the olympic dream is still
just a dream
by Curt gruffley
Oh man, are you guys stoked for the Sochi Olympic Games? The most expensive games ever at $50,000,0000,000 (count 'em, that's nine zeros) has been plagued by allegations of corruption (gasp!), unpaid construction workers and illegal labor. But don't let those details disturb your enjoyment of the games - hey, you aren't a Russian, you won't be stuck with the bill. And certainly pay no attention to the incarcerated feminist punk band or the government's persecution of homosexuals. The Olympics are a time for blinkered unity, not agitating for justice and human freedom. Capische, Tommie Smith and John Carlos?
Ok, well, maybe the Sochi games don't look so great in the cold light of day. But consider the thrilling majesty of the torch ceremony! Just ignore the fact that it was a Nazi invention for the Berlin games in 1936. Oh, and the Rio games are coming up in 2016 too! Which is exactly why at least 19,000 of Rio's poorest families are being displaced from the favelas and relocated many miles away to the outskirts of the city without notice or compensation. Yet, they complain. I mean, really, who wouldn't want to be relocated from a slum, amirite?! You're welcome! After all, we've just got to put this stadium someplace, and these shanties come practically pre-demolished. And just think of the economic boost the people that will live here in the future will enjoy!
Yeah, about that economic boost claim - seems like the Olympics economic bump is a fickle, if not imaginary, mistress. There are very few cities that handled the games as well as Barcelona. For instance, Athens in 2004. The deep debt Greece took on to host the $11,000,000,000 Athens games (twice the original budget) undoubtedly contributed to their current financial straits. And today, Helliniko Olympic Complex sits empty and unused - turns out Olympic complexes are only really useful during the Olympics - but the Greeks are still paying in the form of maintenance and interest. Or take the London games just last year. Tourism was actually down from normal during the games, as both locals and travelers avoided already congested London. Taxi drivers reported a 20-40% drop in income during the Olympics. Hotel occupancy rates remained the same as any other non-Olympic year, and due to the flight of sensible Londoners, the city centre (and it's pubs and restaurants) were unusually empty.
To host the games, you've got to persuade and impress the 109 IOC members, many of whom are royals. I've never had the opportunity - be glad of that, royals - but I would imagine royals would be difficult to impress. And so cities go to extravagant lengths to wine and dine IOC members. Presided over by Belgian former Olympian Jacques Rogge, the IOC is a non-profit, based in Switzerland, a tax haven and home to all manner of creative, confidential banking for the classiest of clients, like drug cartels and Nazis. And also a country where until very recently, bribery was basically legal. The IOC's total revenue for 2009-2012 was a paltry $5,000,000,000, the vast majority of which came from selling media rights. Most of these funds were doled out to individual nations' own Olympic Committees. Meanwhile, the athletes that actually, you know, play the games might get a five-figure bonus for medalling in some countries. In other countries, like China, they may as well be a state property.
By now, I hope you are getting my point - the Olympics not only doesn't help the typical working person in host cities, as is the popular misconception. In fact, it usually hurts them. The evidence is a mere google search away, and by all means, please have at it. Be glad then that Chicago's bid was bungled in such classic municipal style. I have to wonder, all of this expense and effort for what? The mind boggles. Gentle reader, if you can come up with an answer that doesn't hinge on how much you personally enjoy the games, I'd love to hear it. Because although you might be comfortably ensconced on your couch, McLovin' the grandeur, spectacle, and human drama via the television, I suspect the typical man on the street outside the lights of that freshly-constructed stadium doesn't share your enthusiasm.