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2022 Winter Olympics FAIL

I’ll admit it: I love the Olympics.

That might not be cool to say, but I’ve loved watching the games ever since I saw the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid.  I remember sitting in my living room in Michigan watching the big US-USSR hockey game with my Mom and the joy that erupted in beating the Russians.

So, I’m not one of those people who thinks the Games are a waste of time and would gladly see it die a horrible death.  I think the games are a good thing for sports and just for fun.

That said, when the price of fun is astronomical, even I might say “pass.”

That’s what’s been happening in the run up to next summer’s vote on which city will host the 2022 Winter Olympics.  Cities such as Munich, Stockholm and Krakow have withdrawn bids mostly because the public is not interested in paying an astronomical price for buildings that won’t have use after the Olympic Flame goes out.

Yesterday, Oslo, Norway was the latest city to pull out of the bid process.  This winter crazed nation which has hosted the games twice before withdrew for the same reason Munich, Stockholm and Krakow did: the public was passing on the price.

This leaves two cities in bid process: the two worst choices.  Beijing, China which hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics and Almaty, Kazakhstan.  Beijing is a bad choice because there are no mountains within 120 miles of the city.  Almaty is even worse because a) no one even knows where this is and b) Kazakhstan is basically a dictatorship.

So why has this bid process been so bad?  Two reasons: first is the $51 billion Russia spent on the Sochi games.  Second, the International Olympic Committee is basically run by corrupt crooks.  Associated Press writer John Leicester explains what’s gone haywire at the IOC:

 

Selling the Olympics should be a slam-dunk. Rosy-cheeked, sculpted athletes in the prime of life doing eye-popping things on skis, skates and sleds. What’s not to like? They are not the problem; the circus that the IOC has built around them and itself is. Too expensive, too demanding, too insensitive, too self-important. The list of requirements that the IOC now expects of its hosts has grown to thousands of pages, down to the smallest and pettiest details. Even flowers for medal winners, for example, must be an IOC-regulated size and not have too much pollen, “to reduce any allergy issues for those holding the bouquets.”

Time for a reality check. The IOC should fuss less and focus more on trimming the costs, complexity and tone-deafness of the games. It also must wean itself off dubious governments with fat wallets and bad reputations. Because their dirt and bad decisions rub off. IOC glad-handing of Vladimir Putin at the Sochi Games looked like a bad mistake when Russia annexed the Crimea peninsula not long after the closing ceremony. And the $51 billion spent by Russia to prepare the Black Sea resort, plus complaints of displaced homeowners and thugs who horsewhipped punk girls from Pussy Riot, made those weeks in February feel like a distillation of everything that’s wrong with the Olympics.

 

Slate got a hold of some of the IOC’s requests that ended up pissing off the Norwegians.  It’s a doozy:

  • They demand to meet the king prior to the opening ceremony. Afterwards, there shall be a cocktail reception. Drinks shall be paid for by the Royal Palace or the local organizing committee.
  • Separate lanes should be created on all roads where IOC members will travel, which are not to be used by regular people or public transportation.
  • A welcome greeting from the local Olympic boss and the hotel manager should be presented in IOC members’ rooms, along with fruit and cakes of the season. (Seasonal fruit in Oslo in February is a challenge …)
  • The hotel bar at their hotel should extend its hours “extra late” and the minibars must stock Coke products.
  • The IOC president shall be welcomed ceremoniously on the runway when he arrives.
  • The IOC members should have separate entrances and exits to and from the airport.
  • During the opening and closing ceremonies a fully stocked bar shall be available. During competition days, wine and beer will do at the stadium lounge.
  • IOC members shall be greeted with a smile when arriving at their hotel.
  • Meeting rooms shall be kept at exactly 20 degrees Celsius at all times.
  • The hot food offered in the lounges at venues should be replaced at regular intervals, as IOC members might “risk” having to eat several meals at the same lounge during the Olympics.

Can we say “diva?”

In response to Norway telling the IOC to….umm “forget” themselves, the IOC responded in the most condescending tone imaginable:

This is a missed opportunity for the City of Oslo and for all the people of Norway who are known world-wide for being huge fans of winter sports. And it is mostly a missed opportunity for the outstanding Norwegian athletes who will not be able to reach new Olympic heights in their home country.

