The reason Boston’s residents didn’t want to be Athens is the same reason the residents of Oslo or Krakow or Stockholm don’t want to be Athens. Hosting an Olympics is a corporate sinkhole sucking billions of dollars and a city’s future into a bottomless abyss of excess.
The internet is clogged with slide shows of empty, broken, useless stadiums built in the euphoria of a coming Olympics or World Cup then abandoned soon after, allowed to fill with weeds, rodents and other signs of human escape. Is there a better sign of Greece’s collapse than a pile of useless sports facilities crumbling since the torch went out in the summer of 2004? What use did Athens have for a baseball stadium anyway? It’s crumbling among the weeds just like the field hockey venue, the canoeing center and the training pool green with algae.
Those who were going to force the Olympics on Boston vowed their Games would be frugal, insisting they would build upon existing facilities and erect temporary stadiums, cutting costs. But even the $4.5bn required to organize the Games and $6bn needed in new roads and parks seemed perilously low when considering the massive amount of building needed to placate the International Olympic Committee. While Rome and Paris will fight for the right to put itself in financial peril a bigger truth should be clear:
Why should anyone want to host an Olympics anymore?
On Friday the IOC will vote to see which city is going to host the 2022 Winter Games. The vote is between Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan. And this may well represent the future of Olympic bidding – cities in countries who will spend any amount to run a Games hoping to make an international political statement.
“The thing I’ve learned is that you have to have local support,” said Jeff Ruffolo, an American who was heavily involved in operating Beijing’s 2008 Olympics, has helped China prepare its 2022 bid and has worked on other bids in the US, including a failed attempt in Honolulu for 2024.
Boston did not have local support for the 2024 Summer Games. A small group of businesspeople, signing up for six-figure salaries, forced the bid through the US Olympic Committee despite strong opposition in the city’s neighborhoods. A similar grassroots opposition worked against the bid proposals in Oslo, Krakow and Stockholm for the 2022 Winter Games. The costs of hosting the Olympics seemed too extreme, the rewards too small.
“The idea of a bidding process is a joke,” Ruffolo said. “Everybody’s laughing about it except for the people in Lausanne (Switzerland, home of the IOC). They don’t realize they are riding a dead horse. There was a time when the Olympics was a good thing – Los Angeles in 1984, Barcelona in 1992, even Beijing needed 2008 to prove to the world it could do this – now since 2008 it’s a poison pill.
“The Olympics are dead. It’s a dying concept no one wants to touch.”
After Rome, Paris, Hamburg and maybe Toronto or Doha – all fighting to host the 2024 Games – the list of Olympic hopefuls may quickly dwindle until only bidders will be places like Beijing or Qatar or breakaway Soviet republic. These are places that won’t need to worry about local opposition when writing checks in the name of national pride. The concept of getting one big city to compete against another, with each promising more extravagance is probably an old one. Fewer municipalities will have the money to waste.
Ruffolo has spent much of the last 10 years in China, working for a government that would spend whatever it takes to prove to the world that its system is the best. China had little trouble building its grounds for the Beijing Games and seems to care little that the facilities from those Olympics remain unused. The point was never an eternal, reusable city.
As part of its 2022 bid, Beijing’s organizers will pull from a nearby lake to manufacture the piles of snow needed for mountain sports and will construct a giant, high-speed rail line to whisk athletes and spectators from the city to the remote outdoor locations. Who can compete against this? Who would want to?
China will keep bidding for every international event that comes along, overwhelming competitors from more democratic nations by promising to deliver anything necessary to land those games.
“The Chinese don’t give a crud about the Winter Olympics,” Ruffolo said. “What they really, really, really want to do is host a World Cup. They put in a [Winter Olympics] bid because they were asked to do it. We need to think like the Chinese [in the US]. We need to put our efforts behind one city.”
If the US wants to be able to host another Olympics, Ruffolo said, it must build momentum for a single city, pushing that city for as much as 10 years. Failed bids in New York for 2012 and Chicago for 2016 should have shown how ill-prepared American cities are to compete for an Olympics in today’s world. Boston’s withdrawal on Monday said volumes about the effort to generate local interest in hosting a Games.
Meanwhile, in Kuala Lumpur, the IOC gathers, this week, to choose the 2022 Winter Games. Beijing or Almaty. It probably doesn’t matter. The choice might well be the future of Olympic bids.
This article was written by Les Carpenter, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 28th July 2015 15.28 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010