Commentary: Why the dual 2024/2028 Olympic award signals challenges ahead for the IOC

Source: Xinhua| 2017-08-02 17:08:55|Editor: An
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By Sportswriter Spencer Musick

BEIJING, August 2 (Xinhua) -- The simultaneous awarding of the 2024 and 2028 Summer Olympic Games to Paris and Los Angeles was met with cheers in each of the respective host countries. This is an understandable reaction, and both cities should indeed be commended for their willingness to pursue Olympic bids in a cooperative manner. But the surface-level rosiness of the reaction to Monday's announcement belies a set of serious challenges ahead for the international Olympic movement that cannot be ignored.

The dual-award announcement was preceded by a bidding process for the 2024 games that was wrought with stumbling blocks from the outset. A slew of cities with aspirations to host the 2024 Summer Games dropped their bids early on, including three European cities (Budapest, Rome, and Hamburg) along with another American city (Boston). This left only Paris and L.A. in the running. It was a remarkably similar story ahead of the awarding of the 2022 Winter Olympiad, with only two cities in the running by the time the IOC met to give Beijing the Games over Almaty.

The simultaneous awarding of the 2024/2028 Games was less a stroke of genius on the part of the IOC than it was a fait accompli. The Committee almost certainly anticipated that few cities would be falling over themselves for want of hosting the 2028 Games, so it decided to kill two birds with one stone.

Very few cities, it seems, really want to host an Olympiad. There are a number of reasons why this is the case. Hosting an edition of the Summer or Winter Olympic Games is an expensive proposition that can test the limits of even the world's richest and most well-developed countries. The task requires a massive amount of capital investment up front, infrastructure construction on a mind-boggling scale, and a high level of logistical and technical expertise that must be maintained (in the form of paid staff) on the ground for years ahead of the main event.

Total costs for hosting an Olympiad can easily reach into the tens of billions of dollars. With economic inequality on the rise and wage stagnation gripping most developed economies, it is not surprising in the least that taxpayers in countries the world over have little appetite to host such expensive events, nor is it surprising that officials in these countries are reading the writing on the wall.

The price tag of the 2014 Sochi Winter Games in particular--despite the fact that most analysts view this case as an outlier--has caused prospective host cities to view these costs not as a long-term investment in the future of a locale, but instead as a long-term money sink that will burden a locale and its taxpayers for years to come.

Looking ahead past 2028, it will be rough going for the international Olympic movement unless the IOC can think outside the box and devise creative ways to make hosting the Games an attractive proposition again for the world's cities and countries. There are several steps that can be taken in this regard.

One way of renewing interest in hosting Olympiads is to encourage more cities that have hosted previous editions of the Games to have another go at it. Beijing 2022 is a perfect example of how venues can be repurposed and reused for future Olympic installments, with only a handful of new sites being built and most of the action set to take place in existing venues. There are only so many cities in the world capable of pulling off a successful Olympics, so those who have already proven their mettle should absolutely be given the chance to do so again. This shift in attitude would go a long way toward securing long-term interest in sustaining the international Olympic movement.

Another step the IOC can take going forward is to encourage bids for the Games that are not localized to a single, large city. By hosting Games in several cities instead of just one, a country can more evenly spread out the economic benefits that an Olympiad can bring to a given locale. It can also more fairly dole out the money that would necessarily be spent on transportation infrastructure construction in a multi-city Olympic so as to benefit the maximum number of people in the long-term.

Beijing's example with its 2022 bid is useful here as well, with neighboring Zhangjiakuo set to host snow events and a major high-speed rail corridor being constructed to facilitate travel between that locale and the main Olympic village in Beijing. This will leave a legacy that will last long after the curtain falls on the 2022 Games, and indeed, the economic benefits of the infrastructure construction in Zhangjiakuo itself are already being felt, with tourists flocking there and to surrounding areas in the winter months to enjoy time on the slopes.

Hosting an Olympiad can absolutely be an attractive proposition for the world's cities and countries. It can improve the lives of people in a real, tangible way. The IOC's task going forward to is devise ways that these potential benefits can be shared by a larger number of people, and to make the case that these gains can be realized in a sustainable, cost-effective way. If the Committee is able to do that, then it may find that prospective host countries are once again beating down its doors.