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On the Future of the Olympic Games July 28, 2016

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Sports.
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Athens2004ruins1

One example of the ruins of the Olympic venues in Athens from the 2004 Summer Games.  This is what happens when the hosting of the Olympics are awarded to countries that are not First World/commerce-oriented.

The train wreck in Rio de Janeiro that continues to unfold as the Summer Olympics are but days away has exposed two large, systemic problems.  The obvious one is with Brazil itself.  Its economy may have been on the rise in 2009 to the point where it gave enough people the impression that it was becoming part of the developed world.  Not long afterwards, political corruption, lack of infrastructure, and a glaring lack of sanitation exposed Brazil as still being Third World and still having a long way to go before it deserves to sit at the grownups table of world affairs (along with the United States, Great Britain, Germany, Japan, Canada, Israel, Australia, possibly France, and the like).

The other systemic issue at play is with the Olympic Games themselves.  Simply put, they are huge, and very expensive to stage.  Even 40 years ago, things almost reached a tipping point.  The city of Montreal hosted the 1976 Summer Olympics, only to be $1.5 Billion in debt afterwards. It took that city almost 30 years to pay it off.  Indeed, few cities wanted to host the Games after that.  Sure, Moscow jumped at the chance four years later, because to a Communist nation, money is no object when it comes to propaganda.

Peter Ueberroth and the Los Angeles organizing committee for 1984 revolutionized how the Games were financed when he persuaded the International Olympic Committee to allow corporate sponsorship.  It saved the Games for another 30 years.

Now, the Games have grown even bigger still, to the point where they are too expensive for new cities to host the Games.  Sure, Putin and the Russian government seemed more than willing to turn Sochi into a $51 Billion (with a ‘B’) boondoggle, because, again, at what price propaganda?

Beijing was the only viable city that wanted to host the Winter Olympics for 2022.  The IOC was certainly were not going to give the Winter Games to Kazakhstan, for goodness sake.  It is a sad commentary on the susceptibility of the IOC to a bribe that so few viable countries and cities thereof even put in bids for the 2022 Winter Games in the first place.

That aside, one thing is for certain:  the Olympics are so huge and such a big deal that only commerce-oriented (read:  First World, developed) countries are built and, indeed, fit to host the Games.

Yet, there is this politically-correct mantra out there, saying that everyone deserves a chance, but grownups will tell you that is pure poppycock.  The truth is, most nations and even whole continents are not built to handle and host the Olympics.  That includes Africa (with the possible exception of Johannesburg), South America (as we are currently seeing now), the Middle East (outside of Israel), and central and Southeast Asia.

Even some countries in otherwise developed regions are more than suspect.  Remember Athens in 2004?  The Greeks built all those state-of-the-art facilities only to let them go to ruin a decade later.  Yes, it sounded wonderful for the Olympics to be hosted in the ancient birthplace of the Games themselves, but the huge problem was that Greece is anything but commerce-oriented, which speaks to a culturally systemic problem in Greece itself.

One aspect of this systemic issue is that a city that wants to host the Games for the first time has to spend billions of dollars to build new facilities from scratch.  In this day and age, even with corporate sponsorship and in some cases, state-supported funding, that is no longer economically viable.

The solution is to start cycling the Games around to cities that meet certain criteria.  They are:

1.) Be situated in a commerce-oriented country (i.e., one of the aforementioned “grownup” countries).  Not all cultures are equal.  Some cultures are superior to others.  A hallmark of this cultural supremacy is a culture that itself is commerce-oriented, that respects the rule of law and property rights of the individual, that frowns on black markets, and puts a premium on democratic governments and transparency within.  Not to mention, superior cultures minimize corruption in government, at least compared to more corrupt Third World nations.  These sorts of countries also have free presses (to varying extents; France is suspect in this regard) that can call wayward politicians into account for any malfeasance.

Commerce-oriented countries also have the necessary infrastructure for such massive undertakings as the Games.  This includes transportation (e.g., airports and expressways), not to mention a sufficient amount of clean, comfortable, available hotel rooms to handle the crush of spectators attending said Games.

2.) Be a city big enough that it already has the aforementioned infrastructure in place.  This applies to cities that have never hosted a previous Olympics.

3.) This is the big one:  ideally, be a city that has already hosted the Games, and has proven to do so exceptionally well.

