Tim Wendel: Build permanent facilities for Olympics
Sat., Aug. 13, 2016
The Olympics are in need of a financial intervention.
While there’s nothing better in the dog days of summer than to cheer on Katie Ledecky, Michael Phelps and the U.S. women’s gymnastics team, the games’ price tag for host nations has soared too high. That’s why we need to seriously consider permanent sites for the Summer and Winter Games.
Despite Brazil sliding into a self-declared “financial calamity,” the Olympics have gone on as scheduled in Rio de Janeiro.
No matter that a security force of 85,000 was required.
No matter that Brazil would be better served using public monies on affordable housing and clean water for its citizens rather than constructing costly new sports venues.
No matter that the final price tag is expected to be upwards of $20 billion.
“We are in a moment in the world where we need to be reasonable with the way we spend money,” said Fernando Meirelles, the Oscar-nominated director who choreographed the opening ceremonies. “When 40 percent of the homes in Brazil have no sanitation, you can’t really be spending (billions) for a show.”
That’s a message that the International Olympic Committee needs to hear loud and clear.
The idea of permanent Olympic sites dates back more than three decades.
In 1984, F. Don Miller and William Simon of the U.S. Olympic Committee proposed permanent sites – one each in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa – with the Olympics alternating between these specific venues.
Where should the permanent sites be? Why not ask the athletes?
A board of former and current medal winners would know the top existing venues – perhaps Oslo for track, London or Sydney for swimming.
It may make sense for Greece, where the Olympics originated more than 3,000 years ago, to be among the permanent sites, too. Such facilities would receive regular upkeep and remain state-of-the-art.
What else would such a change accomplish?
First, it would end the insane bidding wars to host the games. It would help curtail the bribes and kickbacks that are seemingly required to land an Olympiad. More importantly, it would hold down costs for the host cities.
Montreal, Athens and now Rio mortgaged their citizens’ future for the opportunity to throw a party for the rest of the world. Unfortunately, the spending continues to spike. The 2008 Summer Games in Beijing cost more than $42 billion, only to be surpassed by Sochi’s $50 billion price tag for the Winter Games six years later.
Costs will to continue to spiral upward with the impending 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. There, a new stadium will cost $2 billion alone, exceeding the constructions costs of MetLife Stadium, Yankee Stadium and Wembley, England’s national soccer venue, the Associated Press reported.
By pooling television, signage and advertising revenue, permanent sites could easily become a reality. There would be no need to build new facilities for the next Summer or Winter Games.
Of course, the world rarely operates in such a logical, equitable way. But by utilizing permanent sites, the IOC would also have a chance to polish its tarnished image. Fewer upfront costs would mean a better bottom line for everyone and give officials a chance to redirect revenue to developing countries for vaccines or food assistance.
Such programs, along with goodwill visits by Olympians, would revitalize the image of the games. From the recent doping scandals to the boycotts in 1980 and 1984 to reports of the polluted water in Rio, you would think the powers that be would be eager to clean up their act.
Now’s their chance.
Tim Wendel is the author of 11 books, including “Going for the Gold” and “Summer of ’68.”
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