The Case for a De-centralized Olympic Games
The Olympic Games held at Sochi have only just begun, and already they are marred by their exorbitant cost, much of it owing to corruption and the threat of terrorism by Chechen jihadis. Environmentalists balk at the industrial stain to Sochi’s pristine ecology, while political activists protest the harassment of homosexuals and the wrongful imprisonment of anti-Putin demonstrators. Even geologists, namely one Dr. Sergei Volkov, a former consultant to the Russian Olympic Committee, express their concern that a new 31-mile road and railway system between the mountainous Krasnaya Polyana (where the Olympic snow events are to be held) and the nearest airport in Sochi could aggravate a region prone to landslides.
But in all fairness to Russia, the Olympic Games are hardly easy to organize, and often their very prestige can cause trouble. For though hosting the Olympics can be a source of unparalleled national pride, with this honor comes the sobering pressure to serve up a spectacle that is safe, fun, and awe-inspiring all at once.
Understandably, given the magnitude of the Olympics, any host nation would be more than willing to go to any lengths to make its opportunity to shine a memorable one. Just consider how much money host nations have been willing to budget to this sixteen-day sporting extravaganza.
Russia, which spent a record-breaking $51 billion on the Sochi Olympics, isn’t the only host nation in recent years to have set aside ridiculous sums of money for the Games. Consider the 2008 Beijing Olympics which, despite grossing $146 million in profits, cost in excess of $43 billion.
The 2006 and 2004 Olympic Games have been even less fortunate. Torino 2006, a commercial disappointment, recovered only a tenth of its $3.6 billion investment, while Athens 2004 was a catastrophic failure. Spending approximately $15 billion on its Games, Greece earned back less than $1 billion for a net loss of, at best, $14 billion. Worse still, analysts suggest that the ongoing Greek sovereign-debt crisis, which has jeopardized the entire Eurozone, can be traced to the Athens Olympics.
In addition to superfluous infrastructural spending, the Olympic Games encourage political expression. As with a host nation’s need to impress at all costs, this tendency for the Olympics to turn political is readily understood and inevitable. After all, an event as widely viewed and as well-received as the Olympics cannot possibly escape the notice of the anonymous political evangelist intent on spreading his message of need.
In any case, by no means is it wrong to use the Olympics as a forum for political activism. Should anyone, even Pussy Riot, the feminist punk rock protest band that achieved fame for being imprisoned after publicly opposing Putin, attempt to demonstrate at Sochi, they shouldn’t be silenced so long as they remain nonviolent.
But, of course, political activism isn’t always peaceful. Even at the Olympics––no, especially at the Olympics––politics can turn violent and ugly. Recall, if you will, the 1972 Munich Olympics, where eight members of a Palestinian terrorist organization called Black September took hostage and eventually killed eleven Israeli Olympic athletes. Forty-two years have passed since the Munich massacre, and terrorism at the Olympics has since become even more plausible. Stationed at Sochi are 100,000 security personnel, a veritable “ring of steel,” while deployed to the adjoining Black Sea are as many as two U.S. warships (the USS Mount Whitney and the USS Taylor), and still homeland security experts remain anxious about the prospect of a terrorist attack at the Olympics.
This begs the question. How might the International Olympic Committee (I.O.C.) make the Olympics safer and more inexpensive while staying true to the pageantry that distinguishes it from other sporting events?
The I.O.C. might consider staging the Olympic Games in multiple nations around the world, extending the entire spectacle beyond the traditional sixteen days so that ardent fans may travel to multiple nations if they so choose. Each nation would host no more than a handful of Olympic events, thereby distributing any budgetary costs.
By dispersing the Olympics, the I.O.C. would also make them safer. Were the Games de-centralized, the I.O.C. would be able to direct the scrutiny of a sizable portion of the world’s population (a seventh, according to some estimates) to many cities as opposed to one and, in so doing, temper the appeal of committing a terrorist attack at an Olympic event. Likewise, each host nation would have fewer guests and venues to protect, thus easing the burden of making the Games secure.
De-centralizing the Olympic Games offers viable solutions to the current unwieldy model’s most pressing issues, and one only hopes that it doesn’t take another tragedy like the Munich massacre to embolden the I.O.C. to make systemic changes like the ones suggested above.
Copyright © 2014 Elliot Silverberg. All rights reserved.