The 2016 Rio Olympics provided many feel-good moments, from Simone Biles to Katie Ledecky, Michael Phelps to Allyson Felix and a host of unfamiliar names contributing to the United States’ medal count.
But now the party is over and everyone goes home. Except the hosts. They’re left with the bill, an enormous clean-up job and probably some regret. While the rest of the world boards return flights to their day-to-day existence, many Brazilians face bad conditions made worse by the Olympic Games.
NBC’s cameras won’t capture the heartwarming tale of 80,000 displaced residents moving on with their disrupted lives. There will be no touching vignettes about public servants missing paychecks, state universities being on strike or police lacking the resources to keep their vehicles on the road.
The crime, pollution, poverty and corrupt won’t be a poignant segment by Bob Costas, just an ongoing story on Brazilian newscasts.
All of us who watched and cheered during the Games should feel a twinge of guilt and a little dirty for supporting the International Olympic Committee’s fleecing of yet another host. Brazil estimated that it would spend about $3 billion in costs directly related to the event; the final bill is expected to be around $12 billion officially (though some experts put the true cost at closer to $20 billion).
You think that money would’ve been better spent on — I don’t know — improved education, affordable housing, upgraded healthcare, enhanced sanitation and urgent social services for the less well-off? Or any number of matters more relevant than shiny medals?
Yet we see the cycle repeated time and again as the IOC fishes for new Olympic hosts, as if previous sites outlive their usefulness the moment the flame is extinguished. In the IOC’s version of an arms race, the goal is to land increasingly higher bids from potential hosts willing to make horrendous business decisions for the sake of “Olympic glory.”
Sort of like the deals U.S. cities often make for “civic pride” when they build new stadiums for billionaires who own sports teams.
Brazil’s circumstances are a bit unique, due to the dramatic shift in the nation’s fortunes between winning the bid in 2009 and undergoing an economic crisis and wave of corruption in 2014. But the basic premise remains the same: Bringing the Games to your place merely fills the IOC’s coffers at your citizens’ expense.
Folks in Montreal, Athens, Greece, Sochi, Russia and London are still suffering from the effects of their governments’ massive financial losses after hosting the Olympics. Former venues in some places are overgrown with weeds and inhabited by squatters and — despite their lack of use — still cost millions of dollars annually to maintain.
Meanwhile, the IOC’s fat cats spend a couple of weeks at the Games, enjoying $900 per diems, before seeing who they can rob next. Their corruption and shakedowns make Tony Soprano seem like a legitimate small business owner.
But the marks are getting wise to the scam.
Oslo, Stockholm, Lviv, Ukraine and Krakow, Poland all withdrew their bids to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, turned off in large part by the IOC’s money-grabbing ways. Left with a choice between Almaty (Kazakhstan) and Beijing (China), the IOC went with the latter, even though snow rarely falls on the mountain where skiing will take place.
The United States Olympic Committee selected Boston from among Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington to bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics. But several months later, after sobering up, Boston withdrew its bid. A state-financed report said hosting the Games every four years was the only way Boston wouldn’t hemorrhage financially.
Considering the cost of starting from scratch, rotating the international gathering among just a few nations with experience and existing infrastructure would be the smartest option for the IOC. But it’s also the least lucrative, leaving palms empty and pockets unlined.
Not surprisingly, enthusiasm for permanent sites is nonexistent at Olympic headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.
“The problem is that you shouldn’t create an economic catastrophe and massive economic debt every time you host an Olympics,” writes noted sports economist Andrew Zimbalist, author of the 2015 book “Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup.”
There’s a good reason more autocratic nations are making bids on the Olympics: Officials in places like Russia and China don’t have to explain themselves after doling out $50 billion for a sports festival. Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping answer to no one on their spending; the IOC takes no questions on its expense accounts.
They’re perfect for each other.
The IOC better enjoy these lavish paydays while it can because the end might be near. Brazil learned the hard way that hosting the Olympics can be more trouble than it’s worth, just the latest warning sign for potential bidder in the future.
No amount of athletic feats can create enough feel-good to alleviate the massive hangover after the guests depart. The Olympic legacy for hosts is the iconic rings forming a financial noose.
Meanwhile, the IOC rubs it hands and asks: “Who wants next?!”