Olympics, World Cup & F1's Last Hope - Authoritarianism

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 5/30/2014 02:00:00 AM
You'd be a fool to bet against Almaty hosting the 2022 Winter Games.
Talk about the relationship between sports and authoritarianism. Let me put it this way: the only countries now willing to host expensive marquee global sporting events--the Olympics, the World Cup and Formula One are authoritarian regimes. The proximate reason for this is that the cost of hosting these events keeps rising and rising. As they do, citizens in democracies are less and less willing to shoulder the costs. On this point, Yahoo! Fourth Place Medal has an interesting feature on how no democracies want to host the 2022 Winter Games:
Residents of Krakow, Poland overwhelmingly rejected the idea of hosting the 2022 Games, leading city officials to withdraw Krakow's bid on Monday. This follows Stockholm, Sweden's leaders' decision to withdraw; Munich, Germany's voters' rejection of an Olympic chase; and Davos/St. Moritz, Switzerland's defeat of a referendum on hosting the Games. For those keeping count, that's four of an original eight host cities which had considered hosting the Games.Two more cities' bids, while not technically dead, may as well be: Lviv, Ukraine [?!-ed.] is having real military issues and can't afford to waste time thinking about the Olympics, while Oslo, Norway's bid is floundering politically.
Who's left standing if all these democracies pull out of the running? At this rate, it's either going to be another Beijing Games (winter, not summer, edition) or Almaty, Kazakhstan where the people will just have to bear and grin it as tens of billions are poured into activities with presumably little public benefit:
It's no surprise, then, that the only two cities seriously still in the running for the 2022 Winter Games are Almaty, Kazakhstan and Beijing, China: two locales where the people don't get a choice in whether the Games come or not.
The most graphic example right now is Brazil. Just a few years ago, the rest of the world took it hosting the World Cup in 2014 and then the Summer Olympics in 2016 as a sign that it had arrived on the world stage. With Brazil's economy now stagnating as commodity prices have fallen, it looks to have had the winner's curse twice over as it won bids to host both these events and as violent protests are mounted nationwide. On one level, the question is whether these events will break even or make a profit. Past hosts are unpromising, Greece and Russia being particularly egregious examples. At another level, could these funds have been spent on more productive purposes? Their complaint is not an unreasonable one: in a poor country, why are vast public monies being wasted on stadiums that will go disused after these events are done instead of on health and education?
The explanation goes beyond sports. For many Brazilians, the Cup has become a symbol of the unfulfilled promise of an economic boom for this South American nation. But the boom has fizzled. And now the World Cup's $11.5 billion price tag—the most expensive ever—and a list of unfinished construction projects have become reminders of the shortcomings that many believe keep Brazil poor: overwhelming bureaucracy, corruption and shortsighted policy-making that prioritizes grand projects over needs like education and health care.

"It's an affront, in a country with so many deficiencies in basic needs, to organize a Cup in this way," said Alcyr Leme, a São Paulo investment manager and lifelong soccer fan. Mr. Leme has fond memories of going to see Brazilian legend Pelé play in the 1960s. But he plans to watch this Cup at home. Buying game tickets would only condone the waste, he said.
At this rate, the only ones who will be left to foot the tab are authoritarian regimes. China attempting to burnish its national standing through sporting performance needs little explanation. Russia spending an unfathomable $50 billion on the Sochi Winter Olympics (oligarchs' contributions are ultimately state-furnished) to show it has arrived then blowing it all away by inviting Western sanctions comes to mind. Speaking of which, the only genuinely "new" event on the Formula One calendar is the Sochi Grand Prix later this year since Russia hasn't hosted any races before.

What mainstream media pundits [1, 2, 3] miss is the role of sporting organizations in producing this fine mess. I believe that the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) shoulder a significant part of the blame as well in setting their sights too high in terms of the requirements for hosting these events. They have become too used to dictators splurging vast sums on these boondoggles that democracies now balk at the expense. All three are rather mercurial and are definitely not transparent in the slightest.

Even in global sporting organizations, it appears good governance is very much the order of the day.

UPDATE: Having thought more about it, recall how the IOC managed Cold War tensions at its tail end by staging events behind the Iron Curtain: Moscow 1980 and Sarajevo 1984. By definition those were authoritarian hosts, so it may just be a return to Eighties form. Before you start breaking out the Flock of Seagulls, though, consider that spiraling costs are relatively new since the USSR and the former Yugoslavia were hardly rolling in the dough nearing their dissolution. And so they say: the more you love, the more you live.