The Olympics that no one wants

Freestyle Skiing - Winter Olympics Day 13

Why world-class cities opt out of hosting

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. October 21, 2014

And then there were two: Almaty, Kazakhstan and Beijing, People’s Republic of China. How on Earth did this happen? Is it because hosting an Olympic event is such a drain on a country’s economy, or is it because people just don’t care about the Winter Olympics?

When Oslo, Norway—the frontrunner to host the 2022 Olympics—withdrew its bid on October 1, many fans, organizers, and athletes awoke to a realization: the Winter Olympics was just not worth the trouble. For too long, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had been the popular girl at prom, but now she might have a profile on Plenty of Fish.

The problem is not necessarily the Olympics’ attractiveness, but rather its high standards. The IOC is demanding, and that was the greatest turn-off for the Norwegians. After all, the committee did send over a 7,000-page handbook and requested alterations of traffic and airport customs just for the officials, in addition to a cocktail party with the Norwegian royal family. Such pompous demands say a lot about the organization’s culture. And it’s not too surprising to see that Norway wanted nothing to do with it.

With that being said, there is prestige from hosting the two-week event. Just look at the result of the 2010 Winter Olympics here in Vancouver, and you’ll see that the event elevated the city into the world-class standard. It put us centre stage and we astounded the world, in addition to proving many skeptics wrong. We can all agree that Vancouver’s infrastructure, traffic, and tourism economy has taken a step in a positive direction since.

The global situation is that not many cities are capable of becoming world-class cities. Sochi, for example, struggled with the event to the very last moment, and tourism is not exactly flourishing there now. Recessions across many European countries also make the opportunity to host risky.

The most likely event now is that the IOC will select Beijing as the host of the 2022 Olympics—it’s the most reasonable choice. The second possibility is that the committee will offer the opportunity to a country that has proven experience hosting recent large-scale events. What the committee needs to establish is six to 10 world-class cities across the globe that can host the Olympics should a newcomer fail to meet the exceptionally high standards. The United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, South Korea, Italy, France, Russia, and whoever else the IOC deems suitable should be added to their little black book.

No doubt having a list of suitable candidates will reduce the status of the IOC, but is that such a bad thing? What’s the alternative? Waiting by the telephone, hoping that a rich country will call? The IOC should know better: the Winter Olympics is not to be compared with the World Cup or the Summer Olympics. People just don’t need it as much.

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