The reason the 2022 Winter Games bidding process is such a disaster is not because the citizens of Germany, Sweden, Poland and Norway are cheapskates that hate the Olympics. These are all strong winter sports nations that rack up the medals during the Winter Olympics, after all. No, the problem lies with the IOC itself. It has long been considered corrupt, but this time we all got to see the ugliness.

In another example of its tin ear, the IOC will not reopen the bid process- not that any other city or nation is going to put up with the IOC crazy.

Leicester notes that the IOC could try not spending like drunken sailors:

Easy. Scale them back, make them smaller and far less extravagant. Also stop going to places that have to move heaven and earth to get ready, that don’t have most of the necessary infrastructure in place and strong democratic, legal and citizen oversight to curb Olympic-related corruption and abuse. Corruption watchdog group Transparency International ranks Kazakhstan very poorly. Among the many turn-offs with Beijing’s bid for 2022 is that snow would have to be made artificially for alpine skiing. Environmentally ridiculous, given northern China’s alarming water shortages.

 

There is some hope here, though. The 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal were a financial disaster for Canada. In response very few cities wanted to host the ’84 games. Three cities expressed interest: Los Angeles, New York and Terhan, Iran. Only one nation per country could bid, so Los Angeles was chosen as the US selection. Terhan dropped out leaving the LA the only choice. In light of Montreal, Los Angeles went in different direction, one that revived the Olympic movement. This is what Wikipedia says about how LA was able to pull the games out without running a massive deficit:

The low level of interest among cities was seen as a major threat to the future of the Olympic Games. However, with the financially successful Los Angeles Games, cities began to line up to be hosts again. The Los Angeles and Montreal Games are seen as examples of what to do and what not to do when organizing the Olympics, and serve as object lessons to prospective host cities. While Montreal organizers ran up a substantial debt eight years earlier by constructing many new, overly ambitiously designed venues, the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee relied heavily on the use of area venues that were already in existence, particularly Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which was also the Olympic Stadium for the 1932 Summer Olympics. The Olympic Velodrome and the Olympic Swim Stadium, funded largely by the 7-Eleven and McDonald’s corporations respectively, were the only two new venues constructed specifically for the L.A. Games. The resulting low construction costs, coupled with a heavy reliance on private corporate funding, allowed the Games to generate a profit of more than $200 million, making them by far the most financially successful in history.[4]

What does this all mean? Well, probably not that the IOC will reform itself. Change will happen when prospective nations are able to say “no” to the IOC and offer a games at a cheaper cost by using what facilities are available and seeking funding from other sources than the people.

2022 will probably be a trainwreck. I will be watching those games on TV, but it won’t be soley for the competition; it will be to see the bed the IOC made for itself.

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38 thoughts on “2022 Winter Olympics FAIL

  1. It would seem to me that this still makes Los Angeles the exception and not the rule. Los Angeles might be the only city where part of the opening ceremony potentially involved experimental theatre:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Civil_Wars:_A_Tree_Is_Best_Measured_When_It_Is_Down

    A lack of funds shut down the performance.

    I am kind of glad that many Western Democracies are choosing to not host the Olympics because of costs. However, I suspect that many dictatorships and U.S. cities will rush into the bidding process and kiss IOC butt. Building stadiums with public money is never a good idea but it seems to be something that legislatures can’t help but doing. Politicians seems to read Shelly incorrectly when it comes to this stuff:

    I met a traveller from an antique land
    Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
    Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
    And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
    And on the pedestal these words appear:
    ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
    Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.

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    • With Salt Lake City as a similar exception for the Winter Games, showing a profit of about $100M. When you run down the list of facilities used in the SLC Games, what you see is a bunch of smallish new facilities, as well as repurposed existing ones (eg, temporarily renaming the Delta Center as the Salt Lake Ice Center, restoring historic buildings at Fort Douglas as part of the Olympic Village, using an expanded University of Utah stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies). With a budget of about $2B versus Sochi’s $50B (although that reported estimate for Sochi is widely considered to be higher than the actual cost).

