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EDITORIAL: Olympic stimulus

The District’s quixotic bid to host the games is an expensive boondoggle

- - Monday, September 2, 2013

Every four years athletes from around the globe assemble in a contest of strength, skill and determination. The Olympic ritual, borrowed from the ancient Greeks, is a celebration of victory. It bestows a gold medal on a competitor who crosses the finish line a thousandth of a second before his opponent. There are no participation trophies; a win must be earned.

The games would serve as a welcome respite from the growing entitlement culture, if only the choice of Olympic venue hadn't become such a boondoggle. The city laying claim to the world record for wasting money — Washington, D.C. — is making a bid to host the 2024 games. For local politicians, this is not just about boosting the city's international image; it's about blowing billions on stimulus-style projects and reshaping the city through eminent domain.

The District has tried to lure the Olympic committee before, but London made a better case for the 2012 games. British taxpayers were willing to cough up $14.4 billion for the privilege of being the center of international attention for two weeks last summer. It wasn't a good bargain. Visitors to London only spent $1.2 billion while the games were on, and ticket sales generated about $7 billion. Most of the big money from broadcast rights went to the International Olympic Committee. The hard numbers don't add up to a profit, so the carnival's promoters resort to fanciful projections of future increases in gross domestic product to claim there will be a $25 billion benefit from the Olympic venue construction in England.

London's biggest games-related construction project started in 2007 by shutting down the Clays Lane Housing Estate in Stratford, kicking its 425 residents to the curb. The low-rent hovels made way for a gleaming, $1.7 billion athletes village that has since been sold as a condo building to a Qatari investment firm for half of its construction cost. Brand-new running tracks, basketball and water polo arenas built specially for the Olympics have been demolished. "The cost of these temporary venues were all written off post-Games as part of this revaluation exercise," explains the Olympic Delivery Authority, which is in charge of the dismantling operation.

Forced gentrification of neighborhoods may appeal to the D.C. city council, but the undertaking would push the nation's capital beyond the breaking point. D.C. roads are already clogged beyond hope, thanks to the city's car-hating liberal policies that waste precious road space on bicycle lanes and trolleys. Add to the mix 10,000 athletes, 70,000 volunteer game organizers and 100,000 contractors simultaneously clogging the streets. Including spectators, London saw an influx of 3 million on the busiest day of the summer games.

The cost and hassle for the D.C. bid would only be worthwhile if it forced the District to repeal its unconstitutional gun restrictions, something the city would have to at least consider if it won the bid. The ancient games were a test of skills useful in battle, such as running and hurling a javelin. Organizers of the modern Olympics decided in 1896 that shooting sports would serve as an essential update to the tradition. Without a change to D.C. law, Olympians attempting to compete in skeet shooting or rifle competitions would be hauled away in handcuffs as felons.

Of course, the city might do what London only contemplated, replacing live ammunition with a childish game of laser tag. It could also send competitors off to a state such as Virginia, where the Second Amendment is respected. Weighing such options reveals the fundamental flaw in the 2024 bid. Entitled D.C. bureaucrats lack the Olympic spirit.