BY PROF DR IAN BLACKSHAW
The Olympic Games have been described as ‘the greatest sporting show on earth’ and, not without justification. Certainly they are the ambition of most athletes and the pinnacle of their sporting careers. They also attract commercial sponsors and broadcasters who are ready to pay mega bucks to be associated with them. For example, the US$7.75 billion NBC record deal for the US TV rights until 2032!
But are the Games losing their appeal as far as potential host countries and their tax payers are concerned in view of the high costs of staging them? Recent events concerning the 2022 Winter Olympics might point in that direction and this must be very worrying for the Olympic movement and its future.
Despite recent brave words from Dr Thomas Bach, the President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), that the bidding process for the 2022 Winter Olympics “remains on course” notwithstanding several defections, leaving only two candidate cities in the race to host them, namely Beijing, China, and Almaty, Kazakhstan. The IOC will decide between the two of them at their meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on 31 July next year.
The latest to pull out from the bidding process has been the City of Oslo in Norway, which was announced on 1 October, 2014. 50% of Norwegians were against continuing with the bid and so also was the Coalition Government. The reason for this change of mind: the high cost of organising and staging the Games.
In recent months, Stockholm, Sweden; Krakow, Poland; and Liviv, Ukraine have also withdrawn from the bidding process.
Earlier, St Moritz, Switzerland, and Munich, Germany, withdrew, following rejections by voters in referendums on the subject.
Once again, on cost grounds.
The cost of organising and staging the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics was a record sum of $US 51 billion, although it should be mentioned that most of this money went towards regeneration and infrastructure projects. But then, the IOC are always looking for a so-called ‘Olympic Legacy’. Perhaps illusory rather than real!
Following an IOC Executive Board Meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland on 2 October 2014, Bach informed the world’s media that the IOC will not reopen the bidding process for the 2022 Winter Olympics despite there are only two candidates remaining:
“We are in the middle of a procedure….. [and we]…… cannot and we don ‘t want to change the regulations in the middle of the race, given the fact that we still have two very interesting candidatures with a very diverse approach.”
Brave words indeed, bearing in mind that neither Beijing, nor Almaty are established winter sports countries; and, furthermore, both countries have human rights issues – in the case of China, witness the current civil unrest in Hong Kong!
Bach acknowledged that the Winter Olympics are facing difficulties, noting that:
“The number of candidates for winter is already very limited by geography….. [and also] …. we can’t forget that this is a challenging time with regard to the world economy.”
He also added:
“We have to see how we can reduce the costs of the management of the games and the cost of bidding for the games.”
It will be interesting to see how these two pressing objectives facing the Games will be met by the IOC in future!
Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw is an International Sports Lawyer, Academic and Author and may be contacted by e-mail at ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’.