What are the trends towards boycotting hosting the Games?
Recently there has been a decline in cities bidding to host the Olympics. With the introduction of referendums, people in democratic countries are presented with a choice and their opinion is clear: locals do not want the Olympic Games to take place in their city. But what could be the reason?
A mega event like the Olympics allows the country to become a hub for international meetings and exhibitions, which later boosts the local economy. The Big Four emerging economies or the BRIC counties (Brazil, Russia, India, China) are in top 40 in hosting international meetings per year as a result of hosting a mega event all thanks to the investment and infrastructure that mega events bring.
Only two cities have bid for the upcoming summer Olympic Games, compared to 11 in 2003. Consequently, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) unprecedently granted the rights to host the Games to both cities of Paris and Los Angeles in 2024 and 2028 accordingly, instead of one city at a time.
The same tendencies are observed with the Winter Olympics. Out of the 6 countries that have initially showed interest in the 2022 Winter Olympics, all 4 European countries withdrew before the end, leaving the choice between China and Kazakhstan, Beijing being the winner.
But why is there a drastic demise in popularity in hosting the Olympics?
Despite the benefits, people in many of the cities where potentially the Olympics can take place, have voted against when presented with the opportunity. Referendums in Budapest, Davos, Hamburg, Innsbruck, Krakow and Munich have all been negative towards the Olympics.
The only exception where a referendum was in favour of hosting the Games was in Oslo, but the bid was scrapped anyway due to political controversies with the Norwegian government.
Some of the major concerns revolve around the cost of the event, often exceeding the estimated spending by billions. There is often a substantial disparity between the eventual costs of hosting and what was projected, an excellent example is the fact that London invested in total £8.92bn while having $2.4bn initial budget.
Overpaying for producing the Olympic Games is common and this is due to the unrealistic demands of the IOC. The rising cost is in connection with the bidding process, as cities wanting to win are presenting the most extravagant proposals in order to do so. But this creates an unreachable standard for host cities.
“In order to win these Games, the hosts are promising too much to begin with. That’s how they win, and the IOC has to work with them because in many cases the host cities don’t know what the real impacts are, they don’t know what the costs are going to be,” said VanWynsberghe, a professor and sustainability expert at the University of British Columbia.
Financial burden is the main reason why Boston’s community opposed to the 2024 Olympics bid in 2013 and with a budget of £6000 for the campaign the £11.7m bid was cancelled.
Hosting the Olympics in a city without infrastructure proves to be wasteful and non-sustainable economically, creating “white elephants” – expensive facilities that are never used after the Games. It makes sense that if a city did not have an arena or a stadium prior the Games, it would not need one afterwards.
With no clear idea for how to use the facilities after the Games, those type of buildings become abandoned and ironically illustrate the economic hardship. From neglected facilities in Sarajevo (1984 Winter Games) to the most recent example with Rio, where sporting facilities and accommodation in the Olympic village are falling apart as soon as 6 months after the Games.
What is IOC’s reaction?
It was only from 2000 onwards that the IOC requested a legacy planning from each applicant as part of the bid process. Even though those were delivered for the bid, the organising committees did not follow them, as their duty is limited to producing the ‘perfect Games’.
As a result of the declining number of cities wanting to host the Olympics, the IOC is starting to implement some counter measures. In 2018 the ICO launched a project called the New Norm consisting of 118 reforms that aim to save hosting cities as much as £770m by amending the requirements to host the Games.
The improvements include an easier application process, which will make bidding less expensive, focusing on prosperity of the host city and sustainability, while trying to use of existing venues and generally ensure that the Olympics adapt to the city, not the other way around.
However, this move has been criticised for being a publicity stunt because of the enormous marketing budget (£30m). Experts are concerned that broader measures are needed to convince ordinary people that the benefits will outweigh the negatives.
Julles Boykoff who is a professor at Pacific University and studies the Olympics comments on the situation:
“Serious citizen concern has emerged in prospective Olympic cities as awareness about the significant downsides of hosting the Games have received more attention. This puts the IOC in a real bind. We’re approaching the point where the Olympics only remain popular as a general idea floating in the ether of the global imaginary, but when specific cities consider hosting, alarm bells go off in the general population.”
Future of the Olympic games
Since there is looming danger to not have a host city for future Olympics, the IOC’s future is put in jeopardy. To avoid having the Games in authoritarian countries only, where referendum is not an option and there are issues with human rights and freedom of press, the IOC would need to drastically change their approach.
The ideal option would be for the IOC to actively support the host cities and care about the legacy of the greatest sports event by providing expertise from past events and having manageable expectations. The whole point of having the Olympics is to bring people together, but IOC’s attitude has led to people uniting against the Games.