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      • Although SLC Olympic savior, Romney, got a bunch of money from the Fed’s to save their bacon fwiw. What really helped SLC was they have a real winter sports set up before the O’s came to town. That doesn’t fit with places like Sochi. Places like Sweden, Germany or Norway have most of what they need already to run most of the actual sports. It’s all the perks and extra construction that becomes a waste.

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  2. Yeah what you said. I love the Olympics and especially the Winter version. But good for all those countries telling the IOC to bit their frozen skiing asses. If it wasn’t for FIFA the IOC would be worst international sports federation. They have a great product that only requires them to put on competently with a bit of tradition and pageantry for people to love. But they are to caught up in bigger and more and most importantly more cash. There list of perks is hilarious.

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  3. Like I previously said, the best solution is to have a permanent venue for the games if we want to have them. Greece gets the Summer Olympics, Switzerland the Winter Olympics, and Brazil the World Cup.

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    • In the current situation, the host country bears most of the costs. If the same city is going to host every four years, that country’s government is going to require that the IOC and member nations of the Olympics reimburse them for the continuing expense. I don’t think the IOC and member nations are likely to be willing to do so.

      If it could be done, I like the idea, though I’d like to see things rotate somewhat, so that it’s a more international movement rather than just being in Europe. (Besides which, Greece obviously can’t afford it – and wouldn’t want it, as 2004 was, from what I hear, responsible for a fair portion of their budget/debt problems.) I’d say pick one city each in the Americas, Europe, and Asia/Pacific, for each of the winter and summer Olympics (so 6 cities total) and rotate between them. It means that more people will have the chance of attending the games without flying halfway around the world.

      Winter: Switzerland; Calgary; Nagano or (depending on how 2018 goes) Pyongchang in South Korea.

      Summer: Pick a European city that wants it; Los Angeles; and Beijing or Sydney. (Sydney’s probably a better location, for air quality among other reasons, but Asia’s a big area the summer Olympics should include it).

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  4. I have to admit reading this that I thought the first couple examples of pickiness were kind of weak. What’s wrong with asking that bouquets be a standard size? And it is actually true that people can have allergies, so why not use flowers that are less likely to cause them? If that’s the best example of overreach, I’d side with the IOC.

    Then I saw the Norway list. How did they ever let themselves get to the point where any of that could be considered OK?

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    • The Norway list reads more like a list of demands made by third world resource corp. oligarchs or weapons dealers visiting a benighted country to talk about exploitation deals than anything else.

      …which I suppose is what the Olympics (particularly the Winter ones) have degenerated into: A paid prestige opportunity for countries needing that optics boost.

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    • Especially given how, I’m not even sure this is the right word, humble the Norwegians are as a society. They barely tolerate that kind of behavior from their own royalty, I’d be amazed if they did so from the members of the IOC.

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    • Hee hee

      and

      I think my reactions were precisely inverted from yours because I’ve been following the IOC just well enough to know that Dennis got this backwards:

      “Two reasons: first is the $51 billion Russia spent on the Sochi games. Second, the International Olympic Committee is basically run by corrupt crooks.”

      The second reason is actually the first and only one. If you’re not corrupt, people can’t just buy the games in the first place. Russia’s Sochi bid was a symptom.

      The IOC is the disease.

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      • I don’t really think we are that far off. I may have never said the IOC is the disease, but the article states that the main problem is the IOC not the $51 spent at Sochi. Sochi was a factor, a big one, but the main issue is the IOC which is what I said.

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      • I don’t know that I would take a $51 billion bid as prima facie evidence of corruption by itself. I have a hard time grappling with how much money that really is in the first place. Also, it seems clear that a lot of countries see the Olympics as an opportunity to build out on a forced schedule and get something along the way while making investments they were going to do sooner or later anyway. That was certainly the case with Beijing. Much of the money went to infrastructure improvements that would have happened irrespective of the Olympics. (I don’t know if that was the case with Sochi, but it sounds plausible to me.)

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  5. It might be interesting to see the Scandinavian countries ban together and propose to co-host the games. You could have Olympic Village East, Central and West (or something like that). The opening ceremonies would be a pin in the ass logistically but you could even split that up. Not an ideal situation but it could work.

