By Trevor Busch
The prohibitive cost of hosting an Olympic Games apparently isn’t the only thing that has prospective cities pulling out of a bid for the coveted sporting events. It might be the deciding factor, but the continuing antics of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) must have something do to with why many countries appear to be giving their bids for the Games the big heave-hoe.
Earlier this month, Oslo, Norway announced they were dropping out of the bidding for the 2022 Winter Olympics, leaving only Almaty, Kazakhstan and Beijing, China — two countries not exactly known for their stellar human rights records or devotion to democratic freedoms — as the sole bidders for the Games.
As if the eye-popping $5.4 billion price tag wasn’t enough to deter the small Scandinavian country from hosting the Games, the IOC’s almost incredible demands might have put it over the top for the Norwegians.
Just a smattering from the IOC’s more than 7,000 page document listing their private requirements for an Olympic Games tends to explain why many describe the organization as a corrupt and elitist cabal that believes the cities and nations of the world need to service their every whim, no matter what the cost or inconvenience.
An official translation of the list found posted online includes separate lanes to be created on roadways for IOC members, which are not to be used by “regular” people or public transportation, separate entrances and exits to and from airports, meeting rooms to be kept at exactly 20 degrees Celsius at all times, all furniture to be Olympic shaped or have Olympic appearance, extended hours for hotel bars, complimentary fully stocked bars at virtually all locations, and prima donna treatment by royalty, local dignitaries and government officials of all shapes and sizes.
And perhaps the most baffling inclusion on this list? IOC members will be “greeted with a smile when arriving at their hotels”. The fact that the IOC felt it needed to include this demand on its list is perhaps even more indicative of just how out of touch the organization actually is.
On the other hand, maybe Oslo finally woke up to the fact that Olympic Games aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be. The so-called hook of “legacy facilities” that will be used by countless generations of upcoming Olympians to justify the exorbitant infrastructure costs of hosting a Games is a claim that doesn’t bear up under close scrutiny, at least in the past few decades.
Only a cursory examination of these “legacies” from a few notable Olympic Games in the recent past indicates the billions poured into their construction might have been better spent paying down deficits or dealing with crippling national debts.
In the case of Athens, Greece in 2004, abandoned facilities now dot the surrounding city and area, left to decay in the face of Greece’s EU debacle with ballooning debt. Money well spent, cradle of democracy?
In Sochi, Russia, media stories have arisen about now-virtually abandoned facilities after the Russians poured billions into the tiny resort community for the 2014 Winter Games. Couldn’t that have been better spent buying a few more tank divisions to line the Ukrainian border, Comrade Putin?
Ethnic cleansing in the war-ravaged former Yugoslavia also did a good job of flushing Sarajevo’s 1984 legacy facilities down the drain in rain of shellfire. Atlanta’s Olympic Stadium, formerly the home of the Atlanta Braves, is slated for implosion a la Kingdome only two decades after construction. Sites in Beijing are reportedly overgrown and disused.
And what about right here in Canada? Montreal’s now-deserted, cavernous Olympic Stadium — perhaps the biggest infrastructure flop in modern Olympic history — probably hasn’t been rent asunder only because many engineering analysts believe it might cost more to demolish it than to leave it be, mainly due to its unique block-style concrete construction. The story of the Big Owe just keeps on getting better and better for Montreal. On the other hand, the stadium is still one of the largest by seating capacity in Canada, at nearly 75,000. Too bad it now only plays host to the odd Grey Cup or occasional AC/DC concert — when it isn’t managing to rain huge chucks of concrete debris and roofing material down on unsuspecting fans.
So in many cases — Calgary being a quite notable exception — the legacy facilities argument doesn’t hold much water. And in the post 9-11 world, the cost of hosting an Olympic Games is only rising exponentially with each passing year, with security budgets topping almost every other spending consideration.
And it doesn’t take a genius to determine that only the countries with the big mullah to spend on Olympics have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting tapped by the IOC to host an Olympic Games, which is a shame for an institution devoted to brotherhood through sport. When might we see an African Games, for instance, a continent that has remained bereft of the graces of the IOC?
While admittedly many of these struggling nations have better things to spend their meagre dollars on, is it likely in our lifetimes we will ever see a Games hosted in Lagos, Nigeria, or Cape Town, South Africa? Probably not, if only because places like Freetown, Sierra Leone or Kinshasa, Congo don’t exactly have that billionaire-chic appeal.
To be sure, it isn’t because they have objectionable or questionable regimes in power. Take a look at some of the nations that have hosted Olympic Games in recent years and you can read between the lines of public relations whitewash and come to your own conclusions about what truly rules the roost for the IOC, and that’s big dollar figures.
In the end, the IOC may eventually slit their own throats. The cost benefit analysis studies for host cities and nations are out there, and they’re growing in number — and not all post rosy numbers for what used to be a slam dunk.
If the IOC thinks more and more host countries aren’t eyeing those alarming numbers when considering making a bid for an Olympic Games, they’re dreaming. Almaty, Kazakhstan in 2022 anybody? Don’t be surprised if they’re the last man standing because no one else is willing to take on the cost.
Or maybe they’ll be the only ones still willing to roll out the red carpet for the elitist-entitlement crowd that self-generates the apparently palatial egos of the IOC.