I’ll admit it: I love the Olympics.
That might not be cool to say, but I’ve loved watching the games ever since I saw the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid. I remember sitting in my living room in Michigan watching the big US-USSR hockey game with my Mom and the joy that erupted in beating the Russians.
So, I’m not one of those people who thinks the Games are a waste of time and would gladly see it die a horrible death. I think the games are a good thing for sports and just for fun.
That said, when the price of fun is astronomical, even I might say “pass.”
That’s what’s been happening in the run up to next summer’s vote on which city will host the 2022 Winter Olympics. Cities such as Munich, Stockholm and Krakow have withdrawn bids mostly because the public is not interested in paying an astronomical price for buildings that won’t have use after the Olympic Flame goes out.
Yesterday, Oslo, Norway was the latest city to pull out of the bid process. This winter crazed nation which has hosted the games twice before withdrew for the same reason Munich, Stockholm and Krakow did: the public was passing on the price.
This leaves two cities in bid process: the two worst choices. Beijing, China which hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics and Almaty, Kazakhstan. Beijing is a bad choice because there are no mountains within 120 miles of the city. Almaty is even worse because a) no one even knows where this is and b) Kazakhstan is basically a dictatorship.
So why has this bid process been so bad? Two reasons: first is the $51 billion Russia spent on the Sochi games. Second, the International Olympic Committee is basically run by corrupt crooks. Associated Press writer John Leicester explains what’s gone haywire at the IOC:
Selling the Olympics should be a slam-dunk. Rosy-cheeked, sculpted athletes in the prime of life doing eye-popping things on skis, skates and sleds. What’s not to like? They are not the problem; the circus that the IOC has built around them and itself is. Too expensive, too demanding, too insensitive, too self-important. The list of requirements that the IOC now expects of its hosts has grown to thousands of pages, down to the smallest and pettiest details. Even flowers for medal winners, for example, must be an IOC-regulated size and not have too much pollen, “to reduce any allergy issues for those holding the bouquets.”
Time for a reality check. The IOC should fuss less and focus more on trimming the costs, complexity and tone-deafness of the games. It also must wean itself off dubious governments with fat wallets and bad reputations. Because their dirt and bad decisions rub off. IOC glad-handing of Vladimir Putin at the Sochi Games looked like a bad mistake when Russia annexed the Crimea peninsula not long after the closing ceremony. And the $51 billion spent by Russia to prepare the Black Sea resort, plus complaints of displaced homeowners and thugs who horsewhipped punk girls from Pussy Riot, made those weeks in February feel like a distillation of everything that’s wrong with the Olympics.
Slate got a hold of some of the IOC’s requests that ended up pissing off the Norwegians. It’s a doozy:
- They demand to meet the king prior to the opening ceremony. Afterwards, there shall be a cocktail reception. Drinks shall be paid for by the Royal Palace or the local organizing committee.
- Separate lanes should be created on all roads where IOC members will travel, which are not to be used by regular people or public transportation.
- A welcome greeting from the local Olympic boss and the hotel manager should be presented in IOC members’ rooms, along with fruit and cakes of the season. (Seasonal fruit in Oslo in February is a challenge …)
- The hotel bar at their hotel should extend its hours “extra late” and the minibars must stock Coke products.
- The IOC president shall be welcomed ceremoniously on the runway when he arrives.
- The IOC members should have separate entrances and exits to and from the airport.
- During the opening and closing ceremonies a fully stocked bar shall be available. During competition days, wine and beer will do at the stadium lounge.
- IOC members shall be greeted with a smile when arriving at their hotel.
- Meeting rooms shall be kept at exactly 20 degrees Celsius at all times.
- The hot food offered in the lounges at venues should be replaced at regular intervals, as IOC members might “risk” having to eat several meals at the same lounge during the Olympics.
Can we say “diva?”
In response to Norway telling the IOC to….umm “forget” themselves, the IOC responded in the most condescending tone imaginable:
This is a missed opportunity for the City of Oslo and for all the people of Norway who are known world-wide for being huge fans of winter sports. And it is mostly a missed opportunity for the outstanding Norwegian athletes who will not be able to reach new Olympic heights in their home country.
The reason the 2022 Winter Games bidding process is such a disaster is not because the citizens of Germany, Sweden, Poland and Norway are cheapskates that hate the Olympics. These are all strong winter sports nations that rack up the medals during the Winter Olympics, after all. No, the problem lies with the IOC itself. It has long been considered corrupt, but this time we all got to see the ugliness.
In another example of its tin ear, the IOC will not reopen the bid process- not that any other city or nation is going to put up with the IOC crazy.
Leicester notes that the IOC could try not spending like drunken sailors:
Easy. Scale them back, make them smaller and far less extravagant. Also stop going to places that have to move heaven and earth to get ready, that don’t have most of the necessary infrastructure in place and strong democratic, legal and citizen oversight to curb Olympic-related corruption and abuse. Corruption watchdog group Transparency International ranks Kazakhstan very poorly. Among the many turn-offs with Beijing’s bid for 2022 is that snow would have to be made artificially for alpine skiing. Environmentally ridiculous, given northern China’s alarming water shortages.
There is some hope here, though. The 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal were a financial disaster for Canada. In response very few cities wanted to host the ’84 games. Three cities expressed interest: Los Angeles, New York and Terhan, Iran. Only one nation per country could bid, so Los Angeles was chosen as the US selection. Terhan dropped out leaving the LA the only choice. In light of Montreal, Los Angeles went in different direction, one that revived the Olympic movement. This is what Wikipedia says about how LA was able to pull the games out without running a massive deficit:
The low level of interest among cities was seen as a major threat to the future of the Olympic Games. However, with the financially successful Los Angeles Games, cities began to line up to be hosts again. The Los Angeles and Montreal Games are seen as examples of what to do and what not to do when organizing the Olympics, and serve as object lessons to prospective host cities. While Montreal organizers ran up a substantial debt eight years earlier by constructing many new, overly ambitiously designed venues, the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee relied heavily on the use of area venues that were already in existence, particularly Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which was also the Olympic Stadium for the 1932 Summer Olympics. The Olympic Velodrome and the Olympic Swim Stadium, funded largely by the 7-Eleven and McDonald’s corporations respectively, were the only two new venues constructed specifically for the L.A. Games. The resulting low construction costs, coupled with a heavy reliance on private corporate funding, allowed the Games to generate a profit of more than $200 million, making them by far the most financially successful in history.
What does this all mean? Well, probably not that the IOC will reform itself. Change will happen when prospective nations are able to say “no” to the IOC and offer a games at a cheaper cost by using what facilities are available and seeking funding from other sources than the people.
2022 will probably be a trainwreck. I will be watching those games on TV, but it won’t be soley for the competition; it will be to see the bed the IOC made for itself.