All eyes are on Rio de Janeiro as they prepare to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Amid stories of the triumphant return of golf as an Olympic sport (not played at the Olympics since 1904) along with the first American athlete to wear a hijab, there is an overwhelmingly dark tint to the Olympic rings. The news has been flooded with stories of polluted water, zika virus concerns, and many more. There are 157 days left until the curtain unveils a city still unknown to most of the world.
It's not new news that it is expensive to host the Olympic games; latest reports claim that the Sochi games may have cost as much as $40 billion. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is a mess- the bidding process is too long, too expensive, and narrows the playing field to countries that can afford it and who can afford the possibility of bankruptcy (see: Montreal). I could write much more about this flawed process and how it edges out developing countries from the hosting process- indeed I have written more, including a 70-page thesis on the subject. Things need to change, and this change needs to happen fast.
I have written previously about the idea of an "Olympic Island" that would require one location for the Summer games, and one for the Winter games. My home state of Colorado famously rejected the opportunity to host the 1976 Games for environmental and economic reasons. Cities are beginning to back out en masse from bids; what may have once been a rally for Olympic spirit is now a vehement protest (see the case of Boston for the 2024 Games). If you are an Olympic geek like me, you may be interested in seeing the evolution of Olympic city bids over time (Wikipedia has a comprehensive list) and note the multiple repeats on the list.
As an Olympics enthusiast, I am most interested to see what happens when cities stop bidding altogether, if that day is soon in our future. What will tip the scales towards change, if not the currently blossoming issues? What is the threshold of cost that will make even the most prosperous countries (can we count Beijing in that list?) back down? Will the latest concerns about a widespread virus and environmental issues be factors in future decisions? Can we hope for the Olympics to stand as a change-maker in policy?
To end on a more hopeful note, I suggest a re-visit of Rio's presentation at the Closing Ceremonies of the London 2012 Games. I see a story of hope and a vast array of possibilities to learn more about a country with the unique opportunity to be the first South American country to host the Games. Let's samba!
I'm looking forward to writing in future posts about pop culture and the Olympics (anyone else excited to see Eddie the Eagle?), the evolution of Olympic mascots, and an in-depth viewing of Brazil ahead of the Opening Ceremonies in August.