Rio and Other Host Disasters Distract From the Olympics – U.S. News & World Report

With the political conventions over, attention shifts to that other quadrennial extravaganza, the Olympics. Rhetorically, the two have a lot in common. After two weeks of watching Republicans blast the Democratic nominee, and vice versa, we can now watch practically everyone blast the city that’s hosting the Summer Games.

Crime in Rio is rampant (there were 48,700 muggings last year, three times as many as in New York, a city 30 percent larger), doping scandals are already popping up, police are protesting low pay, ticket sales are slow and venues are still being cobbled together.


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Putting on the Olympics is a massive undertaking. A new paper, “Going for the Gold: The Economics of the Olympics,” by Robert A. Baade and Victor A. Matheson, looked closely at the costs and benefits and concluded that “hosting the Games has become an increasingly expensive gambit; indeed, as the rules for bidding currently stand, the entire structure of the Olympic Games shouts ‘potential host beware.'”

The authors note that Russia spent 4 percent of its gross domestic product on the Sochi Games and that a previous study found that both the Salt Lake City and Atlanta Olympics produced “no impact on taxable sales, hotel occupancy, or airport usage.” No wonder both Boston and Hamburg have withdrawn their bids for the 2024 Summer Games after public opposition.

One cost that Baade and Matheson do not explore is the damage to a nation’s reputation after it inevitably comes under fire as an Olympic host. Some of the criticism, of course, is justified, but much of it should be seen as simply coming with the territory.


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The narrative that global athletics as a whole is a sleazy business may be overblown, but there’s no doubt the Olympics, especially, needs an overhaul when it comes to probity and transparency. Let’s hope that soon we can stop being distracted by how the Games are organized and where they take place and instead revel in what the athletes themselves are accomplishing before our astonished eyes.

Tags:
world, sports, The Olympics, Brazil, Russia

James K. Glassman served as U.S. undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs in 2008-09.

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