Olympics can overwhelm host cities

It was seven years ago that the International Olympic Committee chose Rio de Janeiro as the host city for the 2016 Olympic Games. This decision shocked leaders from Chicago, Madrid and Tokyo — all of whom were vying to host the Games.

What made it shocking was the Games had never been hosted in South America. And the issues this government would need to address seemed overwhelming. Now, just days away from the 2016 Games, not much has seemed to change.

Despite hosting a seemingly successful World Cup in 2014, Rio stills seems to be more a place where chaos is prevalent, which seriously threatens the success of the Olympic Games. But while Rio’s leadership is being questioned, it may be fair to do the same with the IOC.

The IOC has a history of awarding the Games to cities for the purpose of producing change, which is part of the IOC’s mission in the modern Olympic movement.

For example, the Games were awarded to Beijing in 2008 in hopes that it would help open the world to China. Twenty years earlier, Seoul hosted the Games with the hope of promoting a civilian government in South Korea.

Additionally, many cities have put together bids to host the Olympic Games in pursuit of revitalization, improved infrastructure, and financial gain through increased tourism — both during and after the competition.

However, time and time again, the Olympics have proven to be unsuccessful in these efforts. Cities are often pushed to the financial brink to build high-cost accommodations for a temporary event. This is not a wise business model.

It took the city of Montreal 30 years to pay off its debt from hosting the Olympics in 1976. The 2004 Games in Athens cost nearly nine billion euros, the vast majority of which was paid by taxpayers. Recent reports suggest that Rio, in addition to its extensive list of other struggles, is $1.6 billion over budget, and records suggest that no modern Olympic Games has ever been able to remain within the predetermined budget. The overage in spending then becomes the responsibility of the host city’s residents and government.

The Olympics have just become too large for their own good. There are very few cities in the world, if any, that can accommodate the financial commitment it takes to host the Games. That is why fewer cities are making a bid for future games. When Beijing was recently chosen to host the 2022 Winter Games, it had little competition.

While the IOC has an interest in sharing the Games throughout the world, it is time for this governing body to accept more responsibility — including financial responsibility — for the massive event it has created.

The IOC contributed $1 billion to Rio’s efforts. That seems like a large sum, but as the Rio Games seem to totter on the brink of instability, perhaps more funds should have been allocated by the IOC.

Of course, there are other solutions that could infuse energy and stability to the current Olympic game experience for athletes and fans. But the solution needs to begin with the IOC embracing the idea that the Olympic Games of today are not the source of national or citywide revitalization it once believed it was — or its purpose. Rather, the IOC needs to remember that the Olympics are a magnificent display of athletic achievement.

This achievement should never be overshadowed by struggles of the host city.

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Andrew Wonders is assistant professor of sport business management at Cedarville University. Prior to joining the faculty, he had a 13-year career in the sport industry, including work for the Olympic organizing committees in Sydney and Salt Lake City.