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Lethal financial cost of Olympic glory

“During the bid phase of the Olympics, the International Olympic Committee is super friendly,” Prof Boykoff told interviewer Garcia- Navarro.

Raja Murthy | New Delhi |

Build an Olympic city to host all future games – ideally in Athens, Greece. That offers the only viable, long-term, non-corrupt solution to end financial disasters crippling the most celebrated sporting event on the planet. The Tokyo Olympics nervously underway under coronavirus clouds should be among the last of a four-year financially devastating spectacle. Emerging economic and sport powers such as India had bitter-sweet moments the past two weeks.

Perhaps like many others, I couldn’t help my eyes having tears of joy when I read of Mirabai Chanu winning India a medal on the opening day of the Olympics. But better to soberly understand the cost at which such glory is gained – and more crucially, to run very far away from even remote ideas of India hosting an Olympics.

On average, a winter or summer Olympics games from conservative estimates cost the host nation a staggering average between US$30 billion to $50 billion (Rs 3.7 lakh crore), with no adequate returns even from corporate sponsors to justify such costs. Worse, previous hosts such as Greece and Brazil have hyper-expensive stadiums and Olympian infrastructure rotting from disuse and lack of maintenance funds. Far more worse after such wasted infrastructure was built after forcibly evacuating thousands of low-income residents and giving them inadequate compensation.

The on-going Olympics suffers similar pattern. “The Tokyo Games have been a cascade of calamities,” Professor Jules Boykoff wrote in the Los Angeles Times last week. “The saga has exposed an IOC (International Olympic Committee) that disrespects the will of locals, brushes off inconvenient concerns of experts, and prioritizes its profits over all else.” Los Angeles is due to host the 2028 Summer Olympics, after Paris in 2024. A former professional American national football player, Prof Boykoff has written four books on Olympics issues hurting host nations.

He refers to Olympian financial mismanagement or corruption as “Etch a Sketch economics”. When bidding for the games, organisers quote a low number to get locals aboard the Olympics bandwagon. “But then when the games finally arrive,” he says, “they shake up that Etch a Sketch and write a brand-new number that’s inevitably much bigger.” The official estimated cost of the Tokyo Olympics increased by 22 per cent, the Japanese organizing committee said when releasing a revised budget on 22 December 2020 after pandemic postponement.

Costs mysteriously skyrocketed after the Switzerland-based IOC officials granted rights. The Japanese organisers last December said the Olympics would cost $15.4 billion, up from $12.6 billion in the previous budget. As India saw from the mega-corruption in hosting the 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth Games (pilferage estimated at Rs 70,000 crore), these budgets keep going up. Organizers said the Olympics would cost Japan $7.5 billion when IOC awarded Tokyo the 2020 games in 2013.

Japan had subsequent governmental audits revealing that actual costs would be a minimum of $25 billion of taxpayer money – bigger than the annual GDP of more than 100 countries participating in the Tokyo games. The University of Oxford in a study said Tokyo is hosting the most expensive Summer Olympics ever. The Beijing Winter Olympics will begin in February 2022 six months after Tokyo, in a cycle of legalized financial looting of public money overseen by IOC chieftains.

Most international sports federations depend on IOC funding and sporting federations – as we see in India – suffer the perpetual pandemic of political meddling, corruption, nepotism, lack of transparency and accountability. Foolishly deluded or corrupt government leaders continue to ignore the dire warning the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens delivered, after Greece went bankrupt. Instead, egomaniacal politicians continue lobbying to host an Olympic Games for them to strut on the global stage.

And of course, for inevitable kickbacks in construction contracts that we saw in the 2010 Commonwealth Games which India should never have hosted – an independent, rising India shamefully refusing to quit the Commonwealth headed by the British queen in London. The London Olympics in 2012 too suffered similar ruin of stadiums left to rot, or occupied haphazardly by Premier League teams such as West Ham United Football Club. The same might happen to Tokyo’s grand new Olympic facilities.

“During the bid phase of the Olympics, the International Olympic Committee is super friendly,” Prof Boykoff told interviewer Garcia- Navarro. “But once that host city contract is signed, it has just almost zero accountability. There’s no oversight. When they bust their budget, nothing happens to them. They hop on their planes and they head off to the next venue.” Bribery and corruption haunt the bidding and hosting of major events such as the soccer World Cup. The Olympics seems to attain the pinnacle of such dirty doings.

“I’ve never seen a grassroots bid where local working people come together to try to bring the Olympics to their city,” said Prof Boykoff, “The truth is fewer cities are game to host the Olympic Games, and they’re just saying no to the Olympics.” The Oxford University study in 2016 found that the cost of hosting the summer Olympic Games per athlete was on average $599,000 (Rs 4.4 crore). Might make more common sense if this amount was directly given to the 11,000 or so of the world’s best athletes competing in each Olympics, for life-long financial security.

Or build a dedicated Olympics town in Athens, the original home of the ancient games. Different countries can then pay a much lesser cost to host the Olympics here every four years. Instead of going to ruin, the expensive facilities can be offered to other major international competitions and to tourists in much-frequented Greece. But this less-corruption option is unlikely to find acceptance among IOC and FIFA officials, some of whom have Swiss bank accounts.

(The writer is a senior, Mumbai-based journalist)