During the Parade of Nations, Greece always leads the athletes in honor of the Ancient Olympics. Unfortunately, Greece’s economy is also forefront in the minds of many despairing Europeans throughout this financial crisis. Although last in the parade, Great Britain may soon be close behind the Greeks in terms of financial uncertainty.
Many questioned the country’s ability to host the Olympics in London this year. Britain’s GDP continues to shrink. Thousands of Home Office border control workers threatened to strike the day before the Opening Ceremony until finally caving in the night before. Security preparations fell through. Yet, in spite of these danger signs, Mitt Romney was heavily criticized for questioning London’s readiness.
Promises of benefits to the host country’s economy usually turn out as fantasies, something many Britons already realized back in 2008 when the country spent $25 million to bid for hosting. The Economist says it best,
“First, host governments say that the economic benefits of the games will greatly outweigh their costs. Second, they claim that the games will inspire people to exercise more. Third, they predict intangible benefits from being in the global spotlight for a couple of weeks. The first two claims are rubbish; the third does not apply to London.”
When the estimated cost of the London Olympics almost quadrupled from 2.4 billion pounds in 2005 to 9.3 billion (approx. $14.6 billion USD), many Britons were appropriately frustrated. When improvements to public transportation were included, the cost was newly estimated as being $38.5 billion. Almost all of this burden falls on taxpayers, as private and commercial investment turn out to be considerably smaller than expected. Advertisements are prohibited in the stadium and on athlete’s uniforms, and nearly all of the advertising revenue goes to NBC, not the host country.
The Olympics are intended as a symbol of international unity, universally friendly competition, and united glory for the athletes’ successes. However, the Olympics cannot simply erase tensions between countries. North Korea’s soccer team walked off the field, refusing to play for almost an hour, because of an accidental display of the South Korean flag. The two countries are still officially at war.
The promise of unity is largely a facade. Beijing’s “One World, One Dream” campaign back in 2008 may sound promising. However, at the time, there were many calls for protests and boycotts due to China’s human-rights abuses. It is overly optimistic to think that countries will suddenly forget their military or diplomatic conflicts because of a common interest in swimming or gymnastics medals.
That being said, the Olympics do offer something special. Although there is no noticeable effect of an “increase in national happiness” due to hosting the Olympics, something about an opportunity for the entire world to take part in sports competitions resonates with me. I would not consider myself a dedicated Olympic fan, but I do admire the intense amount of hard work that the athletes must give to compete internationally. I enjoy watching many of the events, and I would argue that there is definitely an increased sense in national pride – even if it is immeasurable.
The problem comes when we must justify the enormous cost. Indeed, Beijing will be paying off their “bird’s nest” for 30 years, long after it has been forgotten. Greece’s Olympic venues have fallen into disrepair. Here is a glimpse from the Guardian:
“The complex’s stadium, also built in 2004 – and used by Greece’s national athletics federation – is cracked and crumbling, its seats broken, its stairs smashed, its track ripped..
[About Olympic Village] What had been billed as the biggest urban regeneration project in the history of Athens, with a housing capacity for 10,000, is a depressing site, litter-strewn and derelict.”
One can only imagine it will be even more difficult for Britain in years down the road. With these things in mind, I ask you, “Is it worth it?” Leave your thoughts below.