The Olympics can hurt host cities. Here's how we fix that

The Christ the Redeemer statue, with the Olympic Stadium behind it. Image: Getty.

Hosting the Olympic Games can be a dubious honour. There can be significant and lasting benefits – but the burden of holding one of the biggest sporting events on Earth can also create and exacerbate problems such as debt, gentrification, city cleansing, militarisation of public space and environmental damage. And Rio is no exception: the government recently declared a state of calamity, as social and economic crises continue to deepen.

Some 22,000 families were evicted in the lead up to the games. Meanwhile, more than 2,500 people have been killed by police in the city since it was awarded the games in 2009.

Preparations have dominated spending priorities for the past seven years, meaning Rio has been unable to allocate enough funds to crucial services such as education and health. Teachers and students have been protesting against cuts to education, and the state will continue to experience a healthcare emergency during the games.

A student spraying "take from the Olympics and invest in my school", outside an occupied school in Rio. Image: Ocupa Amaro.

The world is starting to recognise that these are the risks of hosting the games. Already, the citizens of cities such as Boston, Hamburg and Oslo have decided that the Olympics aren’t for them. It’s not surprising really – few people could honestly say that they prefer to see their tax dollars spent on velodromes, rather than hospitals.

This has left the International Olympic Committee (IOC) scraping the bottom of the barrel for host cities. The 2022 Winter Olympics will be held in Beijing, where there isn’t even any snow. And the 2024 summer games are no better off – potential hosts are dropping like flies, with Rome looking likely to bow out of the race after electing an anti-Olympic Mayor.

We have a problem

The IOC recognises that there is a problem, and has set out a package of reforms in its “Agenda 2020”, which contains recommendations for host cities to exhibit good governance and tailor their Olympic bids to fit long-term sporting, economic, social and environmental needs. But these efforts haven’t impressed everyone: Olympics scholar Jules Boykoff sums up Agenda 2020 by saying it represents “baby steps where bold strides are required”.

The IOC’s Executive Director Christophe Dubi recently said that these reforms could clearly be seen at Rio 2016. But I’ve spent the past year conducting fieldwork on the preparations for the games here in Rio, and I’ve seen many instances of human rights abuses and corruption – it’s one of the major reasons that so many protests happened in the run up to the games.

Protesters march against the Olympics in Rio. Image: Antonio Larceda/EPA.

So how can the negative impacts of the Olympics be softened? One common suggestion is to have a single host city for the Olympic Games – perhaps in Greece. The problem with the Olympics in their current form is the huge amount of spending on new construction in one location for one event. Even spending on new transport infrastructure is often not directed towards the long-term needs of citizens, instead seeking to serve tourists for 17 days, with little thought given to the needs of the taxpayers who ultimately foot the bill.

But, as Boykoff rightly points out, saddling a city such as Athens with this behemoth every four years may not be a particularly appealing prospect for the people who live there – particularly given the dire state of the Greek economy at the moment.

He suggests having five different host cities, and rotating the responsibility between them every five years. While this may be preferable for residents, it only really manages to share the pain around. A more radical reform is required.

Rio’s Olympic aquatics centre: ready for its 17 days of fame. Image: Adam Talbot/author provided.

A suitable solution might arise through embracing technology. In the 21st century, the vast majority of people experience the Olympic Games through the media – mainly television. As Maurice Roche notes, the Olympics are a global media event, which create a unique cultural space where physical distance and time differences can be broken down.


A global solution

So, why not host the games all over the world? Holding events in existing facilities around the world would allow the Olympics to capitalise on some of the world’s most iconic locations, while eliminating the excessive construction and disruption caused for host cities.

This would also solve another problem: for years, the IOC has been unable to include sports like surfing, which require specific environmental conditions to run. But by making the games truly global, organisers could not only feature a surfing event in Hawaii, but also tennis at Wimbledon, football in the Maracanã and other events in iconic venues around the world.

Holding sports where a fan base exists would also drive up ticket sales for events with embarrassingly low levels of attendance. And holding the events over the same time period would mean that very little changes for fans watching on TV. Most crucially, the degradation of human rights in Olympic host cities would finally be history.

