Olympics at a costly cross­roads

Just two ci­ties — Paris and Los An­ge­les — want to host 2024 Games

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - TARIQ PANJA

From Athens to Sochi and on to Rio, sta­di­ums and are­nas in vary­ing stages of de­cay are sym­bols of the cri­sis fac­ing the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee.

Bu­da­pest’s de­ci­sion on Wed­nes­day to with­draw its bid for the 2024 sum­mer games leaves just two ci­ties — Los An­ge­les and Paris — com­pet­ing to play host to sport’s big­gest event.

The de­ci­sion by the Hun­gar­ian cap­i­tal came af­ter thou­sands signed a pe­ti­tion urg­ing lo­cal au­thor­i­ties not to pur­sue what would be a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar project. Per­haps mind­ful of the waste­lands that now mark sites of pre­vi­ous games, lo­cal politi­cians and bid lead­ers met and backed down. Hav­ing just two ci­ties in the run­ning for one of sport’s two land­mark events — the soc­cer World Cup is the other — isn’t a good look for the IOC.

The Olympic move­ment “is at a cross­roads which many would de­scribe as the big­gest cri­sis” since the Salt Lake City cash-for-votes scan­dal that threat­ened to top­ple the or­ga­ni­za­tion two decades ago, said Tim Crow, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Lon­don-based sports spon­sor­ship agency Syn­ergy.

Just six months af­ter Rio’s $20 bil­lion games ended, sev­eral of the ex­pen­sively built venues are strug­gling to find new oc­cu­pants. Some, in­clud­ing the swim­ming venue where Michael Phelps won his record 28th medal, are al­ready fall­ing into dis­re­pair. To make mat­ters worse, the av­er­age age of tele­vi­sion view­ers is creep­ing up, and is now over 50.

Los An­ge­les, which hosted the games in 1984, only en­tered the race af­ter Bos­ton pulled its bid fol­low­ing con­cern that lo­cal tax­pay­ers would end up foot­ing the bill for a sport­ing event that lasts a lit­tle un­der three weeks. The Ger­man city of Ham­burg also with­drew fol­low­ing a poll of its cit­i­zens. Rome Mayor Vir­ginia Raggi scrapped its plans upon be­ing voted into of­fice, say­ing the games “will bring only debt.” Eight ci­ties ini­tially ex­pressed in­ter­est for­mally in host­ing the 2024 games.

Host­ing the Olympics is a “ques­tion that af­fects ev­ery tax­payer” and there­fore should be sub­ject to a ref­er­en­dum, An­dras FeketeGyor, pres­i­dent of Hun­gary’s Mo­men­tum, the group that col­lected enough sig­na­tures to force a plebiscite, told RTL tele­vi­sion on Feb. 21. Hun­gar­ian of­fi­cials de­cided to with­draw from the race be­fore a ref­er­en­dum could be held.

The IOC has pointed out the trans­for­ma­tional changes its events can bring to ci­ties, usu­ally cit­ing the im­pact on 1992 host Barcelona, which re­gen­er­ated its wa­ter­front. But it should also claim own­er­ship of the fail­ures it leaves in its wake, said Syn­ergy’s Crow, whose com­pany’s clients have in­cluded sev­eral Olympic spon­sors.

“When legacy works through big in­fra­struc­ture projects they want to claim all the credit but when crit­ics say they cost the tax­payer bil­lions they say, ‘that’s not our bud­get,’” he said.

Or­ga­niz­ers of the Rio games still owe ser­vice providers mil­lions of dol­lars in un­paid bills.

BLOOMBERG NEWS FILE PHOTO

Fire­works ex­plode over Mara­cana Sta­dium dur­ing the open­ing of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 5, 2016.

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