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Friday, March 11, 2005

Potential Olympic Hosts Beware

The Sports Economist posted the other day about the post-Olympic state of play of the facilities built in Athens. Actually, post-Olympic is the wrong term. Call it a post mortem. Or, perhaps, a plain and simple mortem.

When you picture Athens, you either picture the renaissance city you learned about in school books or the current, hectic metropolis that still has great indicia of its past. Read the post, and then you'll picture Athens as a city in a financial and territorial pickle.

Meanwhile, the buildings sit there, unused, atrophying. They sit there not as monuments to an Olympiad, but to the manic-depressive state that hits many international cities that host Olympic games.

That begs the question whether the high was worth it.

The answer here is no.

Yes, it's nice for a city to have something to look forward to, something to build upon, something to rally its citizenry behind. Look at Boston, with the Red Sox and the Patriots. Look at Manchester, given how United has done over the years, and look at the entire country of Brazil come every World Cup. Athens, though, didn't have the same experience when it got the limelight. Many Athenians bailed when the Olympics arrived, and it was clear that many events were not sold out. Sure, they got attention for the build up (much of which was bad because the world was skeptical whether they would finish their preparations on time) and, yes, they got tons of publicity during the games (including the majesty of hosting certain track and field events in a stadium that dated back thousands of years).

But, outside of the joy of getting selected, did the people of Athens really benefit from the experience?

It doesn't look like it.

And now they'll have to deal with the fallout for years and years to come.

All for an event that many, if not most, of the people of Athens did not attend.

Many other cities have learned this lesson over the past decades. The question is why the lesson keeps on repeating itself (especially since the lustre of the Olympics has dimmed given the scandals at the International Olympic Committee, the questions that arise from time to time about performance-enhancing drugs and the reality that most performers are not amateurs anymore).

So now it appears that two types of artifacts remain in Athens -- those from glorious days of thousands of years ago, and those from falsely glamorous days of only a year ago.

Let the potential hosts beware.


Blogger Amateur said...

I have no argument with your central thesis that the benefits of hosting the Olympic Games are not worth the costs, although Athens is not a typical example.

However, your off-hand comment about "the reality that most performers are not amateurs any more" is kind of silly. Were the Olympics really better (a more interesting sports competition) when the athletes couldn't be paid for their performances?

With increasing public interest comes increasing profits, and why shouldn't the athletes share in that wealth? And I can't really think of any substantial way that the "true amateur" Olympics of the early twentieth century were superior to the Olympics of 2004, unless you think that only wealthy western white men should be able to compete.

10:45 AM  

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