May 19, 2016
For virtually every world city, hosting the Olympic Games is a pretty bad bet. It costs billions, for things that won’t get much use afterwards. It’s a political nightmare. And it puts a target on a city for many of the very worst people on earth. The real fears of terrorism create a security budget that far exceeds what an entire Games used to cost not so long ago. As for the facilities, you’d be hard pressed to come up with public works projects with less long term gain.
So, why do many world capitals continue to line up for the privilege to bid? Backlash from a city’s citizens is inevitable now. The bidding process itself is a high priced protracted interview process – for a job where you’ll be the one spending, and losing, all the money.
Still, hosting a Games comes with an ego-boost luster that’s irresistible to plenty of international power players that have long since retired their common sense. The bidding continues for the “privilege”, but for how long?
Talk of a permanent host city or cities is gaining traction, and for good reason. Not too many Olympiads from now, hosting a Games will come to be seen as an expensive chore not a privilege to bid on. So, why not centralize operations and dispense with all this nonsense that surrounds the bid and the migraines that come after “winning”?
It makes sense. Though, when you start considering just who these hosts could be, it gets complicated in a hurry. Here’s a look at some obvious picks, all with some significant strikes against them.
The Greeks did create the Games after all. It’s their legacy, and also, maybe their curse. If anyone deserves to be the permanent host of the Olympics, it would seem to be Olympus itself. And they just built all the facilities twelve years ago. By this time, they might even be finished. Athens would be a fair and worthy pick, but then again, it’s Greece. It’s a financial mess not exactly known for its good governance or long term responsibility. And it’s also a little too close for comfort to many of the most dangerous places on the planet.
Also, a bit less important than safety and stability, but the entire city of Athens empties in August. In 2004 many of the most high profile events didn’t even sell out. The Greeks may have invented this stuff, but if ’04 was any indication, they really don’t care what goes on in late summer in Athens. They won’t be around.
Well, at least we know price won’t be an object. Who knows what the Chinese spent on the 2008 Games? Does anyone care? They certainly didn’t seem to. The important thing was putting on a powerful face to the world – and they succeeded mightily there. I’ll never forget sitting in the Bird’s Nest for the Opening Ceremony, when a co-worker at NBC whispered to me: This is China telling the world they can take over anytime they damn well please. He wasn’t wrong. It was the most daunting Opening Ceremony in history and China spared no expense. Hell, they even controlled the weather – producing chemically clear skies over Beijing throughout most of the Olympic fortnight.
Then again, this is China we’re talking about. China’s relationship with the Olympic world is very much like its relationship with the rest of the world. We need them, but oh how we don’t want to know what goes on over there when we’re not looking. It’s a country with a doping past, and maybe a doping present. But most of all, it’s a country of profound human rights abuse that doesn’t exactly square with the whole Olympic ideal thing.
Biased here, due perhaps to a highly impression trip to the 1984 Games as a kid, and then a few years spent training in that Olympic pool at USC, but if you ask me, L.A. is the ultimate Summer Olympic city. Faster, higher, stronger… Get outside and get fit and take part — yeah, L.A. lives all that Olympicrhetoric. I’m willing to bet that more Olympicchampions and medalists over all the Olympiads have come from Southern California than from anywhere else. No data but observation to support that, but I can’t think of another region of the world with a more engrained summerOlympic sport culture, across the board.
Los Angeles is also one of the only Olympic host cities in history to actually turn a profit on the Games. Thanks to Peter Ueberroth, those Olympics were privately financed and turned a profit of around $250 million. Of course, many also allege that those 1984 Olympics helped create this beast that the Games have become – by corporatizing the rings and transforming the event into a corporate branding behemoth.
Wouldn’t Paris be the perfect Olympic destination? They’ve hosted twice, ages ago, in 1900 and 1924, and they have to be considered the favorites to win the bid for 2024, a century later. That will be announced in September 2017 at the 130th IOC Session in Peru. If there’s a rotation of permanent Olympic host cities, you know one of them has to be in Western Europe, and where better than the City of Lights?
Though, if I’m a citizen of Paris right now I am not keen on this idea. The city has been the victim of brutal terrorist attacks and the scars are fresh. This summer they will host soccer’s Euro Cup where tensions will be high. The threat of terrorism exists in virtually every world capital these days, but nowhere do those threats feel as horribly real as in Paris today.
So, there are four options. They’re pretty decent ones, all things considered. Yet each city would come with serious drawbacks and doubters. Where else could you see as a permanent Olympic host? Because the days of big spending bids and financial fallout are numbered.