India’s plan to host the 2036 Olympics speaks of a rare confidence and a certain recklessness. The Olympics is hosted by a city, and it is most likely that India will decide that its city is Ahmedabad.
There is a long list in the race for 2036 (or 2040) just now. These range from Guadalajara in Mexico to Istanbul and Warsaw, and from Doha and Turin to Toronto. But as the realities begin to filter in, there will be dropouts.
Boston, for instance, pulled out of the bid for 2024 because, in the words of its mayor, they “refuse to mortgage the future of the city away.” Budapest, Hamburg, and Rome, who were in the running for 2024, withdrew too, leaving only Paris and Los Angeles in the fray; the next two Games were awarded to these cities.
Major reasons for second thoughts are the escalating costs and the sports infrastructure, which turn out to be white elephants. In 2012, a study in Oxford found that there had been a 252 per cent cost overrun since 1976, the year Montreal was host. It took Montreal three decades to pay off its debts. Not surprisingly, getting the Olympics is called the ‘winners’ curse’.
Beijing’s Olympic stadium, the Bird’s Nest, cost $460 million to build, needs $11 million annually to maintain, and is now just a museum piece.
The argument that revenue comes from tourism and other multiplier effects brings a whimsical smile to the faces of economists. The 2012 London Olympics cost $18 billion, while the revenue was $5.2 billion. The 2004 Games in Athens contributed in large measure to the debt crisis in Greece.
Only the Los Angeles Games of 1984 ended with a profit of $215 million in recent years.
Against that background, should a developing country anywhere in the world be asking for the Games at all? The psychology of why it does so is not difficult to guess. Seeking a place at the high table, no matter what it costs, is a very human thing to do. As is the hope of being taken seriously.
Of the many suggestions to avoid the economic setbacks is the call to have a permanent host city (perhaps Athens?), financed to some extent by all countries. This will eliminate the need to construct stadiums every time and also bring in the expertise that comes from experience.
Another is to perhaps decide on a venue on each continent that will host by rotation. A third would be to give the Olympics to a country, not a city, so that it can be held across various venues.
The cost of bidding that forced cities to offer fancy venues, luxurious accommodation, and spectacular ceremonies to impress the IOC might be in the past (Tokyo spent $150 million on a failed bid for 2016 and $75 million on the successful bid for 2020). As part of its “Olympic Agenda 2020”, the IOC will now evaluate bids based on economic (and environmental) sustainability.
But 13 years is a long time in sports and politics.
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