What? I’m talking about the officials who accompanied the players. Yeah. What did you think? Anyway, this post is not about those officials. Or how Sindhu glued Gujarat, Maratha, Rahul Dravid and beyond to the TV together for a day. Or how those people were interested in her only because ‘Ind-WI wale match me barish ho gayi thi us din’. This post isn’t even about how many months Sindhu is younger than me. It is about a larger, nobler cause. Money.
The Olympics is probably the hugest entertainment show in the world (bigger than Modi’s rock concerts. Hard to believe, I know), apart from being the pinnacle of human strength, fitness, sportsmanship and all the other words you would find on a gym pamphlet. And to organize a show with such grandeur, the host countries dole out huge amounts of cash.
For only 14 days of Rio Games this year, official estimates put the total money spent on preparations at over $15bn. Out of which $11bn was taken from the taxpayers’ pockets. To put it into perspective, India’s mangalyaan cost $75mn and a center fresh costs Rs 1(imagine how many you could buy with $15bn). The recent political and financial instability that Brazil has been facing hasn’t helped ease the brunt. And sure enough, there has been a major public outcry over the spending and other hosting-related issues. Having said that, Brazil’s Olympics budget was modest in comparison to the Beijing Olympics in 2008 ($44bn) and Sochi Winter Games ($51bn).
But why do countries go the extra mile to host these white elephant events anyway? There must be some incentive, right?
Here’s what a leading Brazilian sports analyst analysed:
“The main legacy of the Games was the party for Rio’s people, who will never forget these days,”
Yayy. The party! The memories, the fun. Wait what? All that money spent just for..fun?
Apparently, the answer seems to be yes. Apart from only one Olympics in the past, all others have been loss making affairs both in the short and long term. And the one time when it was deemed successful in 1984, the actual spending was pretty low due to Los Angeles being the default choice as the host(The Soviet bloc boycotted) and other reasons like the availability of pre-built stadia. The returns of hosting an Olympics are so low that even low hanging fruits like international tourism are not plucked any more effectively. In London 2012, around 90% of the tourists were British themselves. Even four years after the event, there hasn’t been a considerable rise to the tourist influx to the city. Same can be said for Beijing and other hosts.
Although, all is not lost. Infrastructure, both sports and non-sports is one area which benefits. Several new train lines have been laid and bus routes mapped in Rio. New roads, museums, renovated pubic spots etc have been constructed. Close home, New Delhi saw the introduction of the now ubiquitous low floor buses during the 2011 Commonwealth Games.
But hosting Olympics as an excuse to build infrastructure is like arranging your son’s marriage because your walls need whitewashing. It’s actually worse than that, because the wedding is unavoidable unlike the Olympics.
Talking about weddings (which are lovely by the way), it’s easy to see further analogy with Olympics. A massively budgeted event organized with arrangements for 100 times the number of people who live in your house to showcase to them your status? The similarities are uncanny.
What’s more? We even have the nosy-relatives-who-find-faults equivalent in the Olympics. The international media activate their vulture vision, starting from around a year or two before the games are actually held. And as the adage goes, where there is media, there is bad news. The hype around the Zika virus, terror threats and under-preparedness of Rio was covered so much, it started sweating. I say hype, because Zika isn’t as big deal as the media made it to be and there haven’t really been terrorist threats to Brazil in the past. As for under-preparedness, that tape has been played and replayed and re-re-played whenever the western media is unable to digest the fact that a developing nation like Brazil, China(‘08), Russia (Sochi ‘14) or India(CWG ’11..erm..actually..) can match western standards in the allotted timeframes.
Modern Olympics, therefore seem to be feel good events with a neutral or negative impact on the taxpayers of the hosts. More and more countries are agreeing to this observation. India, very recently turned down the talks about hosting the 2024 games, probably due to related reasons. What’s clear therefore is that future hosts would increasingly look to cut on spending and increase revenue sources during and after the games.
Finally let’s have a look at what the International Olympics Committee chairman has to say on the matter.
“HISTORY WILL TALK ABOUT A RIO DE JANEIRO BEFORE AND A MUCH BETTER RIO DE JANEIRO AFTER THE OLYMPIC GAMES,” SAID IOC PRESIDENT THOMAS BACH.
Yeah, right. Stop shouting dude.