I was out driving yesterday – listening to Radio Five Live, natch – when the news came through that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had, by a margin of 44 votes to 40, decided to award the hosting of the 2022 Winter Olympics to Beijing in China instead of Almaty in Kazakhstan.
There followed a ten-minute feature upon the background to the decision and its implications. It seemed that the IOC had encountered many complications upon the tricky ‘due process’ road of assessing the candidate cities. Several of them had withdrawn from the contest – the latest (assuming I heard this correct) having been Oslo (Norway), in which nation unlikely bed-fellows both left and right wing politicians had combined to vote against staging the Games simply on the grounds it was too costly.
As the intense excitement preceding the announcement grew in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the decision had evolved down to a choice between Beijing, which had inherent logistical issues not least the air quality and lack of snow (something one might think was of no small concern given that this was a Winter Olympics), and Almaty, which at least – as their ‘pitch’ video had emphasised – at least did have plenty of the white, powdery, stuff.
And so the 2022 Winter Olympics went to Beijing, probably as much because it had done the summer Olympics in 2008 and thereby proved it could do what was necessary to mount such a festival of sport, as much as any other reason. During the assessment process it had dealt with its aforementioned key issues by assuring the IOC that it would not only create whatever amount of artificial snow was necessary but ‘do something’ about the lack of air quality and smog that – in an earlier era – might have automatically have disqualified Beijing from candidacy.
I was interested to hear the roving sports reporter contributing to the Radio Five Live piece say that one of the wider issues that the IOC had been wrestling with in its deliberations had been the conflict between its desire, on the one hand, to keep spreading the Olympic message wider and wider by awarding the Games to as many different continents and cultures as it could and, on the other, to select countries as host who could guarantee to deliver a well-managed Games on time and without endless crises along the way.
In regard to the latter, he added, the IOC was acutely aware that – as the public vote in Oslo to withdraw its candidacy for the 2022 Winter Olympics had demonstrated with starkness – generally-speaking, dictatorships and/or undemocratic countries were at a distinct advantage as far as ‘pushing through’ whatever logistical, political and ‘people-affecting’ decisions, disruptions and inconveniences were deemed necessary to prepare a host city for its moment in the spotlight.
This got me thinking – and it’s not an original thought, but perhaps is one that has a certain increased currency to it because of recent events in Europe.
When you think back to the Olympic hosting disasters of the past, e.g. the 1976 summer Games in Montreal which the Quebecers finally got excited about exactly forty years later when they finished paying off the debt they’d incurred in hosting them, and indeed the Olympic-sized herculean task of even applying to become a host city at all, let alone being awarded the Games, surely at this point in the 21st Century the IOC should be trying to come up with radical solutions.
Instead of laying itself open to all the complexities of running the contests to award Olympic Games, in this day and age – with the global concerns about climate change, damaging the environment, and the incredible expense involved – why doesn’t the IOC set an example, i.e. take a deep breath and just award the Olympic Games permanently to Greece?
Think of the advantages.
The whole process of setting up and then researching city bids from around the world effectively on a continuous basis (bearing in mind the fact that the Summer and Winter Olympics follow each other every two years) could be dispensed with.
With Greece in its current pitiful economic state, surely a deal could be negotiated whereby – in return for suitable amounts of welfare, humanitarian and other aid that the Greeks clearly need – great swathes of the country could be concreted over and fashioned into a perfect venue, or series of venues, for both versions of the Olympics?
Why not make Athens – or even Olympia itself – the centre of the whole kit and caboodle? This would surely have a certain resonance to it and re-connect the Olympic movement with its Ancient origins. If the IOC, the IMF, the EU and the United Nations all rowed in behind the project, it could be pushed through in fifteen to twenty years.
The design and logistics of the Olympic site(s) and scheme could be as futuristic and far-reaching as anyone might dream of. The Greeks, or at least those Greeks who actually want to work, could take up unlimited numbers of long-term jobs working on the building, maintenance and then the running of the sites when the Olympics are actually taking place.
Via this route, every four years, both versions of the Olympics could congregate in a country that needs the tourism and currency they would bring.
The fact is that, with air travel being the relatively-universal mode of transport it is these days, both competitors and spectators would hardly be inconvenienced by having to make their way to the same place every time. The economies of scale would be enormous. The national jealousies and other ‘problematic’ issues (human right records of the host city etc.) would be ‘sorted’ at a stroke.
What’s not to like?
I keep thinking and waiting for a single disadvantage to fall into my lap. There just don’t seem to be any …