Yuan: Bring the Olympics Home

by Ziqin Yuan | 7/21/16 6:00pm

Many people see the Olympics as a chance to boost the host country’s economy and display its soft power through its venues and tourism. When hosted in a rising country, such as Brazil or, in the last decade, China and Russia, the Olympics raise the host country’s international status and improve its economy. However, it also has huge inherent risks that can result in loss of reputation and the displacement and loss of lives. The International Olympic Committee can combat this issue by keeping it in one country — Greece, the birthplace of the Games.

Rising countries may still be on shaky economic footing, and unexpected misfortunes can dramatically change a country’s ability to host the Games within a few years. On Oct 2, 2009, Rio de Janeiro was announced as the host city for the 2016 Olympics. At the time, Brazil was enjoying huge success in its economy and growth. In November of that year, The Economist noted that despite its weaknesses, Brazil was on a path to stable economic growth.

Yet through a series of misfortunes and poor management, Brazil has been on a steady decline. In early 2015 the country suffered its steepest decline in industrial output since 2009, and a decline in its economy was forecasted to follow. Brazil may currently be in its worst recession since the 1930s—a drastic change from its growth in 2009. The Zika virus is also a legitimate concern — though the Olympics will be held during Brazil’s winter when mosquito numbers are at their lowest, the virus will still scare away tourists and families, causing another hit to Brazil’s coffers. The financial difficulty, along with a host of other factors, leave Brazil in a precarious position.

Low funds have led to lax standards in construction and safety, as the country makes budget cuts to combat the ever-increasing price of the project. This translates into tragic and avoidable accidents. In May, a portion of a newly constructed elevated bike path meant to transform Rio collapsed, killing two people. A subway line constructed for the Olympics is expected to open just four days before the Games start, and officials are worried that they will not be able to fully test the system before its opening. Recently-approved funds for security and transportation projects have yet to materialize. Without the funds to properly finish building venues and ensure safety of event-goers and workers, Brazil will not be able to present a safe venue and will risk becoming responsible for the lives of more innocents.

Brazil is a case study of a country that could have benefited tremendously from the Olympics through the added publicity, prestige and revenue, but has become increasingly unable to carry its burden. And this risk is inherent when the IOC gives the Olympics to countries with rising, but not necessarily stable, economies. To solve this issue, some may say that the IOC should only allow countries such as the United States or the United Kingdom to host the Olympics. But then the bid for the Games becomes yet another tool the Western powers can use against other countries and other peoples.

A solution would be to keep the location the same every year. The logical choice would be the birthplace of the Game — Greece. Though Greece is currently going through economic and political turmoil, the construction could be carried on for the next 12 years, allowing two more countries to host the Games to keep the transition smooth. Moreover, with facilities already built in Greece, holding the Games there in the future would just be a matter of renovating existing structures. By increasing the amount of time it has to construct the venues, Greece will decrease any damage caused by unexpected issues. Moreover, the IOC can contribute funds to what would be a long lasting venue.

Most importantly, keeping the Games in one place would lessen the human cost of hosting the Olympics. To carve out space to place the stadiums, hotels, and fields used for the Games, a country uproots the people living there and in many cases forces them out of their homes. Yet by keeping the location the same each year, the host country will minimize these costs. Any renovations in the future can be made as they are needed, keeping the community around the Olympic compound thriving and providing a secure and consistent set of jobs. That will also improve the safety of the venues and transportation, preventing more accidents from happening and minimizing the loss of human life.

Keeping the Olympics in one location would be a drastic change to a system that has stayed the same for over a century. Yet drastic innovation is in many cases beneficial. It would take a fair amount of time to make a full transition, but doing so would be tremendously beneficial in preventing the enormous, largely forgotten, human cost of the Olympics.