Salla's Olympic bid will send a strong message

Salla, which sees temperatures below minus 50 degrees, has bid for the 2032 Olympics and it should focus our minds on the responsibility sport bears towards our environment.

A man takes a photograph of the Olympic Rings in front of the National Stadium, the main stadium for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. The one-year delay (as of now) has added an additional 2.8 billion dollars to Tokyo’s original 13 billion cost which was already twice the estimate when the city bid for the Games.   -  Getty Images

Salla, the coldest city in Finnish Lapland, north of the Arctic Circle, sees temperatures below minus 50 degrees. So why are they bidding for the 2032 Summer Olympics? It might seem like a gigantic practical joke. But it isn’t. Salla wants to draw global attention to global warming.

The city’s mayor spelt out the message: “Our summers are getting hotter and hotter, our winters are getting shorter and shorter. We need to keep Salla icy, cold and snowy.” If Salla is ready to host the Games in 2032, imagine what the message would be. It might be too late by then.

There are economic and social problems connected with hosting the Olympics. Climate change issues are more severe. After 1976, Montreal nearly fell off the financial map. It took the city 30 years to pay off its Olympic debt. Athens (2004) which cost over $15 billion saw Greek households having to pay €50,000 and may have contributed to Greece nearly becoming a basket case.

Costs escalate, income generation turns out to be a mirage, and stadiums become white elephants. Extra hotel rooms created for visitors lie vacant after the Games, as Rio de Janeiro (2016) discovered.

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Stadiums fall into disuse or cost a fortune to maintain. Sydney (2000) pays $20 million annually to maintain the Olympic Stadium. Beijing’s Bird’s Nest, a feature of 2008, sucks away 10 million annually.

The one-year delay (as of now) has added an additional $2.8 billion to Tokyo’s original $13 billion cost which was already twice the estimate when the city bid for the Games.

In The Games: A Global History of the Olympics, David Goldblatt writes that it is becoming increasingly obvious that the figures don’t add up: “Every single piece of reasoned research demonstrates that the net economic gains of hosting the Games, in terms of investment, growth, employment, wages and tourism range between the minuscule and the negative.”

If there is one thing the pandemic has shown it is that television is the home of sport — it doesn’t need costly venues, sweeping away of the poor and the unfortunate in a bid to present a picture of anti-septic growth, or pandering to egos of politicians who see an opportunity in international sport. It is always the vulnerable who are displaced from Olympic sites. In Beijing the number was upwards of a million.

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It has been suggested that Athens be made the permanent venue of the Games. It will eliminate the wastage involved in the construction of stadiums and their subsequent redundancy. The politics and bribery that are a part of winning the right to host would go.

Perhaps some of the carbon footprints inevitable in the long flights, large contingents and unnecessary official meetings can be reduced too. This is another lesson from the pandemic. Sports like golf, soccer or tennis don’t need the Games.

Salla will not get the 2032 Olympics, of course. But the bid should focus our minds on the responsibility sport bears towards our environment.