NPF: FAST FORWARD

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.

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26 Responses to “NPF: FAST FORWARD”

  1. Emerson Dameron Says:

    In 2000, I was robbed at gunpoint and (briefly) kidnapped near Olympic Park in Atlanta. The neighborhood was seedy before, but I blame the curse that seemed to hover over those Games.

  2. Dbp Says:

    I feel like for both the Olympics and World Cup they need to pick 3-4 locations and rotate through them. It makes no sense for things to work the way they currently do except in the light that hosting the Olympics brings prestige. It doesn't really do that any more so…something has got to change or the Olympics will go the way of the dodo.

  3. Kevin Says:

    @Emerson: I happened to be watching the TV when Eric Rudolph bombed Olympic Park in Atlanta, that was pretty disturbing.

    @Dbp: A rotating list of places to host the Olympics and World Cup would definitely be the best way to go about it. I would say that the number of locations to rotate through would need to be larger than 3-4, though, to make sure that the host sites are somewhat more inclusive.

  4. Talisker Says:

    In that case, I guess Sochi won't be renamed Putingrad and stand as a monument to Russian glory.

    Vancouver was a partial exception to this rule. A few weeks ago I was in the Olympic Village from the 2010 winter games… and it was a really nice neighbourhood. Of course they were smart enough to use the existing football stadium and hockey arena, and the massive ski resort at Whistler. Overall it seems to have had a positive impact on the area: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/10/27/vancouver-olympics-economic-benefit_n_1035427.html

    So it can still be done, at least for the Winter Olympics. The summer games are much bigger and need venues for a lot more weird sports, so they're what you might call problematic. I know London is still struggling to find a tenant for the 2012 Olympic stadium. There has been talk of moving an NFL franchise there but that's another story.

  5. Pat Says:

    Smart fuckers, we Coloradans.

  6. Iltman Says:

    Actually London 2012 is an exception to the rule, the issue with the athletics stadium lies more with the football (soccer to you yanks) club wanting to rip half the seats out, and NFL in london? Seriously my local park could host an NFL team and their British fans and still have room for the dog walkers etc. the problem is FIFA, institutionally corrupt and venal, no one wanted Quatar in 2018 but 'somehow' it won, and there's a lot of unease about 2020 and Russia. FIFA is THE example of a organisation that loves autocratic regimes, frankly the UK, the USA and other counties need to depart this obnoxious group ASAP

  7. Sarah Says:

    What is amazing is how rapidly these flashy, expensive, modern sites turn into decrepit ruins.

    If you've never seen it, you should watch the documentary series Life After People. It's amazing how quickly human-made structures will fall apart when humans aren't around to maintain them.

  8. Misterben Says:

    It seems like we could just digitally remaster film of old Olympic Games, lay in new modern-style sob-story commentary, dress it up with some new logos and shit, and broadcast that. I mean, they do it all for the TV ratings anyhow. People would totally watch that. Half the time when I call my parents, I catch my father watching NHL Classic – i.e., games he saw in the 1980s. He'd re-watch the '84 Games, or whatever.

  9. TomW Says:

    I think Germany's hosting of the World Cup in 2006 is also an exception. The stadiums (some new, some renovated) are all still in use by German soccer clubs, the event officially made a profit, and pretty much everyone considers hosting the World Cup to have been a huge success. The Germans also did a great job of getting the event outside the stadiums and making it about more than soccer – there were tons of concerts, art exhibits, and food festivals showcasing and celebrating the participating countries. I have a friend in Berlin who hates soccer and even she thought hosting the World Cup was the best thing ever – she ignored the games and went to free concerts and street festivals every single night.

  10. c u n d gulag Says:

    IMO – build a permanent place for the summer Olympic's in Greece – since that's where the Olympic idea and ideal started.
    And, build a permanent one somewhere in Europe – since that's where the alpine events started.
    No more fuss and bother.
    No more countries and cities building white elephants which are guaranteed to fall apart soon after they're finished.

    Also, if they have permanent places, we can have the Olympics every year, or two years – instead of four.

  11. FMguru Says:

    The Olympics are one of the Three Great Evils of modern American sports (the others are the NCAA and the Stadium Swindle – you can add FIFA if you want to go international). I danced a fucking jig on the day that my city got dropped from the bidding for the 2012 games site (although I see it's trying to bid for the 2024 games).

