On the 10th Anniversary of the opening of the 2004 Athens Summer Olympic Games, the international press sent a stark reminder to the world of what can go wrong with the undertaking of the Olympic Games. Photos of derelict sport facilities sitting idle amidst garbage and the reminder that Greece went bankrupt a few years later, ostensibly as a result of frivolous spending spree related to the Olympic built-up. Beijing's and Sochi's billions were also mentioned to question the feasibility of hosting modern day Summer Games as per the specifications and expectations of the IOC and the Olympic Movement stakeholders (28 sports federations, athletes, spectators, press, broadcasters, sponsors and various other interests).
The Ten Year landmark refers to both the 2004 Summer Olympic Games held in Athens and to the 2024 Games whose host has still to be decided.
I have been involved with various business sides of Sport for the past 40 years, which includes the Olympic Movement: First during the 1976 Montreal Games, more intensely with the Athens 1996 Bid and 2004 Games and, peripherally, with a shortlisted candidate by the USOC for a potential 2024 Bid. I have witnessed the evolution of the Olympic Brand from the inside and the outside. I am horrified by the lack of understanding of what the Modern Olympic Games represent to the world and, particularly, to the hosts.
• The Olympic Games is the only lasting global heritage event. It is the biggest festival on earth, as it brings all the nations of the world together in one location for a sporting and cultural celebration.
• The Summer Games represents the biggest mobilization of resources in peacetime every four years.
• Hosting the Games is a concept that has been greatly misunderstood and abused by political agendas, business interests and the IOC.
• The IOC, under Bach, has awakened to the need to redefine the purpose and the scale of the Games.
• The Games should be awarded to developed nations (not cities any more) with the infrastructure to deliver them for gain.
• The Games should celebrate the timely conclusion of planned urban development that would elevate the status and fortunes of the hosts.
• The Games Operating Budget of nearly €3 billion is balanced! Revenues from TV, sponsors and tickets match the staging expenses.
• The billions of dollars spent by host cities in the last decade went towards infrastructure the city decided it wanted to showcase its development.
Beijing and Sochi
China ($38bn) and Russia ($51bn) wanted the Games to place their nations on the world stage. What and who they paid to achieve it matters little; certainly less to China, the growing economic behemoth, but more to Russia, the waning socialist empire. The results of their efforts have since been measured: China succeeded, Russia failed.
Athens and London
The infrastructural investment was an estimated €10bn for Athens and €15bn for London. Urban development plans existed for both. Athens badly needed an Airport, a Metro system and peripheral Highways and London a scope to expand the city eastward. They both succeeded in their quest. The Games forced the timely delivery of urban plans long in the backburner. Athens became a livable Metropolis and the Eastern docklands London's current development hot-spot. Telecom, security and other civic services were upgraded to meet the needs of the Festival. The city and the country occupied the global stage, giving them branding opportunities. Altogether, these elements constitute the Games Legacy.
There may have been cost overruns in an effort to speed up delivery. Yet, despite complaints, it is cheaper to build a 10 km road in one year than in five! What was spent didn't cause a financial crisis for either country, certainly not for the UK. For Greek skeptics, the €10bn spent on badly needed infrastructure created a boom. The sum was [supposed to be] spent over the 7 year period since the Games were awarded. That is about €1.5bn a year or 0.6% of Greece's annual GDP at the time. The economic multiplier of 2 to 3 times the investment boosted the economy further, making Greece the leading growth country in the EU during that period.
LOCOG's (London Organizing Committee) key Directorate was the Games Legacy function. Nothing was built without a plan for its re-use or disposal. If a permanent sporting facility couldn't be re-used (i.e. sold) it was erected as a temporary structure, to be dismantled after the Games (see Sydney 2000). ATHOC (Athens O.C.) had no such Directorate, nor did any of the Government agencies involved with the planning of the Games; therefore the white elephants and other eyesore remnants of the past decade with a price tag of an estimated $800 million.
The UK still accounts the benefits of staging the 2012 Summer Games. How Greece mismanaged its wealth and neglected its Olympic legacy opportunity is a political matter of dire consequences that currently plagues the country. Yet, remedies are on the table.
Ten Years After (2024)
The US has not hosted the Summer Games since 1984 when Peter Ueberroth and his LA Team redefined the business of Olympism. The Salt Lake City Winter Games were marred by the bribery scandal that delivered the Olympics to the US in 2002. The USOC has been scarred by the early round eliminations of its previous candidates, New York and Chicago, during the selection process for the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics.
As the Games geopolitics go, it would be Europe's turn to host the 2024 Games. But a US host is not out of the question, particularly if Europe does not put forth a strong candidate such as Berlin or Paris. The USOC has a history of antagonizing the IOC but may have made amends recently, in renegotiating the Games revenue split favoring the IOC.
The USOC leadership under Larry Probst and Scott Blackmun has also changed its approach in selecting the candidate the US may put forth by the end of this year to claim the 2024 hosting honors. It has shortlisted LA and San Francisco from the West Coast and Boston and Washington DC from the East Coast. The USOC is in complete control of the US selection process. It is trying to leverage its position (also see NBC) in order to increase America's chances to win the 2017 voting for the 2024 Summer Games host, before it fields a US candidate. On the other side of the coin, the newly elected IOC president, Thomas Bach, a German, cannot be seen making concessions to the US if Berlin –as expected- fields a candidacy for 2024.
What needs to come out in the US selection process a.s.a.p., is the overwhelming desire of the people living in and around the applicant cities to host the Summer Games, under strong and inspired leadership. But this hinges on what the people understand about the cost-benefit equation of staging the biggest festival in the world ten years down the road and how will its leaders explain it to them. How could they resolve the current misconception that the Olympic Games are a frivolous project that benefits the few at the cost of many?
The Future of the Olympic Games
City after city are dropping out of the bidding process for future Games: Munich, St. Moritz, Stockholm, Krakow, Paris, New York, Philadelphia, etc. Oslo '22 has been declared an Applicant but may drop out before the Candidate stage. Either the people are voting against hosting the Olympics or politicians are leery of undertaking the commitment. The IOC will no longer look for "ascending" brand nations to host the Games. Sochi was a disaster and Rio promises to be another one. Istanbul was once again rejected in favor of Tokyo for 2022. And who wants to go to Qatar in the summer?
The IOC is looking to change some of its bidding and hosting rules by the end of this year to make the prospect more attractive. It might even assign the Games to a Nation not a City, like World Cup Football. The biggest issue is how to secure a legacy for the people, city and nation hosting an Olympics and sustain the dynamics of the Olympic Movement.
What the IOC, the Host and the Games stakeholders need to show to all involved in the process, is the distinction between a balanced Operational Games Budget that delivers the sports content of the Olympics and the infrastructural investment as part of an existing urban development plan that will benefit the host's citizens in the long term. It shouldn't be difficult. No candidate should come forth in the absence of such long term planning. If hosting the Games induces its completion by Games' time, then there shall be a double celebration!
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