Olympic host­ing model needs rad­i­cal redo

No city in its right mind would take on such a fi­nan­cial boon­dog­gle

San Antonio Express-News - - SPORTS - By Paul New­berry

What if they had an Olympics, but no one was will­ing to host it?

That day could be com­ing, and sooner than you might think.

With news Fri­day that Stock­holm is likely to pull out of the race for the 2026 Win­ter Games — just days af­ter it was ap­proved as a can­di­date city by the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee — there’s an ever-in­creas­ing chance no one will be left to hear its name called when the fi­nal de­ci­sion is made next year.

The only other cities in­ter­ested in host­ing are Cal­gary, Canada, and the com­bined Ital­ian bid of Mi­lan and Cortina d’Am­pezzo. But Cal­gary’s pro­posal faces a cru­cial ref­er­en­dum next month — and polls sug­gest it hardly has over­whelm­ing sup­port — while Italy’s plans are marred by a lack of gov­ern­ment back­ing and the mem­ory of Rome drop­ping bids for both the 2020 and 2024 Sum­mer Games .

As if cities needed any fur­ther re­minder of what a boon­dog­gle the Olympics is: Pyeongchang is al­ready pon­der­ing whether to raze some of the venues it built for this year’s Win­ter Games be­cause there’s sim­ply no use for them, while Tokyo is set to spend a stag­ger­ing $25 bil­lion on the next Sum­mer Games — and maybe more.

“They’ve got to re­think the whole model,” said Mark Con­rad, who runs the sports busi­ness pro­gram at Ford­ham Univer­sity.

One idea: ro­tat­ing hosts. This idea has been thrown around for years but never taken se­ri­ously by the IOC.

At the very least, the Win­ter Games should move to­ward this con­cept as soon as pos­si­ble given its more lim­ited ap­peal and hav­ing fewer cities ca­pa­ble of even host­ing the snow and ice events (maybe even fewer in the years to come, given the po­ten­tially dev­as­tat­ing im­pact of cli­mate change ).

Pre­vi­ous hosts such as Salt Lake City, Cal­gary, Ja­pan (with Sap­poro and Nagano shar­ing the load) and Norway (a sim­i­lar ar­range­ment be­tween Oslo and Lille­ham­mer) would be ob­vi­ous can­di­dates to serve on a ro­tat­ing ba­sis, since they have all the nec­es­sary fa­cil­i­ties in place. Win­ter sport­slov­ing coun­tries such as Ger­many, Switzer­land and Aus­tria might be will­ing to get on board, too, if they could be as­sured costs wouldn’t spi­ral out of con­trol.

On the Sum­mer Olympics side, Syd­ney (per­haps co-host­ing with Mel­bourne), Seoul, Los An­ge­les, Lon­don and Bei­jing all have the po­ten­tial to be­come per­ma­nent ro­tat­ing sites. It also would be a fit­ting ges­ture to in­clude Athens, the birth­place of the mod­ern Olympics, but the IOC would need to cough up a few bil­lion dol­lars so the Greeks could fix up all the de­cay­ing, aban­doned fa­cil­i­ties left over from the fi­nan­cial de­ba­cle that was the 2004 Games.

“There was more re­sis­tance to this when ev­ery­one wanted to host,” said Matthew Robin­son, a pro­fes­sor of busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion at the Univer­sity of Delaware who has worked with the IOC. “Now, I think you’re go­ing to see more of an open mind to the ro­tat­ing idea.”

Also, why does a sin­gle city have to host an en­tire Olympics?

The size of the games is sim­ply too much for one lo­cale to bear, so the IOC should con­sider award­ing them to en­tire coun­tries — maybe even neigh­bor­ing coun­tries (much like soc­cer’s World Cup). That way, the plethora of sports could be divvied up among ex­ist­ing venues.

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