Even before the noise and lights of the opening spectacle of the summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro have died down many people are questioning whether the spiralling costs and ever expanding size of the games have dimmed their once lustrous reputation. The conclusion that more and more people seem to be reaching is that the once-fabled Olympic Games are no longer worth the cost and disruption. It is way past time for the International Olympic Committee to re-think the direction of the games.
There is a simple, admittedly radical, solution to the increasing problem of finding a city willing and able to host the sports spectacular. Stop the ridiculous, very expensive competition among cities that can hardly afford a decent water system let alone the Olympic Games. Return the games to their original location and make Athens the permanent site for future summer Olympic Games. Why not? The venues are already there from the 2004 games. The Greeks have demonstrated they know how to run a big event. The money has already been spent. The infrastructure is in place. And Greece could use the guaranteed injection of significant funds every four years. Think about it.
Rio may have seemed like a brilliant, well deserved choice when awarded the games back in 2009. But in recent years Brazil has not only been in a downward economic and political trend, but is beset with the dangerous zika virus. In short, Brazil currently has many higher priorities than the Olympic Games that are irrelevant to the vast majority of Brazilians.
Just look at the growth of the modern games. In the 1964 Tokyo summer games there were 163 events in 19 sports with 5,151 athletes. This year in Rio there are 306 events in 42 sports with 11,192 athletes competing. And as for the costs … the Saïd Business School at Oxford University analysed 30 summer and winter games and concluded that none of the games came within initial budget. The study, contested as one might expect by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), also concluded nearly half the games exceeded their cost estimates by more than 100%.
The study also noted that sports-related costs (venues and the athletes’ village) amounted to $6.8 billion for the 2008 summer Olympic Games in Beijing, $15 billion for the 2012 games in London, and dropping back to around $5 billion for the 2016 games. The sports-related costs for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia came in at an eye-popping $21.9 billion. That number ballooned to about $50 billion, when related infrastructure costs are included.
What is clear is that by any measure the sky-rocketing costs of the games are deterring many cities from even placing a bid. Boston, for example, pulled out of the bidding for the 2024 summer games when it became clear that the taxpayers of the city would be responsible for the inevitable cost overruns. Hamburg also pulled out following a referendum showing that the population did not want the games. The new mayor of Rome said that city, already €13 billion in debt, simply cannot afford the spectacle. That leaves Los Angeles, Paris and Budapest as the remaining possibilities.
Four of the six cities that bid for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games later withdrew those bids, leaving the IOC with the choice of Beijing or Alma Ata, Kazakhstan. Beijing was the ‘lucky’ winner.
Oslo, Norway was the preferred choice for the 2022 winter games but withdrew because of lack of public support and annoyance at some of the IOC’s ludicrous demands such as free liquor for IOC members and a cocktail party with the King of Norway. This was too much for the sensible, egalitarian Norwegians. Furthermore, with historically low unemployment and excellent existing infrastructure Oslo didn’t need the games to improve things.
The time has come to rein in the games and stop them from becoming the athletic equivalent of the over-the-top Eurovision contest. The athletes have trained very hard for several years. Their sacrifices and nobility of effort should not be overshadowed by the circus atmosphere of organizers' problems with financing, construction, idiotic demands by for special privileges by IOC members, doping scandals, or variable international politics. And the people of the host city should not be left with very expensive white elephants that only deteriorate over time.
|Time to return the Games to their roots|
I say again, bring the games home – permanently. There are plenty of international athletic competitions – World Cup of football, World Cup of rugby, tennis tournaments, world championships in almost all sports – that can be moved around to satisfy the egos of various host countries. But there is only one summer Olympic Games. And those games and the athletes should have the dignity of a permanent home -- where it all started and where all the preparations are in place.