Fact Check: Two Cities, One Olympic Dream

Fact Check: Two Cities, One Olympic Dream

Photo by Sam Hodgson

San Diego Mayor Bob Filner and Tijuana Mayor Carlos Bustamante announce the opening of an office space for the city of San Diego in the Tijuana Economic Development Corp.'s office in Tijuana, Mexico.

Image: Huckster Propaganda
Statement: “We are developing a proposal for the first binational Summer Olympics in world history for 2024!” Mayor Bob Filner, in an Aug. 12 statement in response to a notice of intent to file a recall petition.

Determination: Huckster Propaganda

Analysis: Since February, Mayor Bob Filner has been persistent in trying to put together the first-ever binational Summer Olympics bid from San Diego and Tijuana.

The idea wasn’t brand new: Philanthropist-businessman Malin Burnham started a binational organizing committee in 2004 to make a 2016 San Diego-Tijuana Olympics reality, but the bid was denied by the U.S. Olympic Committee.

At the time, the U.S. Olympic Committee cited the International Olympic Committee’s historical refusal to allow dual-nation bids.

Almost 10 years later, Filner revived the idea at a gathering to dedicate San Diego’s binational affairs office in Tijuana.

In late April, Patrick Sandusky, spokesman for the U.S. Olympic Committee said, “There’s no opportunity to bid them together.”

Filner shot back that the rules should be changed.

But in early July, Vince Mudd, chairman of the exploratory committee seeking to bring the 2024 Olympic Games to town, warned that San Diego should put the binational bid to rest for good.

“The International Olympic Committee put its foot down and said it will not change its charter,” he said.

That seemed to put the issue to bed. That is, until Filner bragged this week that the binational bid was still a go. In a statement that served as his official response to a notice of intent to file a recall petition, Filner detailed his accomplishments in office, arguing that a recall would take the city “backwards.”

Filner’s kicker: “Our position as one of the biggest bi-national metropolitan areas in the world promises new trade, new cultural interchanges and new possibilities. We are developing a proposal for the first bi-national Summer Olympics in world history for 2024!”

Mudd directly contradicted Filner’s statement Tuesday, and said the bid is a San Diego-only affair. “We are not going to submit a binational bid to the U.S. national committee,” he said.

Mudd said he met with Filner last month – before the mayor’s sexual harassment scandal broke – to talk about the plans.

At their meeting, Mudd said he told Filner that continued public discussion of a binational bid – after national and International Olympic officials said it wouldn’t work – could hurt the effort.

Mudd said he is unaware of a separate binational proposal being developed by Mexico.

There are no representatives from Mexico currently involved in San Diego’s exploratory committee.

If Mexico were developing a binational proposal, separate from San Diego’s single-city proposal, such an effort would still violate the rules. Each national Olympic committee is allowed to submit only one city in its bid.

The mayor’s lawyer, who distributed the mayor’s statement on Filner’s behalf, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Nor could Lee Burdick, Filner’s chief of staff.

On Wednesday, Mudd tweeted a link to the San Diego 2024 Exploratory Committee website, which says that its mission is to bring the Olympic Games to the San Diego “mega-region.”

The international rules state that all Olympic sporting events are to take place in the host city, unless the International Committee authorizes them to take place in another venue in the same country.

It’s worth noting that the Olympic rules specifically mention an exception for only the Winter Olympics – it allows the use of facilities in a bordering country if the host country is incapable of accommodating certain sporting events.

The U.S. Olympic Committee declined to comment Wednesday.

The current San Diego proposal, which hasn’t been presented to the U.S. national committee, involves using venues in the greater San Diego region, including Baja California, southern Orange County and nearby tribal lands.

Because Tijuana is in Baja California, Mudd’s expectation is that the city could potentially be involved. But Mudd said “the whole bid won’t fall apart” if the national Olympic committee doesn’t like that idea.

Although the two cities are nearby, the involvement of two different governments traditionally has not been allowed by the International Olympic Committee.

