NPF: FAST FORWARD

Posted in No Politics Friday on August 28th, 2014 by Ed

Fun trivia: the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria were originally awarded to Denver. Colorado voters turned it down because they thought it would cost too much and the predictions of the revenue that would be generated were overly optimistic. It foreshadowed the modern issue of the inversion of the IOC selection process from cities fighting over the right to host in favor of the IOC struggling to find suitable candidates willing to take it in the financial neck to host games that routinely are monuments to cost overruns and optimism biases. Increasingly the only countries willing to host things like the Olympics and the World Cup are ones with quasi-autocratic national governments that can decide to do things that make no financial sense, or Brazil types that see the huge losses as a marketing fee to show the world that They are Way Cool.

The other major issue with hosting is what to do with the copious (expensive) infrastructure after the games are over. The internet is littered with photo galleries of dilapidated Olympic sites – the ruins of the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics are particularly poignant in light of what happened to that city in the following decade. What is amazing is how rapidly these flashy, expensive, modern sites turn into decrepit ruins. China's $40 billion investment in the Beijing games yielded a number of architecturally significant stadiums that are now white elephants; the only revenue generated by the "Bird's Nest" today comes from itinerant tourists who pay $20 to ride Segways around the Olympic track.

Even though the sad sight of abandoned Olympic infrastructure is by now a familiar one, it is stunning to see the speed with which the Potemkin village build by Putin's Russia in Sochi has fallen into disrepair. Sochi was a disaster from the get-go – like the 1976 Montreal debacle, very little of the construction was actually finished when the games began. What was finished was held up to worldwide ridicule for the shoddy construction and downright bizarre design. And now, even though the Games seem like they just ended a few weeks ago the "city" already looks like Pripyat minus the background radiation count.

With most industrialized nations starting to see hosting the Games for what it is – a classic boondoggle – it's going to be interesting to see where the IOC and similar organizations like FIFA go in the future. My guess is that the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is the beginning of a trend of events being hosted in Flashy Oil Money countries run by gaudy sheikhs. When they get tired of competing to see who can own the most Rolls Royces, they'll turn to building stadiums that will someday be about as useful as an asshole on their collective elbow.

Here's a gallery of former Olympic sites if you feel like your Friday needs to be a little bleaker.