Indeed, for the Olympics to remain doable in the future, the way to go is to starting cycling them around to cities (and, by extension, their countries) that have proven capable of hosting the Olympics well.  The IOC seems to be inching towards this already, however gradually.  London just hosted its Olympic Games for the third time, most recently in 2012.  Tokyo — another excellent choice on the part of the IOC — will host the 2020 Summer Games.  Los Angeles is currently bidding to host the Summer Games for 2024.

For these cities, the venues/facilities are already built.  Maybe a little renovation or generally sprucing up might be in place, but such expenditures pale in comparison to building everything from scratch.  Los Angeles, for example, has but one additional facility to build (for rowing and kayaking) and it’s all set.

Think about it from the Winter Games perspective.  Sure, a nearby, mountainous ski resort town can handle the alpine skiing events (Salt Lake had Park City, Vancouver had Whistler), but you still need to build a sliding sports track.  That alone costs between $50-100 Million, and then there is the necessary ski jumping tower, etc., etc.  Economically, it makes sense to host the Games in cities have already hosted them, and hosted them well.

One could cycle the Winter Games from Salt Lake City to, say, Munich (they have a sliding sports track at nearby Koenigssee), then Calgary and/or Vancouver.  What’s not to love?

Similarly, a Summer Games cycle of Los Angeles, London, Sydney, Atlanta, Tokyo, and Munich/Berlin would work just fine.  Seoul would be a viable cycle candidate as well.

Either we start doing this, or we encourage cities to continue to engage in multi-billion-dollar boondoggles to build athletic venues that rarely get used again, like those in Athens (indeed, what shall become of Rio’s many facilities after these upcoming Games are concluded?).

So, which is it going to be?  Cycling the Games around to proven cities/countries, or more wasteful boondoggles?

On the Problems with the Rio Olympics July 27, 2016

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Sports.
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rio-de-janeiro-pollution

Does this look like a venue fit for Olympic sailing and swimming?

Has the IOC learned its lesson yet (I’ll pause for laughter)?  Frankly, I would not hold out hope for this.  This is, after all, the same IOC that gave the Olympics to Nazi Germany in 1936 (both Winter and Summer Games).  That awarded the 1980 Summer Games to Moscow, the epicenter of the slave society bent on taking over the entire world (I mean Communism, of course).  They also awarded the 2008 Summer Olympics to Beijing despite the decades-long, grotesque train of human rights abuses on the part of Red China.

Then there was the disaster that was Sochi in 2014.  Leave aside the fact that Vladimir Putin has made every effort to cast himself in the mold of a Soviet Premier.

Focus instead on the grossly inadequate lodging; the issues with the available food; the $51 Billion overall boondoggle of hosting the Games; the subtropical climate (keep in mind these were Winter Olympics); the putrid water supply; the state-sanctioned killing of stray dogs, and, not to mention, the state-sanctioned doping of the Russian athletes (no wonder Russia came out of nowhere to win so many medals after so many mediocre performances in recent Winter Games).

Now the world is turning its attention to the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, and the train wreck it is rapidly becoming.  Granted, Rio holds a special mystique for people all over the world:  a megacity in beautiful, tropical surroundings, and miles of warm, sexy beaches.  Sounds great to host the Olympics there, right?  That is, it all sounds great until reality is considered. To wit:

Economically, the Brazil is in its worst recession since the 1930s, partly because of the declining oil prices on the world market.  Locally, Rio de Janeiro has declared a financial state of emergency.  Falling oil prices alone cannot be totally blamed for this crisis.  Indeed, a much larger factor is government corruption, a hallmark of Third World politics.  To that point, a major investigation into the state-controlled oil corporation Petrobas has already forced several government officials to step down.  That is good, but will their replacements be reform-minded?  The cynical side of me says, “don’t hold your breath.”  Still, the political corruption scandals leading up to the Games have already had considerable fallout, for even Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, faces impeachment.  That may be good for justice, but not good timing for a country to have a political crisis when it is about to host something as mammoth as the Summer Olympic Games.

As a side note, why does an oil company need to be state-controlled in the first place?  The free market, coupled with sensible regulation, has proven to be an effective means of governing, say, Chevron and ExxonMobil.  But this is what helps make the developed world the developed world.

