Thursday, June 19, 2014

It should be all Greek

In sports, rooting for the home team is part and parcel of living in that community. The conundrum comes when one home team is playing against a former (or soon to be) team. Such is the case in the current battle for Olympic gold – the U.S. site for the 2024 Summer Olympics. Boston and Los Angeles along with San Francisco and Washington DC are in the running. One of the cities will become the potential host that then competes with other cities in the world for the privilege of hosting the games. I’m not much of a sports fan, but I recognize the value of the Olympics as a global force for amateur athletes to compete on behalf of their country. What I don’t get is the whole host competition.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) makes the determination about which site will host the Games. With the selection come civic pride, and not a small financial commitment to building infrastructure.  The 2014 Sochi games were the most expensive costing Russia over $50 billion. NBC agreed last month to a $7.75 billion contract extension to air the games through 2032 Olympics. That’s before the millions spent on equipment, personnel and satellite transmissions.

Tourism dollars in the short term and the long term are often used to justify the exorbitant costs. It’s a claim that has not born itself true in recent years. In Athens, after the 2004 Summer Olympics less than 10 years later 21 out of the 22 building are shuttered, gathering graffiti. Sochi is a described by locals as: “dead city.”

The Olympics have been tainted by politics over the years – this winter’s games were just the latest scuffle. Whichever country takes on the event does so a decade out – leaving plenty of time for building improvements and infrastructure changes. In Brazil the current World Cup was used to finalize long standing transportation woes in the country. These long timelines also don’t allow for political changes – Russia in 2004 was quite a different country on the world stage than 2014.

Why not build a permanent Olympic Village? It could be in Greece, home of the original Olympics, or maybe Switzerland so there aren’t any political battles. Maybe one village for the Summer Games and one for the Winter in climate appropriate areas. The tens of millions of dollars cities spend competing in their own country, and then against each other would be used for other things. IOC members wouldn’t get to travel the world on somebody else’s tab. If that winds up being the thing that stop it - each participating country could kick in some dough to keep the fat cats fat.

The facilities would then be consistent Olympic to Olympic – so whether the air is thinner in one place, or a field is ‘faster’ than another – allows the games to be consistently competed against prior records. That’s probably a good thing athletically.  The cost would be a one-time capital cost with ongoing improvements as technology and other needs change.  The communications costs would be mitigated as an entirely new community doesn’t have to created every couple of years.

A permanent Olympic Village would alleviate the political football between countries, save money, provide a better competitive environment. It’ll never happen – because it’s all Greek to the IOC.

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