Friday, April 03, 2015

This Sporting Life - A Path Of Plunder

sport (noun) - an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment
sporting (adjective) - fair and generous in one's behaviour or dealing with others
A recent anecdote, one that had been foreshadowed for weeks, proclaimed that this past winter Boston had broken its own record for snowfall having an ungodly 110.3 inches dumped on it in three months. If such a grueling winter, and its tedious effects- such as its paralyzing of mass transit, can have a positive effect, it seems to have Bostonians questioning their bid to host the Summer Olympics in 2024. Since the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), in a surprise move, chose Boston over Los Angeles, a city that already has hosted the event (and one would think possesses an attractive amount of sprawl, to represent the American bid poll numbers are in decline. A WBUR (local public radio in Boston) poll from February had support at only 44 percent; a more recent one put the number at 36 percent.

Meanwhile over at the winter half of the 2022 Olympics, Beijing is in position to become the first city in history to host both the summer and winter games; this despite a lack of snow that would force different events to be staged 150 miles apart. The reason for Beijing’s potential good fortune: the five democratic cities that initially put up bids (Munich, Oslo, Krakow, Stockholm, and St. Moritz) withdrew due to overwhelming public opposition. Beijing’s only remaining competition: the free terrain of Kazakhstan.

It seems plausible that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) would favor Beijing for having already burned through $40 billion hosting the 2008 Summer Games, a record until it was surpassed by the $51 billion dropped in Putin’s Russia for the 2014 Winter Olympics. A record which Beijing can still claim distinction is the amount of displaced people. 1.5 million people were displaced in the run-up to the games in 2008 surpassing the 720,000 forcibly displaced in South Korea ( then ruled by military dictator Chun Doo-Hwan) to clear the way for the 1988 Summer Games. Overall in the past quarter century the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions estimates that over two million people have been displaced due to the Olympics.

To the totalitarian mind the Olympics has the obvious appeal of acting as a ‘coming out’ party, an official joining to a prosperous global community, the inherent effect of which is the glorifying of both the repressive state as well as its ruling party or leader all through the pricey pomp and circumstance of Olympic brotherhood (decorated with grotesque architecture often produced by globe-trotting Western architects- again China probably holds the lead here) and of its useful corollary political neutrality. The culmination of this had to be the Nazi regime’s hosting of the Games in 1936 where in fact the first Olympic torch relay took place, the brainchild of chief organizer Dr. Carl Diem and thoroughly promoted by Joseph Goebbels (Goebbels commissioned Leni Riefenstahl to film the relay as part of the Nazi propaganda film titled ‘Olympia’ released in 1938).

Of course democracies aren’t completely above such corruption and skullduggery. No doubt such a global introduction and acceptance was what the Brazilian president Lula da Silva had in mind back in 2009 when Brazil was awarded the 2016 Summer Olympics. After all here were his words at the time:
Today is the day that Brazil gained its international citizenship…
I think this is the day to celebrate because Brazil has left behind the level
of second-class countries and entered the ranks of first-class countries.
Today we earned respect.

No doubt similar ecstasy was invoked by Brazil’s hosting of the past World Cup. The World Cup being the Olympics’ fellow mega sporting which in 2022 will be staged in Qatar (brought to its audience by slave laborers from Nepal whom a report not long ago by The Guardian revealed were dying at a rate of almost one a day. By some estimates Qatar will spend $100 billion, including funds for nine state of the art stadiums). This after the Cup figures to be blessed by Vladimir Putin in 2018. In the case of Brazil, by June 2013 the country was engulfed in the largest protests since the fall of the dictatorship in the mid-1980s as millions stormed the streets to protest corruption, displacement ,and the billions diverted to Olympic infrastructure, much of which has dubious usefulness after the games, while the Brazilian economy stagnates.

Cost overruns are endemic to the point of absurdity. Just prior to the2010 Winter Games Vancouver, with public money, was forced to import snow to make certain the games begin on schedule. After an initial estimated price-tag of $1.3 billion for the games in 2004 by city leaders in Athens and the IOC, Greece was on the hook for $5.3 billion as soon as the details were flushed out and by the time the torch moved on the number spent was over $14 billion. Four years later 21 of the 22 Olympics facilities had fallen into disrepair occupied by squatters and covered with graffiti.

Such a dismal record apparently means nothing to demigods of the IOC. Why should it? Wined and dined in potential host cities by politicians of all stripes longing for their brief moment in Olympic sunshine (IOC president Thomas Bach had nothing but good things to say about Putin before and after Sochi) and with billions in revenue with billions more coming due to lucrative TV contracts, the IOC doesn’t foot the bill for construction costs, nor pay any of its athletics, or even share its revenue with host countries. Most of its expenditures go to local national Olympic committees that organize bids and hence keep the cash machine rolling.

In the case of Boston the local committee calls itself Boston2024. A few weeks ago The Boston Globe revealed that six of the committee’s 10 salaried employees are making over $100,000. Former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick was slated to pull in $7500 a day for occasional travel as group’s ambassador until the tastelessness of that even had current mayor Martin J. Walsh register his disgust. Patrick has since said he’ll work for free. Mitt Romney, who bills himself the savior of the Salt Lake City Games in 2002 by allegedly bridging a $379 million shortfall and a bribery scandal (though many are those who say he overestimated his role and his main accomplishment was getting $1.3 billion of taxpayer money poured in the Games- something of an inevitability historically), is working hard behind the scenes. Boston2024 is trying to convince a justly skeptical public that the Boston Olympics would be funded strictly with private money. After initially resisting the idea the committee now claims it will sponsor a public referendum in November 2016.

The tragedy is that there will be cities that will ‘win’ the bidding process and host that and future Olympics. Paris, Hamburg, and Rome are said to be some other contenders for 2024. No doubt some will back off due to public opposition and maybe the IOC will again simply reach for the totalitarian option. Either way it’s safe to say that, as long as for most of the world the Olympics remain a TV show promoting cheap patriotism and phony sentiments of global brotherhood, the regime of corruption, displacement, and repression will go on. Given that the Nazis themselves established the torch relay all those years ago perhaps such a reality need not be considered shocking. 

by Joseph Grosso from here

No comments: