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.

 
 
 
 

CityMetric is now City Monitor! Come see us at our new home

City Monitor is now live in beta at citymonitor.ai.

CityMetric is now City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications from New Statesman Media Group. Our new site is now live in beta, so please visit us there going forward. Here’s what CityMetric readers should know about this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is now a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission is to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

Please visit citymonitor.ai going forward, where you can also sign up for our free email newsletter.


As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our new digs. You can follow City Monitor on LinkedIn and on Twitter. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

To our readers, on behalf of the City Monitor team, thank you from all of us for being such loyal CityMetric fans. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.