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    • IIRC, multi-national co-hosting has been proposed, but shot down by the IOC (ditto with merely multi-city). The only one that came close was the DPRK hosting some stuff for the ’88 Seoul games, but a Stalinist dictatorship is, of course, the only institution that can make the IOC look sympathetic.

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      • But wasn’t that more like the Salt Lake City / Park City deal? I.e. the nearest place to the host city where one could actually physically host the events? (or like how Atlanta whitewater events were held in Tennessee and the yachting events in Savannah)

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  6. At least you could go a step further and at least in Europe make a whole country rather than a city the venue. Norway or Sweden then would likely have all the facilities needed already. Perhaps this is even more true of the summer games. Even for the summer games consider the entire US for the games, sort of an extension of what Brazil did with the world cup with matches scattered over the whole country, although it could be just different sports at different locations.

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  7. Beijing is a bad choice because there are no mountains within 120 miles of the city. Almaty is even worse because a) no one even knows where this is and b) Kazakhstan is basically a dictatorship.

    China’s definitely a dictatorship, so I’m not getting why Kazakhstan is “even worse”.

    But the Olympics have certainly become over-costly and problematic. I think it would be better to try to rotate them through cities that have had prior, successful Olympics and thus already possess the infrastructure. (E.g., if Canada wants them again, we should do a repeat of Calgary – despite being a BCer, I have to admit the location’s better, as snow in the Rockies is more reliable and drier. We certainly shouldn’t do Québec City, since then we’d need to build all the same stuff we did in Vancouver and Calgary. Also, the Québec construction industry has some serious corruption issues.)

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    • Not to put words in Dennis’ keystroke queue, but I submit to the judges that China is hardly a dictatorship, not even a collective dictatorship (nor a dictatorship of the proletariat :). A repressive oligarchy, to a greater degree than any other major economy except possibly (probably?) Russia, sure. A relatively functional and mid-term stable repressive oligarchy, which is reasonably important for things like Olympic Games.

      It’s quite possible for a regime to be very nasty without being in any meaningful sense a dictatorship (Saudi Arabia comes to mind). You could plausibly call the PRC a dictatorship in Dèng Xi?opíng’s era (though even in his case the Eight Immortals served as something of a brake).

      Compare and contrast Kazakhstan, where Nazarbayev is the only President (de facto, For Life) since 1991, was the unquestioned communist party boss for five years before that, has direct authority both de facto and formally, over the military (meaning it will be difficult to displace him via coup), …, and you may indeed conclude that Dennis was correct. Or you may not.

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  8. I’d also like to say that I loved the Vancouver Olympics. The costs and infrastructure didn’t strike me as excessive (it was mostly a new curling stadium that became a rec centre, and the Richmond Oval for ice skating, which also became a rec centre). The Olympics also prompted infrastructure investments that were needed and valuable – the improvement of the Sea to Sky Highway between Vancouver and Whistler, and the Canada Line from the Vancouver airport to downtown. The Canada Line in particular is awesome and extremely convenient, and lets people get into town without fighting through gridlock.

    But beyond all that – people here loved the Olympics. It felt like all of Vancouver came out to watch and be involved, and the feeling in the city was very excited and upbeat (after the first couple days of anarchist protesters). And people across the country really got into it too. It was an extremely fun and unifying event.

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  9. “The people who control institutions care first and foremost about their power within the institution rather than the power of the institution itself. Thus, they would rather the institution “fail” while they remain in power within the institution than for the institution to “succeed” if that requires them to lose power within the institution.”

    OK, that’s not quite right in this case. We need a corollary to the Iron Law: “People who control institution care first and foremost about their own power within the institution rather than the institution itself, but aren’t shy about using the power of the institution to get a whole bunch of cookies for desert.”

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  10. The whole system is screwed up and needs to be rethought.

    Why is basketball played in the summer games when basketball season isn’t in the summer? Why is wrestling, when you can wrestle all year round?

    This line of thought leads to the obvious conclusion that there should be a summer games, a winter games, and an indoor we-don’t-give-a-fish what season it is games. The latter could take over basketball, wrestling, boxing, karate, judo, weight lifting, volleyball, gymnastics, table tennis, and handball, and probably add darts so the British could excel at a sport.

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