In 1972, Colorado residents rejected funding for the 1976 Olympics through a nationwide referendum and became the only city to ever award the Games to decline the chance to host the Games. While this decision shocked the rest of the country, as well as many around the world, it wasn’t a surprising move to anyone familiar with Rocky Mountain state taxpayers. Given what we now know about the structural challenges and fiscal nightmare the Games can be for some cities and countries, this was a surprisingly forward-looking and prudent move.
Hosting the Olympics is an incredible honor and opportunity for a country to shine on the international stage, but it is also a significant financial and structural investment that involves great risks. The Olympics generally cost tens of billions of dollars while providing a fraction of that in terms of revenue. The host countries must invest heavily in building a huge infrastructure of locations to host the events, accommodations for the teams and guests, and transportation and security systems to manage people. While these can certainly add value to a city, they are seldom necessary to watch the games and often end up in disuse and decay.
Furthermore, any benefit from the event is often overshadowed by the corrupt history of the application process at the International Olympic Committee and the potential for bloated budgets before the event followed by spoilage afterwards. The scandals that plague the entire hosting process are extensive, ranging from bribes and extortion to transplants and highly orchestrated doping programs that have tainted a large number of events and athletes. It often seems that the Olympic Games, an international institution designed to honor the individual’s pursuit of excellence, put in more trouble than it is worth. But it doesn’t have to be like that.
Instead, the international community should establish permanent sites for the Olympics, where all countries help maintain the sites as the best sports venues in the world. The fields and tracks and stadiums could serve as the venue for an endless number of world championships at all levels, and they could also serve as training grounds and research sites for all types of individuals and organizations committed to honoring and promoting the highest level of athletic performance .
Choosing a permanent location would of course be a great challenge, but certainly no more problematic than the current tendering process. It makes sense to have host cities in multiple geographic regions, and it makes sense to consider places where successful games have taken place and some of the original infrastructure has been preserved. Athens is the obvious choice for a permanent summer location, while Barcelona, Seoul, and Sydney are also good choices. Salt Lake City and Lillehammer are good bets for the Winter Olympics, although a strong argument can be made for both Vancouver and Turin. Obviously, the city and host country must have the honor, responsibility, and willingness to trust the rest of the world to support the plan.
This idea is not new and has been debated for years among commentators, sports groups, and political leaders. Indeed, at the end of the Games of 1896 that ushered in the modern era, King George of Greece called Athens as a permanent “peaceful meeting place of all nations” and many delegations signed a letter in support of the idea. News from Tokyo now shows that nearly 80% of Japanese are against holding the Olympics next week as the surge in Covid cases unsettles residents, even if officials are still considering allowing fans to attend. Obviously, the pandemic, which delayed the Games by a year, is a big factor in Japan’s national sentiment, although it’s worth noting that in 2016, nearly two-thirds of Brazilians feared the Rio Olympics would do more harm than good to the country would.
The host cities are currently set to run until 2028, when Los Angeles will host its third Olympic Games. And maybe that’s enough. Before further tenders are issued and planning begins, the public should discuss the idea of permanent host cities. As soon as the idea is known to the athletes and voters, politicians and business leaders should lead the discussion on the IOC and make it a reality. Since many future games are already assigned and planned, there is enough time to develop and implement this logical change in the games.
Michael P. Mazenko is a writer, educator, and school administrator in Greenwood Village. He blogs at A Teacher’s View and can be found on Twitter @mmazenko. You can email him at [email protected]