Earlier this month, Dallas failed once again to be considered as a potential host city for the Summer Olympics. This decision wasn’t made by the International Olympic Committee—the city’s bid never made it that far. Instead, it was rejected by the U.S. Olympic Committee, a domestic organization that helps determine which U.S. cities that want to throw their hat in the Olympics-hosting ring have the best shot at bringing the Games back to U.S. soil. The USOC dumped Dallas, and kept Boston, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and San Francisco.
It was a familiar tale for Olympics-watchers who’d longed to see the Games played in Big D; a similar bid for the 2012 Summer Games was rejected in 2001. The United States has hosted the Olympics Games more than any other country, with four each among the Summer Olympics and the Winter Games. Those host cities include Salt Lake City, which hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics, and Atlanta, which put on the 1996 Summer Games, as well as such locales as Lake Placid, New York; Squaw Valley, California; and Los Angeles, which has twice played host to the event.
In a report from the Dallas Morning News, staff writer Jeff Mosier lays out the reason why Dallas continues to play bridesmaid, rather than bride, when it comes to the Olympics:
Local Olympic organizers in 2001 said Dallas’ perceived lack of international stature sabotaged its pursuit of the 2012 Summer Games. A statement from the U.S. Olympic Committee — after Dallas was dropped this month from consideration for the 2024 games — hinted at the same issue.
That statement said there were no doubts about Dallas’ ability to host the Olympics, and the USOC planned to work with the officials to “enhance the international awareness of the city.” For those who worked on the Dallas 2012 bid, the new wording evokes memories of the early 2000s.
“I’m not sure much has changed in the past 14 years,” former Arlington Mayor Richard Greene said about how Olympic officials view the region.
He and Ron Kirk, Dallas’ mayor at the time, both blamed the failure of the 2012 effort on the area’s lack of international appeal.
“They did say, ‘We are really looking for a city with an international profile,’” Kirk told The Dallas Morning News at the time. “We still have work to do in terms of becoming well-known around the world.”
In other words, if the world’s Olympics-attending community is going to spend 17 days enjoying a city, it appears that the USOC lacks the confidence that Dallas is where they’d like to do it.
That’s perhaps a surprising thing to hear from a body that brought the games to noted cultural and nightlife hotspot Salt Lake City, Utah, but it’s also ultimately fair: The international audience can certainly appreciate cities like Boston, L.A., D.C., and San Francisco easily, which are home to a number of people from around the world (forty percent of San Francisco’s population was born overseas), and a trip to one of those cities sounds inherently like a vacation.
Dallas, meanwhile, lacks similar stature. If it’s recognized internationally, the shorthand for it isn’t “That’s where all the movie stars live,” like Los Angeles, or “That’s where my cousin lives,” like San Francisco, or “That’s where the President lives,” like D.C.—it’s probably “is that where they made that TV show in the eighties?” There’s a fair argument to say that Dallas’ international stature is largely based on J.R. Ewing and the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, and while those things certainly have their appeal, they’re not exactly the draw as the Smithsonian.
A former Texas Monthly staff writer considered Dallas’ international stature in his 800-page doorstopper of Dallas Cowboys history, published in 2012. As Christopher Kelly wrote here in his review of the book, the Cowboys helped elevate the city’s international stature in the late 70’s and early 80’s:
Patoski goes on to illustrate how clever iconography (the Cowboy’s silver star logo), intriguing, elusive personalities (quarterback Roger Staubach, Coach Tom Landry) and happy coincidence (the television show Dallas began airing in the late seventies, just as the Cowboys’ on-field fortunes were soaring) combined to make Dallas—team and city—into internationally recognized brands.
Those are interesting points, but it’s also possible that the city peaked right around that time. Dallas hasn’t done much on the world stage in the years that have followed, as even Mayor Mike Rawlings seems to recognize as needing to change:
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings takes an optimistic and realistic approach. The mayor said getting a majority vote from a 110-member committee is just an uphill battle for a city like Dallas, which isn’t viewed internationally as one of the world’s top 20 cities.
“It is so much about where people want to vacation,” Rawlings said. “It’s their convention, it’s their chance to go and see a different place.”
He said Dallas needs to continue polishing its profile through events like the recent New Cities Summit, which brought hundreds of people from dozens of countries to discuss urban planning. He also said adding more daily international flights to and from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport enhances the region globally.
There are things that could happen that would boost the city’s profile in the short term, of course—if the Mavs manage to land LeBron James, for example, or if Dallas plays host to the 2016 Republican National Convention (which it’s currently a finalist to do)—but “uphill battle” is the right term for it. The circumstances that brought the Games to Atlanta (an international desire to show off the progress made in the American South in the wake of the Civil Rights Act) and Salt Lake City (forever linked to a bribery scandal) are unlikely to be repeated in Dallas, so until a true cultural shift happens in focusing attention away from the coasts and into Texas—not just domestically, but internationally—Dallas may have to content itself with 11 more years of the Red River Rivalry, an Arkansas/A&M matchup that Jerry Jones is pretty pumped about, and perhaps the RNC.
Of course, that’s only if Dallas impresses the Republicans more than Cleveland does.