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"Burden of Olympic proportion"

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EXCELLENT commentary from today's Toronto Star, discussing the real costs/benefits of being an Olympic host...

Burden of Olympic proportion

The sports world tomorrow will trumpet one city's so-called victory in winning the right to host the 2012 Summer Olympics. Yet when the International Olympic Committee chooses between Paris, London, New York, Madrid and Moscow, it's the also-rans who really ought to celebrate.

The suggestion that hosting the Olympics is a surefire way to jump-start a city's economy and spur tourism, an argument that has somehow taken root in recent years, is among the biggest myths in sports.

The reality is that after spending billions of dollars on Olympic-related accoutrements such as velodromes and short-track speed skating ovals, cities are typically left with overpriced facilities that are rarely used after the Games.

While Montreal is the best example — it's still using a tobacco surcharge to pay off its billion dollar-plus deficit — you don't need to look nearly so far back to make the case that the Olympics are usually a financial albatross for their host cities.

Greece spent more than $10 billion (all figures Canadian) on construction, security and other Olympic-related expenses in advance of last year's Summer Games, according to the country's deputy finance minister, and the final bill was a staggering 52 per cent more than the government's initial estimates.

That kind of cash outlay might have been worth it if the Olympics had proven an irresistible draw for tourists, especially considering Greek hoteliers had spent upwards of $2.2 billion to renovate rooms throughout the country of 11 million people.

Yet in the months after the 2004 Games, JBR Hellas Ltd., an Athens consulting company, released statistics that showed hotel occupancy in the city had slipped 7 per cent in the year's final three months to 57 per cent, the lowest among Europe's 11 largest cities.

Four years earlier, the Olympics descended on Sydney, and left the same illusion of financial success. While the Games have been remembered for highlighting Australia's kangaroos, scenic beauty and the gold-medal winning performance of local favourite Cathy Freeman, a less savoury Olympic story began to develop when the athletes left.

In the months leading up to the 2000 Summer Games, construction workers had put the finishing touches on a $340 million Olympic stadium and a $140 million rail line that would carry spectators during the two-week event from downtown Sydney to the various Games venues.

Yet nearly a year after the Games left Australia, the roar of the crowd was a mere memory at Sydney's Olympic Stadium. Most of the country's rugby league, Rugby Union and Australian Rules football teams thumbed their noses at the 85,000-seat stadium because it was too big, too inconvenient for fans to commute to, and because most had their own established stadiums.

Some countries finally seem to be waking up to the fact that the IOC's promise of a financial boom for the host nation is hollow.

Sweden's government last week voted against supporting a bid for the 2014 Winter Games. The country's Olympic Committee wanted the country to pledge to spend as much as $1.1 billion. "That was just the facilities," deputy Prime Minister Bo Ringholm told Swedish newswire TT after the vote.

There's no arguing that holding an Olympics puts a city on the world stage for two weeks.

Maybe the best way to proceed is to find a way to significantly pare the cost of holding the Games, perhaps by eliminating some sports or cutting down on the amount of money spent fêting IOC members, who, unlike athletes, enjoy five-star hotels and first-class flights when they're on official business of the Olympic cartel.

Source:  "Burden of Olympic proportion" - Toronto Star

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That's one way to put it. Makes anyone wonder if the Olympic prize is worth taking. Apparently, with the kind of cities wanting the chance to host one, I guess it is not a problem yet.

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