Faster, higher, stronger… but why bigger?
It seems that every major sports competition these days is accompanied by stories of the grumbling citizenry of a host country or city who feel like a party is being hosted at the expense of their taxes that they aren’t invited to in the first place.
Having grown up in the ’80s and ’90s, competitions like the Olympics definitely didn’t feel like they were being treated like a noisy and elaborate house party that bothered the neighbours. Maybe that was because it was still a time for the growth of the Games from a high-minded pursuit (the inventor of the modern Olympics was once successfully able to shoehorn fine arts into the program once) to a commercial extravaganza.
Corporations, sports federations and of course the host nations’ governments that were keen on recovering the massive infrastructure costs incurred by them. Perhaps it was the combination of these three factors that have made the Olympics a bit bloated now. And I’m not referring to the list of events that keep getting added to the program.
Perhaps we were spoiled by the extremely successful ‘92, ‘96 and ‘00 editions that were held in the developed world while the global economy was still booming and we were all singing praises of the free markets after the fall of the Soviet Union.
The ‘04 Games in Athens was the first major reality check for the Olympics. Held in a country that was more than just a little upset at not hosting either the centennial or millennial Games, the Olympics did little to help Greece’s economy, which bore the brunt of the shambolic preparation that ran over budget. While in Athens during the Games, this writer noticed the citizenry leave the city en-masse in order to enjoy the nearby holiday spots and watch the events on television. They seemed unwilling to mingle with the tourists who felt more like freeloaders instead of guests.
China’s hosting of the Olympics made more sense than that of Athens considering that the nation was on the fast track to becoming a developed nation and could use the infrastructure boost. But even in Beijing, reports of the gigantic and elaborate venues like the Bird’s Nest and Aquatics Cube being unused for large parts of the year keep coming.
It begs the question as to why countries need to spend with their hearts and ego instead of their heads.
Large scale security snafus in London due to the hosting of the Games has also become a talking point as well as the viability of many of the Olympic venues.
Perhaps it is time that the Olympic movement gets a reality check about how big its waistline needs to be. Especially when the majority of the money is made through the sale of television rights anyway.
Perhaps it’s time to get just a little bit smaller.
By Vinayak Pande