Unfortunately the Olympics hasn’t been such a success for the host city. Rio is a wondrous location in a fantastic part of the world, but the event – even before it started – has been plagued by multi-billion dollar costs, mass local protests, the country’s economic downturn, a national corruption scandal, tragic deaths during the construction of facilities, an international fall-out over doping, gunpoint robberies, ticket touting, and now swathes of empty seats.
Not all of the problems can be blamed on Rio, but it is increasingly obvious that the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) policy of alternating the location of the games, via a global bidding process, does not work. Economists have shown that the benefits fail to match the costs for nearly all host cities; a clear majority of Brazilians believe the games will cause more harm than good, with many choosing to snub the occasion in protest.
Furthermore, the corruption that blights international sport seems to be encouraged when central bodies have the power to decide who “wins” the right to host global events (a problem by no means limited to the Olympics).
But what are the alternatives? Several have been touted, with one of the more entertaining and bold ideas coming from an American professor called John Rennie Short, who argues that a small Greek island could be turned into a permanent Olympic camp. The Greek government, still struggling with its enormous debt pile, could earn much-needed revenue by outsourcing the games, and/or selling land. If the event was to be repeated in the same area every four years, the “legacy” problem – of sinking huge fixed costs into a one-off enterprise – would be eliminated.
Critics say that a rotating location makes the games more inclusive and encourages participation in neglected parts of the world – but as we’ve seen in Rio, that can easily backfire. Moreover, in the depths of the digital age, the vast majority of fans (who cannot afford to attend in person) mingle on social media as they share the Olympic experience. As the world becomes smaller, the geographic location of sporting contests becomes less and less relevant.
The Olympic Games is a phenomenal event, epitomising and celebrating human endeavour and progress. If it is to continue to thrive, the IOC must reconsider its commitment to taking the show on the road every four years.