The Olympics are here, and I’m not sure how to feel about it.


On the one hand, I’m thrilled that a South American city is hosting the Olympic Games for the first time. In an age of fear and loathing, the Parade of Nations and spectacle of countries competing peacefully is most welcome.
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On the other hand, do such benefits justify the Brazilian government and private investors spending somewhere between $12 billion and $20 billion—roughly the gross domestic product of Iceland—to host the Summer Olympics?

Do they justify shelling out all that money on an event that will probably generate only $4 or $5 billion in revenue?

The question is:

Why in this age of technologies should we spend billions to move the greatest sport show around the world when it does not matter where it is held.

The ancient Greeks held the Olympic Games in Olympia, and only Olympia, for centuries.

“This set-up seemed to work fine.”

In the late 19th century, the French intellectual Pierre de Coubertin revived the Olympics, which had lapsed in the fourth century when the Roman Emperor Theodosius banned “pagan cults.”

Coubertin’s intention was to rotate the competition among European and American cities, in an effort to promote “peace” and an “international” spirit.

For much of the twentieth century, the staging of the Olympic Games represented a manageable burden for the host cities. The events were held in developed countries, either in Europe or the United States, and in the era before television broadcasting, hosts didn’t expect to make a profit. Instead, the games were publically funded, with these advanced countries better positioned to bear the costs due to their larger economies and more advanced infrastructure.

In recent years, many Olympic host cities have had to reckon with corruption, ballooning costs, under investment in public services in the run-up to the Games, and projects that don’t help—and sometimes harm—much of the population.

Once the festivities end, cities are frequently left with a load of debt and a bunch of useless mega structures.

How about when the bankrupt Rio government can’t pay for security and other basic services, and when Olympic funds have largely gone toward the construction of stadiums, housing, and subway lines that will benefit the rich more than the poor?are not unique to Brazil.

The jobs created by Olympics construction are often temporary, and unless the host region is suffering from high unemployment, the jobs mostly go to workers who are already employed.

Ultimately, there is little evidence for an overall positive economic impact. Much of the profit brought in by hotels, chain restaurants, and construction firms goes to international companies rather than remaining in the local economy.

A growing number of economists argue that both the short and long-term benefits of hosting the games are at best exaggerated and at worst nonexistent, leaving many host countries with large debts and maintenance liabilities.

Instead, many argue, the bidding and selection process should be reformed to incentivize realistic budget planning, increase transparency, and promote sustainable investments that serve the public interest.

All of this can be achieved by removing many of the autocratic government’s jockeying to host the Olympics these days by returning the Games to their home Greece.

So let’s consider the feasibility of making Greece (the original home of the Olympic Games) once more the host country on a permanent basis and ending the costly Olympics rotation that take many forms.

Of course the choice of a permanent home for the Games would be highly contentious. But such a responsibility could be exercised imaginatively, and even used as a form of developmental aid.

No matter how much costs are defrayed by the IOC and others, can any one country really bear the burden of hosting an event as massive as the Olympics every four years?

Yes it could.

Greece could ease its debt crisis by selling land, establishing a Summer Olympics city, and year-round convention and training center, on a sparsely inhabited Greek island.

The location, like the Vatican, could be granted neutral status, the Greek government would provide territory and infrastructure, and the IOC and its member states would fund construction by issuing bonds or loans based on future media revenues.

In the long run the financial savings would be massive. Greece would essentially be renting out its Olympics infrastructure.

The games are growing rapidly, with the number of Summer Olympics participants almost doubling and the number of events increasing by a third during the 1960s.

Every Olympics since 1960 has seen major cost overruns.

Since the leaders of Russia and China aren’t accountable to voters, they are free to spend as much as $50 billion on the competition. Meanwhile, in many democracies, support for hosting the Olympics is waning—especially amid concerns about economic stagnation and income inequality.

Costs spiraled to over $45 billion for Beijing’s Summer Games in 2008, over $50 billion for the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, in 2014, and an estimated $20 billion for Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

Los Angeles is the only city to turn a profit on hosting the Olympics, finishing with a $215 million operating surplus.in large part because the city was able to almost totally rely on already existing infrastructure.

Despite exceptions such as the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, “in most cases the Olympics are a money-losing proposition for host cities.”

In 1972, Denver became the first and only chosen host city to reject its Olympics after voters passed a referendum refusing additional public spending for the games.

But wouldn’t installing the Olympics in one country tarnish the global nature of the Games?

No it would not.

After all where you win a gold medal is of no consequence it is the passion that counts. The Olympics would still be a celebration of human diversity.

Of course there is the other option. 

Take advantage of modern technology to hold a “decentered” Olympic Games where different cities simultaneously host different athletic events.

This option has many drawbacks security wise, cost wise, and with every change of venue, millions of staff-hours of know-how are lost.

“Decentering” the Olympic Games would at once make the competition more global by diversifying host countries and less global by not gathering athletes in one place.

Another alternative.

What if the IOC granted long-term hosting rights to one city, which in turn could sell rights to host each Olympic Games to a different country?

So the IOC could offer this exclusive right to a developing country that desperately needs foreign investment.

Is it reasonable to expect a city to serve as the permanent site of the Games, but then relinquish the right to host it and get all the glory?

These alternatives are far from perfect.

Imagine, for instance, Kenya organizing the opening and closing ceremonies in London.

For me there is little point running around the world with a flame that was conceived by Adolf Hitler for the 1936 Berlin Olympics Games.

If sport want to contribute to World Peace it should be detached from Drugs and Politics.

Just think what it should achieve.  Not only could it be the saving of the European Union. It could generate thousands of jobs and save a generation of young people from a life on the shelves of despair.

If all the Sport Federations of the World and those who are honored to compete demanded a Permanent Home for the Olympics it would happen.

Yet the status quo may prevail.

Promising proposals like these are unlikely to get serious consideration from the International Olympic Committee, which is reaping rewards from the current arrangement, even if most inhabitants of host cities are not.

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