What has been allowed in the past is for nearby cities within the same country to help the host city by providing venues or sites to stage events.

For example, the sailing competition for the 2008 Summer Olympics was held in the coastal city of Qingdao, China, nearly 500 miles away from the host city, Beijing.

And soccer events for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta were held at stadiums in Orlando, Washington, D.C. and elsewhere.

In his statement, Filner billed the binational bid as an exciting, first-of-its-kind undertaking.

We labeled this statement huckster propaganda — our highest rating — because Filner was told by the local exploratory committee that their bid would not involve a joint venture with Tijuana, and by the national and international Olympic committees that officials were not interested in changing the rules.

The involvement of other nearby cities that allow the use of their facilities wouldn’t make those cities partners in a bid, or co-hosts of the Games. It would simply make them neighbors lending a hand.

In his statement, Filner was not referring to the practice of nearby cities allowing the use of their facilities. Instead, he claimed that San Diego was on the cusp of doing something unprecedented: a “binational Summer Olympics.”

Filner should have known by now that his committee is pursuing a bid for San Diego alone.

“Everyone knows that’s inaccurate,” said Mudd.

Mudd, who has served as exploratory committee chairman for two years, said he is concerned that a continued dialogue about a binational bid – after Olympic officials have given a clear no – could tarnish San Diego’s Olympic hopes.

“We need to once and for all put this issue to bed,” he said.

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Alex Corey

Alex Corey

Alex Corey is a reporting intern at Voice of San Diego. You can contact him directly at alex.corey@voiceofsandiego.org.

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4 comments
David Crossley
David Crossley

"We need to once and for all put this issue to bed." Great idea. Please get over the idea of having the Olympics in San Diego in 2024.

David Crossley
David Crossley subscriber

"We need to once and for all put this issue to bed." Great idea. Please get over the idea of having the Olympics in San Diego in 2024.

Joe LaCava
Joe LaCava

Jumped the shark on that one!!! Claim: "...a proposal for the first bi-national Summer Olympics..."!!! Your Research: "current San Diego proposal...involves using venues in the greater San Diego region, including Baja California..." Analysis: Last time I checked Baja California is in Mexico. That would make it bi-national proposal in my book. You mistakenly fact checked a former "bi-national/two city bid" statement instead of the specific citation. Article uses "bid" 9 times but the claim says "proposal;" an important difference. By the way, your brief research suggests (a) that venues can be in other cities and (b) no other Olympics has had venues in a second country (If there is an exception for Winter, why not for Summer?), so "first," if successful, appears valid as well. Actual: Arguably the claim is TRUE (it is bi-national!) or BARELY TRUE (Mexico isn't bidding.) Or as a stretch MISLEADING since the claim didn't carefully refute prior claims and thus the reader could think it was still a bi-national bid. Bottom line: Not sure anyone cares at this point!! But thanks for letting me play!

Joe LaCava
Joe LaCava subscribermember

Jumped the shark on that one!!! Claim: "...a proposal for the first bi-national Summer Olympics..."!!! Your Research: "current San Diego proposal...involves using venues in the greater San Diego region, including Baja California..." Analysis: Last time I checked Baja California is in Mexico. That would make it bi-national proposal in my book. You mistakenly fact checked a former "bi-national/two city bid" statement instead of the specific citation. Article uses "bid" 9 times but the claim says "proposal;" an important difference. By the way, your brief research suggests (a) that venues can be in other cities and (b) no other Olympics has had venues in a second country (If there is an exception for Winter, why not for Summer?), so "first," if successful, appears valid as well. Actual: Arguably the claim is TRUE (it is bi-national!) or BARELY TRUE (Mexico isn't bidding.) Or as a stretch MISLEADING since the claim didn't carefully refute prior claims and thus the reader could think it was still a bi-national bid. Bottom line: Not sure anyone cares at this point!! But thanks for letting me play!