  12. Skipper Says:

    Barcelona is an exception. After a civil war and four decades of dictatorship, the city was in bad shape. The Olympics helped rebuild the infrastructure, reclaim some decrepit neighborhoods, perk up the waterfront, and create a world-class transportation system. The city's biggest problem today is that so many tourists want to come and enjoy it.

  13. Nick Says:

    It worked out for Salt Lake City as well, once we got over that whole bribery thing. But a large part of that was because the only permanent structures built were done in such a way that they could be used by residents and tourists afterward without renovation or significant upkeep costs. That seems to be key–as cities try to outdo one another, financial sense takes a backseat to being more over the top than the last guy.

  14. Alan C Says:

    If they're not going to rotate the Olympics between a small number of venues, I think the expectations of host countries to build new infrastructure should be scaled back. Which made me think of this Tom Paxton song from back in the 80s, when the US and Soviets were boycotting each other's Olympics:

  15. cat Says:

    "Brazil types that see the huge losses as a marketing fee to show the world that They are Way Cool. "
    I think you got this wrong, The Brazil types host it for the same reason the Autocrats do. Graft.

    No sane person builds a FIFA approved statium where the raw materials have to be shipped by boat across the world then up a river. I'm sure they got a great deal on that steel.

  16. Khaled Says:

    @cat-
    You've hit the nail on the head. Graft and good ole fashioned bribery go a long way in determining the World Cup. The "cost overruns" are a feature, not a bug, of the building process. Some of the ridiculous costs of building the stadiums in Brazil are because the politicians saw a way of getting kick backs, etc, and turning public dollars into private and personal gains. As for the Qatar World Cup- it is an absolute joke. The presentation said that they would have "air conditioned open air stadiums" which, of course, is science fiction. Those plans were scrapped as soon as Qatar was awarded the World Cup. Not only could any western European country host a World Cup without having to build anything, the World Cup could be held in Texas next week with no trouble, bar scheduling conflicts. The Olympics are a disaster for cities because of all of the infrastructure that gets built that doesn't get used again. Plus, we can't have public money in the US go to building infrastructure anymore- private sector, efficiency, bad, government, profit- put those words in whatever the grafters of our government use to justify private and personal gains with our tax dollars (private prisons, Medicare part D, publicly funded rent free stadiums for the NFL, etc.

  17. Rich Says:

    The Olympics fueled interest in the renewal of inner neighborhoods of Atlanta. there'd already been some grassroots interest in places like Inman Park and Virginia Highland, but things picked-up dramatically after the Olympics. Atlanta is a still a big nothing of place with silly "attractions" like the World of Coca Cola and a thrid rate art museum, but Eric Rudolph and all, the Olympics did have a long-term effect. It's probably the perfect place for the games–a boosterish town where people think they can buy legitimacy rather than wasting their time building civic life and organizations.

    OTOH, the Olympic Village in Munich looked forlorn even in 1973.

  18. Spiny Norman Says:

    N.b., Mitt Romney was a perfect fit for these clowns.

  19. Leading Edge Boomer Says:

    I still have two framed posters with sylized ski pole baskets for Olympic rings and the caption "Winter Olympics/Discover Denver."

  20. Safety Man! Says:

    @Rich

    Good point, I know that the Olympic pool is still in use by Georgia Tech, and that the old Olympic village was turned into dorms for GT, then Georgia State, then GT again. It took 10 years to get some if the public works projects back on track after the money was diverted, but I guess Atlana didn't do too bad of a job off of their hosting.

  21. comrade oz Says:

    After the '76 Olympics was voted down in Colorado, the money interests behind the ballot initiative tried to spin it that the voters were confused by the language on the ballot. The wording made a "no" vote in favor of the Olympics tax and a "yes" against it. The clever monkeys outsmarted themselves.

  22. Talisker Says:

    @Iltman: You'd be surprised. The NFL already plays 3 games a year in London, and sells out Wembley Stadium (90,000 seats).

  23. F Says:

    FWIW, Atlanta has an amazing aquarium.

  24. Major Kong Says:

    Montreal even built a new airport (Mirabel) for the 1976 Olympics.

    Today it looks like something out of The Walking Dead. The only people that use it are us freight haulers. They don't even man the control tower anymore and they closed one of the two runways.

    It's so far out in the sticks that it's a very long ride just to get to the outer suburbs of Montreal from there.

  25. Iltman Says:

    Talisker, I suspect that given London is a very cosmopolitan city with a large ex-pat community may have something to do with it, generally I find that interest in American Football is very much a minority interest compared to football or rugby (both union and league). By the way love yor handle, one of my favorite single malts!

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