De­clin­ing hosts a test for Olympics

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - VIEWS -

The si­mul­ta­ne­ous award­ing of the 2024 and 2028 Sum­mer Olympic Games to Paris and Los An­ge­les was met with cheers in the re­spec­tive host coun­tries. In­deed, both cities should be com­mended for pur­su­ing Olympic bids in a co­op­er­a­tive man­ner. But the sur­face-level rosi­ness of the re­ac­tion to Mon­day’s an­nounce­ment be­lies the se­ri­ous chal­lenges ahead for the Olympic move­ment.

The dual-award an­nounce­ment was pre­ceded by a bid­ding process for the 2024 Games that was full of stum­bling blocks from the out­set. A slew of cities as­pir­ing to host the 2024 Games dropped their bids early on, in­clud­ing three Euro­pean cities (Budapest, Rome, and Hamburg) and one US city (Bos­ton). This left only Paris and Los An­ge­les in the run­ning. The story was sim­i­lar prior to the award­ing of the 2022 Win­ter Olympic Games, with only two cities in con­tention by the time the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee met to de­clare Bei­jing the host over Al­maty.

The si­mul­ta­ne­ous award­ing of the 2024 and 2028 Games was less a stroke of ge­nius on the part of the IOC than it was a fait ac­com­pli. The IOC al­most cer­tainly an­tic­i­pated that only some cities would be fall­ing over them­selves to host the 2028 Olympics, so it de­cided to kill two birds with one stone.

Very few cities, it seems, re­ally want to host an Olympics, be­cause host­ing the Sum­mer or Win­ter Games is an ex­pen­sive propo­si­tion that can test the lim­its of even the world’s most de­vel­oped coun­tries. To host the Games, a coun­try re­quires mas­sive cap­i­tal in­vest­ment up front, in­fra­struc­ture con­struc­tion on a mind-bog­gling scale, and a high level of lo­gis­ti­cal and tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise that must be main­tained (in the form of paid staff ) for years ahead of the ac­tual event.

The to­tal cost for host­ing an Olympics can be tens of bil­lions of dol­lars. With eco­nomic in­equal­ity on the rise and wage stag­na­tion grip­ping most de­vel­oped economies, it is not sur­pris­ing that tax­pay­ers in coun­tries across the world have lit­tle ap­petite to host such ex­pen­sive events.

The cost of the Sochi 2014 Win­ter Games in par­tic­u­lar — de­spite most an­a­lysts view­ing the case as an ex­cep­tion — has prompted prospec­tive host cities to view it not as a long-term in­vest­ment, but as a long-term money sink that will bur­den a city and its tax­pay­ers for years to come.

Look­ing be­yond 2028, it will be rough go­ing for the Olympic move­ment un­less the IOC can think out­side the box and de­vise cre­ative ways to make host­ing the Games an at­trac­tive propo­si­tion again for cities and coun­tries. Sev­eral steps can be taken in this re­gard.

First, to renew in­ter­est in host­ing the Olympics, more cities that have suc­cess­fully hosted the Games can be en­cour­aged to do so again. As the 2022 Win­ter Games’ host, Bei­jing is set to demon­strate how venues can be re­mod­eled and reused for fu­ture Olympic edi­tions — only a hand­ful of new sites are be­ing built, with most of the ac­tion set to take place at the 2008 Sum­mer Games’ venues. This shift in at­ti­tude would go a long way to­ward se­cur­ing long-term in­ter­est in the Olympic move­ment.

Se­cond, the IOC can en­cour­age bids for the Games that are not con­fined to a sin­gle, large city. By host­ing the Games in sev­eral cities, in­stead of just one, a coun­try can help divide the ex­pen­di­ture on build­ing in­fra­struc­ture and trans­porta­tion net­works, which will ben­e­fit the max­i­mum num­ber of peo­ple in the long term. This way, even the eco­nomic ben­e­fits can be spread out among the host cities.

Bei­jing is an ideal ex­am­ple in this re­gard, as the 2022 Games co-host Zhang ji­akou in neigh­bor­ing He­bei prov­ince is ex­pected to greatly ben­e­fit from the high-speed rail cor­ri­dor be­ing built be­tween the two cities for the event. In fact, the eco­nomic ben­e­fits of the in­fra­struc­ture con­struc­tion in Zhang ji­akou are al­ready be­ing felt, as tourists are flock­ing there and to sur­round­ing ar­eas in win­ter to en­joy time on the slopes.

Host­ing an Olympics can be an at­trac­tive propo­si­tion again for cities and coun­tries if the Games can help im­prove the lives of the lo­cal peo­ple in a real, tan­gi­ble way. If the IOC can de­vise ways that will en­able po­ten­tial ben­e­fits to be shared by a larger num­ber of peo­ple, and to make sure the gains are re­al­ized in a sus­tain­able, cost-ef­fec­tive way, it will find prospec­tive host cities once again beat­ing a path to its door.

If the IOC can de­vise ways that will en­able po­ten­tial ben­e­fits to be shared by a larger num­ber of peo­ple, and to make sure the gains are re­al­ized in a sus­tain­able, cost-ef­fec­tive way, it will find prospec­tive host cities once again beat­ing a path to its door.

The author is a sportswriter of Xin­hua News Agency.

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