For the past 50 years so many communities that have hosted the Olympics, both summer and winter, have found that the glory of hosting athletes from around the world quickly fades but the cost lives on for many years.
Now a new element has arisen — the heightened cost of security, the reality of terrorism and the very possible loss of life, an image that will stick with a community forever.
For years the big question has been how do we finance the cost of making the host city ready for an Olympics? The secret to developing the physical facilities is to design athletic dorms, stadiums and a mass transit system that can be integrated into the community and serve its residents long after the twoweek extravaganza has ended.
Dormitories can serve as future rental apartments. Stadiums can be used by local sports teams. Build a mass transit system that the residents have been demanding.
The 1976 Summer Olympics left Montreal with a $1.4 billion debt that took 30 years to repay. Could that money have been put to better use? Was the publicity worth the money? The bond market reacted adversely to their heavy debt with Moody downgrading their bond rating to “negative.” How much will that cost in future borrowing?
With the exception of the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany where terrorists killed 11 members of the Israeli team, terrorism has not been a major issue. Today, 2014 in Sochi, the threat is real. Not speculation, but real threats of destruction that have the Russian government beefing up its military presence to provide security, cordoning off the Olympic villages and searching for known terrorist groups and “Black Widows” who are known to already be in the area.
Many athletes are asking their families to stay at home and watch on television rather than exposing themselves to the death threats of the terrorists. Those in attendance are being told to remain within the confines of the Olympic Village. No going into the community to see and experience the local flavor as has been the norm in years past.
The United States, as well as several other nations, has developed an emergency evacuation plan in the event a disaster occurs. This in itself creates a problem between the Russian government and its responsibility to protect, and the U.S. concern for the wellbeing of Americans at the games.
Terrorists thrive on the fear and anguish that their threats create. It is impossible and irresponsible not to so report, however the more press they are given the more they will plan and implement terror.
In addition to terrorism we have the problem of hooliganism, which we are seeing on the streets of Rio in anticipation of the World Cup. Brazil’s national police seem unable to control the situation where dozens of teens run through the streets grabbing jewelry, billfolds and packages from pedestrians on the street, running and disappearing before the police can arrive on the scene.
Like the runners from the Boston Marathon who have returned once again to run, showing the world that we cannot be intimidated, nations and their citizens would react the same if tragedy were to hit Sochi.
But the basic question remains. Is it worth the cost? Debt will remain on the books of the host community for years. Facilities that will not accommodate the needs of the community once the games have ended become a liability. The cost of security, the adverse publicity and, most of all, the possible deaths of athletes, spectators and the press begs the question: is it worth it? That question may well make communities thinking of hosting future Olympics take a pass.
Has the modern Olympic had its day of glory? What city in the future wants that exposure for a few days on TV around the world? Perhaps the answer is a permanent site for future Olympics. Greece would be a logical location. The cost of building and maintaining facilities in Athens and the security of participants would not be that great if all participating nations footed the cost.
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