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Hosting Shake-Up: L.A. Out as Base for 2019 World Urban Games

6 Mar, 2019

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

The last time a multi-sport event got moved like this, it was called “the most insulting snub in Olympic history.”

Depending on who you ask, though, this might be more of a blessing in disguise.

In a surprise move, the 2019 World Urban Games (a multi-sport event featuring so-called urban sports such as breakdancing and three-on-three basketball), were awarded to Los Angeles in November of 2018 and set to be staged in September of 2019. This week, they were switched to Budapest, Hungary. Budapest will also host the 2021 Games, which had been awarded to L.A. as well.

The question, of course, is why.

If you ask the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF), which administers the Games (much the same way the IOC administers the Olympics), you’ll hear that GAISF senior vice president Raffaele Chiulli says GAISF organizers "couldn't agree on a final program" with L.A. officials. According to other reports, GAISF wanted an event that showcased sports in 14 disciplines and included food, music and art, while L.A. officials (meaning L.A. Times owner Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, who originally had agreed to underwrite the Games) wanted something on a smaller scale, more along the lines of a weekend-long street festival that included just a few sports. Ultimately, L.A. officials chose to put on their own festival (more on this below), without the involvement of GAISF. A lack of commonalities between the two entities had become increasingly apparent and reached critical mass only four months after the awarding of hosting duties. An article in Inside The Games noted a host city contract (perhaps presciently) had not been signed between GAISF and officials in Los Angeles, and GAISF elected to move the World Urban Games to Budapest, a mere six months before they are to take place.

Original plans for the Urban Games called for the construction of a purpose-built urban park in the El Segundo area, not far from LAX Airport. According to an article in the L.A. Times, the first to elaborate on the split, "The Los Angeles event will continue independently as the “L.A. Street Festival,” which will take place over two days and nights in El Segundo, with a program featuring three-on-three basketball, eSports and a cultural festival. Soon-Shiong, in a statement, said his involvement with the World Urban Games started with a conversation he had with a friend, former FIBA Secretary General Patrick Baumann, who died in October."

“Together with members of the organizing committee, I’d hoped to see Patrick’s vision through, to create the first World Urban Games, and host it here,” Soon-Shiong said. “As we reviewed the requirements with GAISF, we proposed a more focused event for the first year out. We wanted to build on the popularity of  three-on-three basketball and eSports and create a festival that would engage young people across the community. That proposal became the L.A. Street Festival, which we will produce and host this September.”

While no city enjoys losing international hosting duties, it is likely the loss of the World Urban Games will not be that bitter a pill to swallow, considering all that the U.S. (not to mention California) has in the hopper. San Diego is going to be hosting the World Beach Games in October of 2019 – mere weeks after the Urban Games were to be held. The World Games are coming to Birmingham, Alabama, in 2021 and the FIFA World Cup takes place in 2026. And let’s not forget that L.A. already has an enormous commitment on its plate, as host of the 2028 Summer Olympics – an event far more complex than the Urban Games.

GAISF, meanwhile, is touting the benefits of Budapest and noting that it is an international sports destination on the rise, having hosted the 2017 FINA World Championships.

Budapest was campaigning for, but was not selected to host, the 2024 Olympics.

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