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Armour: Skyrocketing Costs Put Future Olympics at Risk

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Fireworks at the Sydney Harbour Bridge during the Sydney Olympics in 2000. By David Shapinsky from Washington, D.C., United States - via Wikimedia Commons

The tab starts at more than $10 billion and often winds up being much, much higher. The predominant legacy is white elephants. The infrastructure improvements often wind up looking better on paper than in reality.

No wonder the Olympics are fast becoming an undertaking only an autocrat can love.

In a scathing report issued Monday, a federal prosecutor in Brazil said the country’s bid for last summer’s Rio Olympics was made with “no planning.” This will come as no surprise to anyone who has followed the International Olympic Committee and its never-ending search for the best party.

The IOC has happily signed off on grandiose plans that have no chance of coming to fruition and budgets that would better qualify as works of fiction, knowing it won’t be sticking around for the cleanup. So long as there are five-star hotels, dedicated traffic lanes and Michelin-worthy food in the Olympic family lounges, what does the IOC care that the Games often result in a crushing financial burden for the host cities?

But as costs spiral and the trail of waste grows longer and wider, the IOC runs the risk of endangering the future of the Olympic movement. Unless the rampant spending is reined in, the IOC will find within a decade that the only cities interested — or able — to host the Games will be a select few that have done it before, like Los Angeles, or are in countries run by despots for whom money is no object.

Pyongyang in 2032, anyone? Or perhaps Qatar, which has already bamboozled FIFA into letting it host the World Cup in 2022.

No doubt the IOC will react to the Rio report with its customary statements about how the bid process has been reformed and fiscal responsibility is paramount. But cities are indicating that they’re finally getting wise to the Olympic shell game.

The 2022 Winter Olympics were awarded to Beijing, a city that doesn’t really have, you know, winter, after Oslo and Stockholm said thanks but no thanks. Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel took a pass when the city was pressed to bid for 2024, saying only Sydney and Barcelona had benefited significantly from hosting the Games.

“You all can have the Olympics,” said Emanuel, who wasn’t in office when Chicago bid for the 2016 Games that went to Rio.

Speaking of 2024, the IOC is debating whether to split those Games and 2028 between L.A. and Paris after Boston, Hamburg, Budapest and Rome wanted no part of 2024.

And already, voters in Switzerland have rejected a possible 2026 bid while Barcelona took itself out of the running because of “social and economic circumstances, not only in Barcelona but in the whole country.”

With economic uncertainty or unease helping drive the wave of populism in the United States and across Europe this last year, the days of spending lavishly on events are over. At least it is in places where politicians have to answer to the public.

All a leader has to do is look to Rio, where venues were already crumbling and the Olympic park was a virtual ghost town six months after the Games ended. Another cluster of venues, which was supposed to become a public park with swimming facilities, remains closed.

Even the medals are falling apart, with organizers acknowledging that some are already rusting and chipping.

For the privilege of all this, the people of Rio will be saddled with bills for years to come.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announces the Los Angeles City Council’s 13-0 unanimous final approval vote to bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics, on January 25, 2017. Photo: AFP Photo/Mark Ralston

A city like Los Angeles, which is making wide use of facilities at USC and UCLA along with other, existing or under-construction buildings, and doesn’t need significant infrastructure improvements, the Games make sense. But there are only a handful of cities like L.A., and it gets tiresome when you’re always the one throwing the party.

That leaves countries like Russia or China or pretty much anywhere in the Middle East, where money and public objections aren’t a factor. Neither are freedom of speech, the right to dissent or protection of the LGBTQ community. But, hey, what’s a few violations of human rights between friends?

They say you can tell a lot about someone by the company they keep. The IOC would be wise to keep that in mind.

By Nancy Armour

This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.

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