Giving Greece back the Olympic Games
Hosting the games in a different country every four years invites chaos, corruption, and redundant infrastructure.
An Olympic Rings monument at Red Brick Park in Yokohama, near Tokyo, on July 16, 2021, a week before the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics. (Kyodo via AP Images)
Top Australian journalist Murray Sayle said there were only two articles in the papers: “we name the culprit” and “the arrow points to a defective part”. He missed a third: “The Olympic host country is not prepared at the start of the matches. “
This year, the theme of unpreparedness is public health. “Risks of Covid at Tokyo Olympics are not being managed, experts say” American scientist reported July 13. Five days later, CNN reported the following: “Two South Africans tested positive for Covid in Olympic Village.”
Japan is a particularly poor place to host the Olympics, as only about 20% of its population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. New cases are spreading so quickly that a state of emergency has been declared for the duration of the games. Yes, you read that right-Japan has declared its own Olympics a public health emergency. Spectators will be prohibited from attending Olympic events in and around Tokyo. The games might as well take place on a soundstage in Burbank.
Remember, however, that the host countries are never ready to host the Olympic Games. Sometimes it’s because the stadiums haven’t been built yet. It was the news in “Host Brazil is not prepared for the 2016 Olympics”. Sometimes there is unavailability of hotel rooms. Therefore, in 2014, “Sochi: the worst travel destination for the Olympics? Or maybe all other activities in the host city may come to a halt. As a result, in 2012, “a third of UK businesses were unprepared for the Games”.
It is true that the Olympics always succeed somehow to take place despite poor preparation. But it is mainly because after the opening ceremonies, the coverage of sporting events, punctuated with cutesy reports on this star Albanian pentathlete who reads to his blind grandmother, or on this pole vaulter from East Timor who has courageously overcame an addiction to paint thinner, moves the reporting. on, say, the great mass of city dwellers who can’t make it to work that day because the traffic is so bad. It literally takes a bomb to explode to distract public attention from Olympic events once they have started.
But then, like clockwork, come the stories of how income has fallen short of expenses and, still later, of the weeds stinging concrete in the now abandoned Olympic Village. (ABC News has quite a slideshow of these white elephants.) Host nations end up wondering if all of this was really worth the bribes they paid to the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
A growing number of people are saying that the international community should simply end the Olympics. The Olympics, concludes David Goldblatt, author of a book on them in 2016, are “irreformable”. Here at Washington Monthly, our editor-in-chief Paul Glastris instead pleaded (here, here, here and here) for the less drastic measure of repatriating them to Greece, where they came from, and where they remained for more than a thousand years until the fourth or 5th century AD.
Glastris is Greek-American, with inordinate affection for the common motherland even among the most assimilated within this group (see American Greeks: Struggle and Success, by Peter and Charles Moskos). I’m not Greek American and haven’t even visited the place. It relieves me of any sentimentality when I say Glastris is right. The Olympics belong to Greece.
You wouldn’t organize the Salzburg Music Festival in Akron, or the Rose Bowl in Burkina Faso. Why would you host the Olympics anywhere other than where they started? To do otherwise smacks of cultural appropriation, as the children say. (Leave aside the fact that three-quarters of Western civilization is already appropriate for ancient Greece.) The Olympics are a Greek invention that expresses Greek ideals about the grace and beauty of physical prowess. These ideals are respected around the world, which is why nations around the world are participating. They would not be less inclined to participate if the Olympics remained in Greece.
The main argument, however, for the return of the Olympics to Greece is not cultural, but practical. It is a financial waste to move this traveling spectacle from one country to another. The Olympics are almost always poorly organized, if only because hosting them implies acquiring special skills concerning something that the host city has never done before, or at least not in recent memory. The competition to be chosen as the host country is an open invitation to financial corruption. And building the facilities in which to stage them is an exercise in almost tragic redundancy. How many old Olympic Villages does the world need?
Obviously, the Greeks should be consulted on this matter. Modern Greece is not a rich nation. He should not have to shoulder the cost of building the infrastructure alone (or updating the infrastructure that Athens built to host the 2004 Olympics). Perhaps the IOC could be persuaded to share some broadcast income; this would give the Greeks a strong incentive to manage things well.
All participating nations should contribute, the European Union perhaps a little more.
Christine Lagarde officially supports the idea of bringing the Olympics back to Greece. Maybe the European Central Bank could get the ball rolling. The Germans might complain a bit – they still feel grumpy about being asked to bail out Greece in the eurozone crisis – but hosting the Olympics could give Greece some of the steady income streams that she needs to avoid the next financial crisis.
The first few times Greece host the Olympics, it will be difficult. Expect Illustrated sports be ruthless. But in the third round, the Greeks will probably have understood. It is practice makes perfect. Then the rest of us can end our four-year ritual of giggling that this or that country was not ready for the crush of the people arriving on its shores. Instead, we can have a shot of ouzo, munch on spanakopita, and enjoy the games.