To host or not to host: An Olympic dilemma

The Olympics are so expensive to host these days that often the supposed honour they bring is not worth the cost. Should we hold them in one city all the time and stop playing pass the parcel? Or as it that the next, costly Olympic sport?

Rio. Worth the cost?
Luke J. Harris
On 13 July 2017 06:06

Does the lack of a vote for the right to host the 2024 and 2028 Olympics demonstrate an uncertain future for the Games?

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has announced that providing the Olympic Organising Committees for the Paris and Los Angeles bids can come to an agreement, that one city will host the 2024 Olympics and the other will take the following edition in 2028.

For Thomas Bach, President of the IOC, this represents a positive step, as it secures the medium term future of the Olympics and stops either city from being disappointed in their desire to host the Olympic Games for a record-equalling third time.

Critics will find weaknesses and problems with both the Los Angeles and Paris bids, although there should be little doubt that both cities possess the ability to hold Games that will live up to the IOC’s and public expectations; more like London’s Olympics than Rio de Janeiro’s.

The major problem is that these are the only two cities that want to host these Games. This demonstrates the continuation of a worrying trend for ‘mega events’.

No longer to do cities from across the world wish to battle it out to host. This will be the first time in the modern history of the Olympics that a vote to determine the host has not taken place.

Often, competition is fierce: think of the competition in 2005 when London went up against Paris. Now, these two Olympics will be handed over to the two bids left standing, of which neither really want 2028, but, then, nor does anyone else.

In September 2015, the IOC announced that five cities wished to host the 33rd Olympiad. These were Budapest, Hamburg, Los Angeles, Paris and Rome. Two years on and with a final decision due in September 2017, just two remain.

Within months of the initial announcement, Hamburg became the first city to drop out after holding a referendum. Then in February 2017, signatures against Budapest’s bid were so many in number that they were more than was required to warrant holding a referendum in the city. Through public opinion, Budapest was out.

In 2016, Rome withdrew citing financial problems, an issue which was at the heart of all of these cancelled bids.

For example, one of the main issues around the Hamburg bid was the uncertainty about cost. The city claimed it could organise the Games on a budget of £5.2 billion, of which the city would provide £1.2bn, with the rest coming from the Federal Government.

To many this was seen as unrealistic, considering that the cost of the London Olympics was £8.77bn.This itself was some £5bn more than the cost laid down in 2005 when London had won the bid. The Olympics don’t come cheap.

The cost and size of the Olympic Games and other comparable events makes hosting them for many countries unfeasible. For example, the South African city of Durban was awarded the right to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games in September 2015, but in March 2017 they were stripped of the Games.

Yet again, cost was the reason. The immediate future of this event, (the third largest sporting event in the world) seems to be secure as both Birmingham and Liverpool have submitted bids to host the 2022 edition. Its future beyond 2022 appears less certain.

Not only does the longer term future of the Commonwealth Games appear unclear, but the bids for the Olympics of 2024 and 2028 pose many questions. Both events and the Winter Olympics, (which suffers from the same problems) provide generally fantastic sport (even taking into account recent drugs scandals) and also significantly bring in substantial revenue through television and sponsors.

They can also do much to put a city upon the map and regenerate it, perhaps best demonstrated by the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

The problem for the Olympics is that they do cost, and most specifically they cost the tax payer, resulting in potentially higher taxes, the diversion of other public funding away from more vitally needed services, and disruption to people's daily lives.

But what can the IOC/Commonwealth Games Federation do to make the Games more feasible?

The obvious answer would be to scale the Games back. The 2020 Olympics will see five new sports included, taking the number to 33. Although this expansion is not permanent and the cost of many of these sports is not substantial, it does bring about more cost.

Rather than scaling back the IOC appear to want to expand their wings. Scaling back is no easy option. Sports cut will feel aggrieved as will competitors and perhaps most significantly the television providers who have paid for the event.

Some sports are certainly more expensive to organise than others. Track cycling is one of the most expensive. It requires a velodrome which costs several millions of pounds to construct, and more to maintain.

London’s track has been well used since 2012, but the tracks made for the Delhi Commonwealth Games and Rio Olympics have found no use following their events.

This is due to the maintenance and operating costs involved. Could this sport be culled? Unlikely, it’s an extremely popular sport in Europe and Australasia, two areas of big television revenue for the organisers.

There have been suggestions that perhaps it is time for the IOC to use its vast resources to build permanent stadiums which could host the Olympics for the foreseeable future.

Holding the Games in the same place causes many problems, including the impact upon television and sponsorship revenue and perhaps more significantly goes against many of the ideals which the Olympics stand for. It’s impossible to satisfy prime time audiences in Sydney, London and New York at the same time.

Potentially, the Games might be split over a country or even wider. This causes similar problems and there are concerns that the ‘festival spirit’ of the Olympics might be lost.

The 2020 European Football Championships will be held across thirteen European countries. The success or failure of this might potentially answer questions about the feasibility of holding mega events over a larger area.

There can be no doubt that the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games face an uncertain future. This must be addressed before the world is left without these pinnacles of sport.

Luke J. Harris is a Sports Historian from Canterbury Christ Church University. He is the author of ‘Britain and the Olympics 1908-1920: Perspectives on participation and identity’

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