The Olympics have the potential to bring the world together. But the glow of the games has been tarnished by terrible abuses of power committed in host cities around the world. As a global civil society, we should all stand up for a better Olympic movement – a mega-event fit for the 21st century. And what better way is there for the global community to reclaim the Olympics than to spread it all over the world?The Conversation

Adam Talbot is doctoral researcher in the sociology of sport at the University of Brighton.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Cycling on London’s Euston Road is still a terrifying experience

Cyclists on the Euston Road. Image: Jonn Elledge.

The New Road, which skirted the northern boundaries of London’s built up area, first opened in the 1750s. Originally, it was intended to link up outlying villages and provide a route to drive sheep and cows to the meat market at Smithfield without having to pass through the congested city centre. 

As with bypasses and ring roads the world over, however, it increasingly became congested in its own right. Today, you won’t often find livestock on the route, which is now Marylebone, Euston and City roads. But you will find up to six lanes of often stationary buses, cabs, and private vehicles. In a city whose centre is largely free of multi-lane highways, London’s northern ring road has long been the sort of abomination that you avoid at all costs.

But now, somewhat surprisingly, the road is seeing yet another new use. Earlier this week, the first phase of a temporary cycle lane opened on the Euston Road, the middle section of the route which runs for roughly a mile. As London rethinks roads throughout the city, this addition to the cycling map falls solidly into the category of streets that didn't seem like candidates for cycling before the pandemic.

It is, to be clear, temporary. That’s true of many of the Covid-led interventions that Transport for London is currently making, though those in the know will often quietly admit to hoping they end up being permanent. In this case, however, the agency genuinely seems to mean it: TfL emphasized in its press release that the road space is already being allocated for construction starting late next year and that "TfL will work with local boroughs to develop alternate routes along side streets" when the cycle lane is removed.

At lunchtime on Friday, I decided to try the lane for myself to understand what an unlikely, temporary cycle lane can accomplish. In this case it's clear that the presence of a lane only accomplishes so much. A few key things will still leave riders wanting:

It’s one way only. To be specific, eastbound. I found this out the hard way, after attempting to cycle the Euston Road westbound, under the naive impression that there was now a lane for me in which to do this. Neither I nor the traffic I unexpectedly found myself sharing space with enjoyed the experience. To be fair, London’s cycling commissioner Will Norman had shared this information on Twitter, but cyclists might find themselves inadvertently mixing with multiple lanes of much, much bigger vehicles.

It radically changes in width. At times the westbound route, which is separated from the motor traffic by upright posts, is perhaps a metre and a half wide. At others, such as immediately outside Euston station, it’s shared with buses and is suddenly four or five times that. This is slightly vexing.

It’s extremely short. The publicity for the new lane said it would connect up with other cycle routes on Hampstead Road and Judd Street (where Cycleway 6, the main north-south crosstown route, meets Euston Road). That’s a distance of roughly 925m. It actually runs from Gower Street to Ossulton Street, a distance of barely 670m. Not only does the reduced length mean it doesn’t quite connect to the rest of the network, it also means that the segregated space suddenly stops:

The junction between Euston Road and Ousslston Street, where the segregated lane suddenly, unexpectedly stops. Image: Jonn Elledge.

 

It’s for these reasons, perhaps, that the new lane is not yet seeing many users. Each time I cycled the length of it I saw only a handful of other cyclists (although that did include a man cycling with a child on a seat behind him – not something one would have expected on the Euston Road of the past).


Though I hesitate to mention this because it feeds into the car lobby’s agenda, it was also striking that the westbound traffic – the side of the road which had lost a lane to bikes – was significantly more congested than the eastbound. If the lane is extended, it could, counterintuitively, help, by removing the unexpected pinch points at which three lanes of cars suddenly have to squeeze into two.

There’s a distinctly unfinished air to the project – though, to be fair, it’s early days. The eastbound lane needs to be created from scratch; the westbound extended. At that point, it would hopefully be something TfL would be keen enough to talk about that cyclists start using it in greater numbers – and drivers get the message they should avoid the Euston Road.

The obvious explanation for why TfL is going to all this trouble is that TfL is in charge of the Euston Road, and so can do what it likes there. Building cycle lanes on side nearby roads means working with the boroughs, and that’s inevitably more difficult and time consuming.

But if the long-term plan is to push cyclists via side roads anyway, it’s questionable whether all this disruption is worth it. A segregated cycle lane that stops without warning and leaves you fighting for space with three lanes of buses, lorries, and cabs is a cycle lane that’s of no use at all.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.