Want to reduce corruption in sport? Create a permanent Olympics venue

The Olympic Rings flying above Sochi during the Russian city's Winter Olypmics in 2014. Image: Getty.

With accusations of state-sanctioned doping levelled at Russia and some results from the 2012 London Olympic Games called into question, the integrity of elite global sport has rarely looked more fragile. The time has come to dump the piecemeal reforms and decide on a permanent venue for our flagship tournament; it would centralise control over events and even the training of the athletes.

My idea of a permanent Olympic site has been accused of being unrealistic or impractical. However, with every major sporting nation embroiled in one scandal or another over the past 20 years or so, it is clear the solution must be bold and come from the top.

With a central venue, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) can in one masterstroke confirm its rightful place as the epicentre of global sporting excellence and underscore the ideals of the Olympiad where peace and social justice can be promoted through a common global language of sport.

If you build it …

The costs of such a site and infrastructure would be immense, but then the costs right now aren’t chicken feed either. Tens of billions each were spent on the games in Beijing, London and Sochi. You have the bidding process, the campaigning, the planning, the massive infrastructure costs and the extra money proud hosts spend on training athletes to get a morale-boosting result. A single site for summer in Greece, historic home of the Olympics, and winter in neutral Switzerland, would each cost less to construct than recent Games in London and Sochi. Maintenance and running costs would be spread globally rather than resting with one nation..

Iconic. The UN’s home in NYC. Image: UN.

Permanent sites can also provide a sense of gravitas – see the UN in New York for evidence of that – which heightens the moral and political authority of the organisation. This may never have been a more enticing prospect than it is right now. Sports organisations understand the need for “integrity”; the public must believe that true, fair and honest competition is taking place.

Development strategies

The waters have been muddied, however. Behind the facade we see lies a vast and wealthy sports industry worth about $145bn a year.

And ever since the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles turned a useful profit, we have become used to hearing that mega-events can be economic (re)generators for the hosts. Many countries link economic development strategies to the attraction of major international sporting events. They hope that they can buy exposure, boost tourism, and deliver supporting infrastructure.

Political buy-in is a must. Image: UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

If a city is to mount a viable bid to host the Olympics, it needs an enthusiastic government behind it. But the necessarily unequivocal nature of political backing often ignores negative consequences. These can be found at local level near major projects, across the region, or can affect the whole country.

Host nations and cities want a sanitised space where imagined visions can be projected to spectators and the global community. Unsightly landscapes are removed and people are moved out of their homes, historic communities are broken down and cost overruns feed into national budgets and can damage citizens’ quality of life.

In other words, the regeneration narrative is no simple tale to pull off; it is fraught with contradictions, questionable in its motivations and unverifiable in its results.

Aspiration nation

But we are happy to cheer the parade. We put to one side evidence about horrible living and working conditions for workers who produce sporting goods, and we don’t allow forced removals or the suppression of democratic freedoms to ruin our fun. We enjoy our festivals of nationalist celebration, stories of triumph against adversity.

A permanent Olympic site could let us do that without the tainted legacy of tawdry campaigns and brutal infrastructure projects. We could eliminate the economic injustices often promulgated in the name of the Olympics.

As the World Anti Doping Authority published its startling report on Russian athletics, however, the debate is less about the mechanics of bidding for the Olympics, than the chemistry of winning gold.

The athletes have always faced the brunt of criticism about doping, but in reality it is born from a structural issue. Simply put, we have a problem because the interests of administrators, coaches, suppliers, scientists and gambling rings all combine to make doping a sane decision; a risk worth taking for the athlete and their teams.

That’s why a permanent Olympic site under the control of IOC-managed training regimes and focused on performance excellence through clean practices would address the core of this structural problem. It would insert another, overriding, interest into that story of the athlete’s career which can challenge the narrative of success at all costs.

The 1896 Olympic Stadium in Athens. Image: Warren Smart/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND.

A single site would allow for tighter controls over performance enhancement, and more efficient and environmentally friendly delivery of Olympic Games competitions. There would be no reliance on diverse national approaches to each. It would also allow the IOC to more easily limit protests and maintain a safe environment for participation, rather than attempting to insert a massive logistical intrusion into one of the world’s major cities. 

All good news for any skittish corporate sponsors, who would also have their marketing investment more readily protected (no more troublesome “exclusion zones” perhaps). Control over the entire process of elite sport at the highest level could be maintained directly.

Is this likely in the near future? Perhaps not, given the role of nationalism and national governments. But it is worth developing a model for such a site and how it would work practically – for there will come a time when the classical liberal approach of small-scale reforms simply doesn’t cut it any more.The Conversation

John Nauright is professor of sport & leisure management at 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.