In 1972, via a statewide referendum, the people of Colorado rejected funding for the 1976 Olympic Games, becoming the only city ever awarded the games to turn down the chance to host. While that decision shocked the rest of the country, as well as many around the world, it wasn’t a surprising move for anyone who knows the taxpayers of the Rocky Mountain state. In fact, knowing what we know now about the structural challenge and fiscal nightmare the Games can be for some cities and countries, it was a surprisingly prescient and prudent move.
Hosting the Olympic Games is an incredible honor and opportunity for a country to shine on the international stage, but it’s also a significant financial and structural investment saddled with huge risks. The Olympics generally cost tens of billions of dollars to stage while providing only a fraction of that in terms of revenue. Host countries must invest heavily in building a vast infrastructure of sites to hold the events, housing for the teams and guests, and transportation and security systems to manage the people. While these can certainly upgrade a city, they are rarely necessary to maintain following the games and often end up in disuse and decay.
Additionally, any benefit from the event is often overshadowed by the corrupt history of the bidding process at the International Olympic Committee and the potential for bloated budgets prior to the event followed by blight afterwards. The scandals plaguing the entire hosting process are extensive, ranging from bribes and extortion to graft and highly orchestrated doping programs which have tainted vast numbers of events and athletes. It often seems the Olympic Games, an international institution intended to honor the individual pursuit of excellence, are more trouble than they’re worth. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Instead, the international community should establish permanent locations for the Olympics, where all countries contribute to maintaining the sites as the premier athletic facilities in the world. The fields and tracks and stadiums could serve as hosts for an endless number of world championships at all levels, and they could also serve as training grounds and research locations to serve all manner of individuals and organizations committed to honoring and promoting the highest levels of athletic achievement.
Choosing permanent locations would obviously be a significant challenge, though certainly not more problematic than the current bidding process. It’s reasonable to have host cities across multiple geographic regions, and it makes sense to consider places which held successful games and maintained some of the original infrastructure. Athens is the obvious choice for one permanent summer location, while Barcelona, Seoul, and Sydney are solid choices as well. Salt Lake City and Lillehammer are good bets for the Winter Olympics, though a strong case can be made for both Vancouver and Turin. Obviously the city and host country must want the honor and responsibility and be willing to trust the rest of the world to support the plan.
This idea is not new, having been discussed for years among commentators, athletic groups, and political leaders. In fact, at the end of the 1896 Games, which launched the modern era, King George of Greece called for Athens to be the permanent “peaceful meeting place of all nations,” and many delegations signed a letter endorsing the idea. Now, news out of Tokyo indicates nearly 80% of Japanese people oppose holding the Olympics there next week, as the surge in Covid cases unsettles residents even as officials still consider allowing fans to attend. Obviously, the pandemic which delayed the Games for a year is a huge factor in the national sentiment of Japan, though it’s worth noting that in 2016 nearly two-thirds of Brazillians worried the Rio Olympics would bring more harm than good to the country.
Currently, host cities are already established through 2028 when Los Angeles will host its third Olympic Games. And perhaps that’s enough. Before any more bidding happens and planning begins, the public should discuss the idea of permanent host cities. Once the idea is floated to athletes and voters, political and business leaders should take the discussion to the IOC and make it happen. With many future games already assigned and planned, there is plenty of time to develop and implement this logical change to the Games.
Michael P. Mazenko is a writer, educator, & school administrator in Greenwood Village. He blogs at A Teacher’s View and can be found on Twitter @mmazenko. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org