In any case, health-wise, things are no better.  Yes, the tropics are lush and beautiful, with nice, sunny weather and gorgeous palm trees swaying to and fro.  The bad news is that all that nice weather helps breed pathogens and vectors thereof that are non-existent in the non-tropical latitudes of the developed world.  Yellow fever and malaria are two classic examples, but what has recently made news is the presence of the Zika virus in Brazil.  Did the IOC consider this when they awarded the Games to a country that is A) tropical, and B), still mostly Third World?

But that’s not the half of it.  Another hallmark of Third World countries is a much greater degree of pollution than in the developed world.  Outdoor aquatic venues for sailing and open water swimming are contaminated with trash and (drum roll, please) raw sewage.  Let that sink in for a moment or two.

Violence, of course, is another Third World problem (spare me the talk about developed world exceptions like Chicago and other inner cities where bad, warped values in those locales rule the day so as to provide Third World situations in an otherwise developed region).  A human foot and other body parts have recently washed up on a beach at Rio.  That’s bad enough.  Worse is that this particular beach is the same venue slated for beach volleyball events.  Speaking of violence, armed robberies on the street are up 24 percent.  Some athletes who have already shown up in preparation for the Olympics have sadly experienced this first-hand.  In May, an Olympic gold medalist from Spain and two other fellow member of their sailing team were robbed at gunpoint in Rio.  More recently, the same thing happened to two Australian paralympians.  Oh, and recently, a group of armed men stormed a hospital.

This rise in violence coincides at the same time with city police resources in Rio being strained to the breaking point.  They are so cash-poor that they have had to beg for basic office supplies and toilet paper.  Because of the lack of resources brought on by Brazil’s economic crisis, the police have had to ground their helicopters and have had to park half of their fleet of cars to save fuel.  Not what you want when hundreds of thousands of visitors, athletes and spectators alike, are about to count on police protection in that city.  Some policemen in Rio have threatened to shirk their duties on account of their paychecks being delayed as well.

The athletes themselves, many of whom have been gradually filing into the Olympic village in advance of the Games, have also borne the brunt of Rio’s many problems.  The village, which consists of 31 17-storey towers, has been plagued with leaky pipes, exposed wires, and blocked toilets.  Keep in mind that this is brand-new construction, not some dilapidated public housing tower.  Gotta love those Third World construction standards.  Already the Australian, Italian, and even Argentinian teams have rented hotels and/or apartments until the contractors can fix these issues.

Anybody with a healthy dose of common sense would quickly point out that when you give something as huge and important as the Olympic Games to a Third World country, even one as borderline and emerging as Brazil, that issues like these are par for the course.  So how did the IOC foolishly decide to let Rio de Janeiro host the Summer Games anyhow?

Three possible reasons:  One possibility is that the IOC is corrupt itself.  How else does one surmise that it gave the Winter Games to Sochi?  How else does one explain Russia not being entirely banned from these Olympics despite proven state-sanctioned doping at those Games?  Over the past decade, one thing I have learned is to never underestimate the IOC’s susceptibility to bribes.  The same thing could have happened in the Rio case.

A second reason is that political correctness clearly played a part in tainting the IOC’s collective judgment.  There is this politically correct mentality out there that every major city/major region deserves to host the Games.  Giving the Olympics to a South American country for the first time ever helped the IOC solidify their PC bona fides and thus they felt very good about themselves in the process for being so “inclusive”.

Third is that the International Olympic Committee was sold a bill of goods.  Brazil’s economy was on the rise in 2009.  Some observers at that time naively thought that Brazil’s economy would eventually surpass those of Britain and France.  The folks from the Rio organizing committee played on that, as well as the sexiness of the city, along with the beauty of the geographical surroundings.  Christine Brennan of USA Today, in an interview with Colin Cowherd on his FS1 radio and TV show The Herd, pointed out that this combination clearly played a factor when the IOC made their decision seven years ago.  All that was before Brazil’s Third World hang-ups helped cause its economy to crash and is now behind those of Italy and even India.

Solutions to avoiding issues like these in the future shall be explored in another article shortly come.  But for the time being, the economic crisis, the political crisis, the construction and infrastructural issues, the rampant pollution and the rising crime add up to a train wreck-in-the-making for these upcoming Olympic Games.  Maybe it will take such a disaster for the aristocratic-wannabes in Lausanne, Switzerland to finally wake up and use better judgment to avoid such disasters in the future.