In the lead-up to any Olympic Games, summer or winter, one will notice a trend: something is wrong with the host city. Whether it be stray dogs and LGBT rights in Sochi, air quality in Beijing, the Swine Flu before Vancouver's games in 2010 or Zika/feces in the water in Rio, there is always a controversy surrounding the run in to any Olympics starting. That isn't new. But what feels new is the critical mass of criticism for Rio just before that city's big moment. Even Sochi and Beijing, flush with controversies themselves, somehow never got the negative press that Brazil's biggest city is. What does this say about the Olympic Games, their legacy on host cities, and what the future of the world's biggest communal sports gathering is?
This idea was sparked by a short post from the Ringer advocating holding the Olympics in one city, permanently. Why should this idea be taken up? According to the author Claire McNear, it's because the games always go over budget, and that budget is insanely high to begin with, the proposed economic benefits for citizens of each city are never realized and the venues built for the games are often temporary and when they're not, they often become white elephants. All of this is 100% true. And it does look like future bids for Olympic Games, summer or winter, are coming from non-democratic states, and the 2022 Winter Games are cited as an example. A simple rebuke comes from looking at who is bidding for the 2024 Summer Games: Rome, Paris, Budapest and Los Angeles, but that misses the point.
While the Olympics have drifted away from their original message of world unity, shared responsibility, the glory of amateurism and athletic accomplishment to excess, commercialism and corruption, this is not a new trend. The last two Olympic Games to be held in the US; Atlanta in 1996 and Salt Lake City in 2002 are not bastions of everything pure and holy, are they? Both were defined by commercialism, patriotism and corruption... sound familiar? Moscow's Games in 1980 and LA's in 1984 were political pawns in the early 80's escalation of the Cold War, and recent games in cities like Athens, Beijing, Sochi and Rio have been opportunities for those cities, and countries, to announce themselves as 21st century world influencers. While the pitch for hosting the Olympics is almost entirely forged in lies and puffed up promises as the IOC takes its money and runs, when has that ever not been true about the Olympics and their organizing body? It's possible we're all paying more attention to it now that the games have been hosted in non-Western cities such as Beijing, Sochi and even Rio, because as much as we don't want to admit it there's a wider world beyond the US and Western Europe. Corruption largely favors these types of cities and states, and the IOC has been rife with corruption recently, but again, when has that not been true?
It is incumbent upon the IOC to change their message of what hosting the games will do for these cities and countries, and they have tried to at least forge that path recently under Thomas Bach. That has largely not been successful recently, but there is so much excess and corruption to overcome that it will take more than one man to force that change through. External organizations, people and countries need to be the ones taking that impetus, and hosting the games in one city permanently will not ever change the notion pervading the Olympics at present.
Presumably, that one city would be an American city, because the need to overspend on facilities won't be there, the infrastructure that most up-and-coming cities need to build already exists and there won't be any concern about Zika, feces in the water supply, slums or air quality. But if the goal of the Olympics is to bring the world together and expose new faces to us all, is that even possible if the Olympics are permanently held in Los Angeles, for example? Part of the glory of these major international sporting events is seeing the new cities, learning about their history and cultures as they become as much a part of the games as the athletes do. The IOC has to take ownership of the Olympics' reputation and realize that forcing cities to stick to arcane bidding plans and not change with the times for budget or any other reason is asinine and only hurts in the long run.
The modern Olympic Games are not anything like what the pure ideals pushed by Baron De Coubertin in the late 1890's were. There will always be controversies with every host city for every Olympics going forward, and totally cleaning up the IOC of what has pervaded it for so long seems an impossible task. But if the IOC, the cities and the public re-frame their expectations as to what the Olympics are about, and what the benefits are, the potential is still there for the Games to not become only about the host city being wrecked by the traveling circus. The IOC is trying desperately to change the perception of the Games by altering the bidding process, attempting to root out corruption, re-focusing the Games themselves on sports that may matter more to the individual hosts, and whether they're doing enough remains to be seen, but at least they're trying,
Rio's Games were awarded under an old system with an old President. So too was Sochi and Pyeongchang and Tokyo too. We may not see the true future of the Olympic Games until 2024, and whether anyone wants to wait that long to see progress is unlikely. But to say that Rio is the tipping point after almost all host cities before it dealt with the same problems manifesting themselves in different forms is a bit silly.
That doesn't mean that Rio's problems shouldn't be covered and covered extensively. They should. But they should be understood in context, not sweeping generalizations. Maybe these Games were over Brazil and Rio's heads, and likely they are. But that means we should cover the issues of these games well after the circus has left town, and look towards the IOC and the organizing committees and governments themselves and force them to change.
It's now time to let the Games begin, problems in all. Problems have now become a part of the Olympic Program along with track and swimming. Rio is not the first city to host these new games, nor will they be the last.
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