On a warm July evening 33 years ago Rafer Johnson lit the Olympic Flame at the Los Angeles Coliseum, marking the beginning of one the most successful Olympic Games in history. In front of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) this week in Switzerland, Los Angeles will make its case to bring the Olympic Games back to Southern California in 2024. The final vote will take place on September 13. No one is better positioned to offer insight into sport’s grandest event than LA 2024 Chief Strategy Officer Angela Ruggiero, who has spent the last several years working to make LA’s Olympic dream a reality. The Hockey Hall of Famer and four-time Olympic medalist has served on the IOC since 2010. She currently serves on the IOC’s executive committee, and since 2016 has been Chairperson of the IOC’s Athlete’s Commission, the voice of athletes within the Olympic Movement. In addition to her work with LA 2024 and the IOC, she is co-founder and managing director of Sports Innovation Lab, which focuses on the intersection of sports and technology. She is a graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Business School. A three-time speaker at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, in 2017 she shared her views on the future of international sports governance.
The IOC will gather on September 13 in Lima, Peru to award the 2024 and 2028 Summer Olympic Games, choosing between Los Angeles and Paris. For the uninitiated, what is the process for bidding to host the Olympics? Who are the voters that will make this decision?
The voters are the 90+ current International Olympic Committee Members who [first ratified] a proposal by the IOC Executive Board to approve a joint awarding of the 2024 and 2028 Olympics in June.
Los Angeles stepped up to the plate as America’s candidate city after Boston withdrew in 2015 due to a lack of public support. When you and Casey Wasserman welcomed the IOC Evaluation Committee to Los Angeles in May, you noted that the LA 2024 bid enjoys the backing of 88 percent of Angelenos. What’s been the key to building public support for this bid?
The 1984 Games in Los Angeles were a resounding success. Those Games revolutionized the way the Games were delivered and created a new business model for the Olympic Movement, which created a surplus within their budget, which still lives on today via the LA84 Foundation endowment. The people who were able to see those Games—either watching as a spectator, volunteering, or even being a part of the citywide celebration—are all part of that 88 percent public support and want the Olympics to come back to their city. When you feel the Games firsthand, I believe they change you and provide inspiration that is unparalleled.
Sustainability has become a focus of the Olympic Movement, as it relates to both environment and financing the event. From using existing venues, to relying on UCLA to host the athlete and media villages, LA 2024 has taken a more fiscally conservative approach than past bidders. How did the question of sustainability shape your strategy when you sat down in 2015?
Following the direction of the IOC and the Olympic Agenda 2020 (our strategic roadmap for the IOC), LA 2024 has implemented the most sustainable Games plan in Olympic History! 100 percent of venues are existing or will be temporary. Thus, no “white elephants” and a focus on sustainability and use of existing infrastructure—including the Athletes’ Village at UCLA. This strategy is at the core of all we do and have put forward.
In addition to being Chief Strategy Officer for LA 2024, you’re also an IOC Member. What’s it been like to experience the bidding process from the other side of the table? Has this experience impacted your view of the bidding process and how Olympic host cities are chosen?
I have been an IOC Member since 2010 when I was elected by the world’s athletes while participating in my fourth and final Olympic Games. I am the current Chair of the IOC Athletes Commission and now sit on the Executive Board. I’ve put that experience as an athlete and on the EB, coupled with my experience evaluating and voting in the last three Games (where Pyeongchang, Beijing, and Tokyo were awarded the Games), in the service of Los Angeles and the future of the Games. The bidding process—or candidature process—is in the process of changing, as we are looking at ways to make it better. We have already seen this on the Winter side and are now looking at it from the Summer perspective. Like any organization, we (the IOC) are looking at ways to get better so that more people worldwide can experience the magic of the Games.
You’ve spent a lot of time in New England dating back to prep school, but you’re from the Los Angeles area originally. What’s it been like getting re-acquainted with your hometown and getting to represent it on the world stage?
I love Los Angeles. I was born and raised there and it is where I laced up my first pair of ice skates. My Olympic dreams started in LA as a child, so it is very fulfilling to think that I can help LA bring the Games back so that the dream is born for the next generation. It has been like a homecoming for me and cannot wait to show off the possibilities of Los Angeles in 2024.
Finally, since we’re all about numbers at SSAC, how many miles have you logged in the air over the last two years promoting LA 2024?
I am embarrassed to say. I can tell you that I will treat myself to a nice long vacation when this is all over!