Tokyo Olympics: Faster growth, higher prof­its

Olympic Games never re­ally have any­thing quite so fancy as a ‘bud­get’: a word that im­plies lim­its, con­straints, fini­tude, a ba­sic grip on re­al­ity.

The Sunday Guardian - - Sports - JONATHAN LIEW LON­DON

My favourite Olympic event of all time - by a con­sid­er­able dis­tance - is the men’s marathon at the 1904 Games in St Louis. Held in sti­fling 33C heat, with pass­ing cars throw­ing up clouds of chok­ing dust and just a sin­gle wa­ter sta­tion along the whole course, only 14 of the 32 run­ners com­pleted the race. The first man over the line, it later tran­spired, had dropped out af­ter nine miles and rid­den most of the rest of the way in a car. The ac­tual win­ner, Thomas Hicks, fin­ished in al­most three and a half hours, hav­ing at one point slowed to a walk and been ad­min­is­tered a cock­tail of rat poi­son, raw egg and brandy by his trainer.

Is it pos­si­ble to feel nos­tal­gia for an event that took place over a cen­tury ago, that in­cor­po­rated di­men­sions of cru­elty and suf­fer­ing rarely seen at an Olympic event be­fore or since, in which grown men came close to dy­ing at the road­side through dust in­hala­tion? Ei­ther way, it was to this sham­bolic by­gone era to which thoughts turned im­me­di­ately af­ter read­ing the news com­ing out of Ja­pan ear­lier this week, that the bud­get for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics has - and you may need to sit down here to brace your­self for the shock - gone up.

And so again it has proven with the un­sus­pect­ing cit­i­zens of Tokyo, who may even have be­lieved their city’s bid team when they pre­dicted seven years ago that they could put on the 2020 Games for a cool £5.5 bil­lion, barely half the cost of the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est re­port from the coun­try’s Board of Au­dit, how­ever, with al­most two years to go, around that amount has al­ready been spent. By the time of the last es­ti­mate in De­cem­ber 2017, that had al­most dou­bled to £9 bil­lion. In the last 10 months, it’s dou­bled again, to al­most £19 bil­lion. Will it go up again? Let’s find out!

If ever there was an anal­y­sis to make you han­ker for the sim­pler days of rat poi­son and wild dogs, this was surely it. Even when you’ve lived through sev­eral of these cy­cles, it’s still hard to grasp, much less to credit, just how un­speak­ably enor­mous the Olympic Games is, and just how many peo­ple - spon­sors, con­trac­tors, broad­cast­ers, of­fi­cials, lob­by­ists, ath­letes - are in­vested in keep­ing it that way. And af­ter the enor­mous cost over­runs of Lon­don and Rio, Sochi and Pyeongchang and now Tokyo, per­haps it’s time we con­cluded that the prob­lem isn’t with wide- eyed lo­cal or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tees, sil­ver-tongued politi­cians or hap­less ac­coun­tants. It’s with the Olympic Games it­self, which for all its meek pre­ten­sions to aus­ter­ity and re­straint is sim­ply in­ca­pable of curb­ing its es­sen­tial and pri­mal urge to grow, to in­dulge, to colonise, to de­vour.

This is a change that has oc­curred within the space of a gen­er­a­tion. In the 30 years since the Seoul Olympics, the num­ber of events and com­peti­tors has swelled by around 30 per cent. The num­ber of sports has grown from 23 to 33, in­clud­ing the five new dis­ci­plines of sports of base­ball/soft­ball, karate, skate­board­ing, surf- ing and climb­ing that have been added to the Tokyo pro­gramme. In a way, the mod­ern Olympics has come to em­body the fun­da­men­tal tenets of mod­ern cap­i­tal­ism: ever big­ger, ever grander, ever more ra­pa­cious, ever more waste­ful, and with an ex­trav­a­gantly su­per­flu­ous golf course at­tached.

As with cap­i­tal­ism, how­ever, the first twinges of a back­lash are al­ready be­gin­ning to form. The 2024/ 2028 bid process, which saw Paris and Los An­ge­les awarded the games vir­tu­ally by de­fault, was an ac­knowl­edge­ment that host­ing an Olympics is be­com­ing a bur­den al­most too oner­ous for any sin­gle city to shoul­der on its own. The 2026 Win­ter Games, mean­while, could well end up with­out a vi­able can­di­date. Next month the vot­ers of Cal­gary in Canada will have a chance to tor­pedo their city’s bid in a spe­cial ref­er­en­dum, while the bids of Stock­holm and Mi­lan are still wait­ing on govern­ment sup­port. The once-un­think­able prospect of an Olympic Games that no­body wants to host could very well ma­te­ri­alise in the next few years.

Still, though, you’d have a hard time con­vinc­ing the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee, stub­bornly plough­ing on with its lust for growth, shout­ing down dis­sent with the sort of en­ti­tled con­de­scen­sion that only the bloated, un­ac­count­able sport­ing body can truly muster. “A few, very noisy peo­ple” is how IOC mem­ber Alex Gi­lady of Is­rael has de­scribed the voices of op­po­si­tion, while vice pres­i­dent Jose An­to­nio Sa­ma­ranch Jr sug­gested that qualms over host­ing the Olympics are driven above all by “bad faith” and mis­in­for­ma­tion. “The magic of the Olympic Games, the good things, do not come at a sig­nif­i­cant fi­nan­cial bur­den,” he ar­gued, “or risk for the com­mu­ni­ties that will host us.”

Well, that should be re­as­sur­ing news to the cit­i­zens of Tokyo, cur­rently star­ing into a fi­nan­cial black hole whose long-term ben­e­fits re­main al­most en­tirely the­o­ret­i­cal. And there are plenty of ways you could stream­line the Olympics if you re­ally wanted to: slash­ing the num­ber of sports, us­ing ex­ist­ing in­fra­struc­ture, shar­ing out the host­ing bur­den, per­haps even cre­at­ing a per­ma­nent site in Athens that every­one could pay into. But in many ways, that would be too sen­si­ble by far, too dis­rup­tive to the mod­ern Olympic ethos: faster growth, higher costs, stronger profit mar­gins. THE IN­DE­PEN­DENT

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