That’s it for the Winter Olympics – bring on the Comm Games

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Olympic torch Sydney 2000

The Winter Olympics is over for another four years. In 2022 it will be Beijing’s turn and I’m sure that will be lovely for them. In 2020 the Summer games will be held in Tokyo, and the Football World Cup (the round ball game) will be held in Qatar in 2022. But we’ve also got the Commonwealth Games, happening a few hours south of us at the Gold Coast in just a few months. Hurrah! (No, we won’t be going)

I remember watching the 1962 Commonwealth Games on our (very new) TV in Perth.  We were given time off from school because of the Games. They were on in November-December, and as I recall it was stinking bloody hot; hotter than usual for the time of year. The Queen came to visit and we got to go to the new stadium in our school uniforms and wave at her and Prince Philip. The City Fathers built Perry Lakes stadium, the swimming centre, an athlete’s village – and most important of all, the Narrows Bridge. If one considers what Perth paid, and what Perth gained from the games, the ledger isn’t bad. Several stadiums and sporting facilities were built and used over many decades. The bridge was a wonderful thing, joining the two communities north and south of the river much more easily. That infrastructure has stood the test of time.

The Olympic stadium at Sydney, soon to be demolished

But when it comes to hosting such major sporting events, things have changed on several fronts. Sydney hosted the Olympics in 2000. It was extremely well run and I, for one, had a great time. Yet not even twenty years on, the Olympic stadium at Homebush is going to be demolished and replaced. South Africa built a new stadium for the football world cup because there was no suitable venue. Since the World Cup it isn’t used. When the infrastructure was built for the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, the poor people around the area were cleared away. Same thing happened in Brazil in 2014 – a poor country spent billions – at the expense of its poorest citizens – to host an extravaganza. Is it worth it? This report from 2003 reflects on what Sydney gained from the exercise. Here’s a report on the 2010 FIFA World Cup and what it did for South Africa. In brief, these sporting events are run at a substantial loss for the host city.

As time has gone by the Olympic movement, started with such high ideals, has become another case of snouts in the trough in the bidding process.  It’s no secret Qatar bought the right to stage the 2022 FIFA World Cup. But that wasn’t an isolated case. This article applies a blow torch to the Olympic bidding process. These days few countries can afford to spend the billions needed to secure a bid. That is especially true of poor nations, who have to build infrastructure they can ill-afford for a few weeks of sports.

And for what?

A bit of jingoism at the kayak races

Sure, it’s a great spectacle and the world gets to see exceptional athletes, but after the doping scandals with the Chinese, the Russians, Lance Armstrong, Ben Johnson, Marion Jones and Maria Sharapova – to name just a handful – I’m pretty cynical. And that’s sad for the REAL athletes. It’s not new. We all know the East German swimmers (just one example) were doped to the gills. The Tour de France seems to be more about hiding the doping these days. Russia hosted the Winter Olympics in 2014 – and their whole national team was barred from the 2018 competition for cheating. Athletes can excuse using drugs because ‘everybody does it’ and there’s no other way of competing. Performance enhancing drugs are rife in any high-level sport. And if it’s not performance enhancing, it’s sports fixing, such as in cricket – I remember Hansie Cronje, South Africa’s captain, convicted of match-fixing, as well as a few Pakistani cricketers.

Look, I don’t have a problem with the Olympics or all the other world sporting events per se. It’s a great way for the world to get together. But let’s get rid of the bidding process, which only lines the pockets of the organising committees. Here’s just one report on the FIFA scandal, where executives took bribes.  If cities don’t have the infrastructure for such events without spending billions of tax payer dollars, they shouldn’t be bidding. It’s just a way for the rich and famous in those places to big-note themselves. Cities like Los Angeles, which famously actually made a profit from the Olympics, already had the stadiums, and put the athletes up in university accommodation. Heck, I reckon Sydney and Melbourne could host the Olympics with little extra expenditure, as could a number of American, Canadian, and European cities. The biggest outlay would be for security.

It has been suggested the Olympics should be run every four years in the same place, perhaps in Greece, where the whole thing started. But maybe that’s a bit over-ambitious. Maybe several large cities could take it in turns to host the tournament. Or something.

It doesn’t HAVE to be just one host. There’s a World Cup for cricket. Granted, there are far fewer countries involved, but those events are held differently. When the cricket World Cup is in Australia, matches are held all around the country. Same thing can happen in the sub-continent, where games are held in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India, and Pakistan. And so on. Teams use the existing cricket grounds, warts and all. Lots of cities benefit from the matches and from the increase in visitor numbers. I don’t recall anybody having to build a new stadium, or housing. Many more nations play the round-ball game than cricket, but the load could be shared between a number of countries – especially in Europe. After all, international club matches are played over there all the time.

What needs to go is the selection of the host country through a bidding process. That leads to the corruption we’ve seen in the International Olympic Committee and FIFA. What about a rota?  Eg for cricket, we could have Australia/New Zealand, sub-continent, United Kingdom, and Africa, each hosting the games, which take place every four years, so it’s your turn every 16 years. The Rugby World Cup and the FIFA World Cup could be run in the same way, by grouping countries.

And actually, while I’m up here on this hobby horse, I would also suggest it’s time to shut down the United Nations, which is loooong past its use-by date. It was a nice idea in 1945, but greed and self-interest make it a toothless tiger. The world is paying a hefty price to keep politicians in the manner to which they’ve become accustomed in New York. And the world isn’t getting much in return.

I read with sadness that Barnaby Joyce has succumbed to the media pressure and resigned as leader of the National Party. I wish we could go back to the good old days when personal lives were just that, and parliament wasn’t a reality TV show.

Oh well. I guess it just means I’m old.

And in other news, I’m nearing 40k words in my new book, now tentatively titled “Mystery of the Ice Warriors”. But that might change. It sounds a bit Famous Five, doesn’t it? Read a snippet here.

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