global clientele – are looking at the legal implications of hosting the Olympics, such as intellectual property rights, regulatory issues and real estate zoning.

“There’s a lot of legal issues that could arise,” he said. “We want to make sure that the games are done in a fair and proper way.”

Experts say that while hosting the games may benefit the city, there are many financial drawbacks to hosting one of the world’s most-watched sporting events.

Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College who specializes in the financial impact of the Olympics, said D.C. would have to spend millions of dollars to build stadiums to accommodate the about 33 venues needed to host the Summer Games.

“Some venues are more exotic, like beach volleyball. They’re not nearly as expensive,” he said. “The main expense for a sports venue is the Olympic Stadium.”

The Olympic Stadium, which hosts the opening and closing ceremonies as well as the track and field events during the games, costs hundreds of millions of dollars to build.

Zimbalist also said the Olympics may not have the positive impact on tourism that many may expect. Both London and Beijing, hosts of the Summer Games in 2012 and 2008, respectively, saw a decrease in total number of tourists during the time of the events.

Victor Matheson, an economist from the College of the Holy Cross who researches publicly funded stadiums, said D.C. would not have to build many new stadiums to host the games. D.C.’s public transportation system, three nearby airports and focus on tourism already put the nation’s capital ahead of other cities that have hosted the games before, Matheson said.

“D.C. is actually fairly well positioned to host an Olympic games with fairly minimal infrastructure changes,” he said.

Still, he added that the International Olympic Committee cares most about picking cities that are able to make the games a marketable, high-profile event. The international committee will choose the city that can make the Olympics “grandiose and spectacular,” not the city that makes “economic sense,” he said.

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