Why staging costly Olympics in numerous cities is a no-brainer
Most blatant lesson of Rio 2016 is that no one city should host this thing on its own again
Television scheduling made Rio 2016 even more of a second-hand Olympics, anyone watching live at two in the morning either being overly sober or underemployed. Those of us sensibly fond of sleep spent much of the fortnight playing catch-up. The consequence was a certain detachment which was just as well for viewing something so squalid.
Maybe because of everything else going on the incongruity of a poverty-stricken city spending $20 billion on a sports event while its governor had to call a state of emergency to generate funds for such trivialities as healthcare and emergency housing didn’t feature a lot in news priorities.
The Olympic movement has form when it comes to expediency and it found a marriage made in rotten heaven dealing with a Brazilian government which clearly sees nothing wrong about pouring state- subsidised concrete down the throats of some of its most vulnerable citizens.
The politics of Rio 2016 have been the most disgusting part of an Olympics that have stunk to high hell. And it isn’t particularly because of cheating, doping, fixing and all the rest of it. From a sporting point of view the Olympics kissed credibility goodbye decades ago. Even Pat Hickey’s ticket-dance is a comparative side issue.
But to have foisted this bloated behemoth of self-aggrandising bullshit on a city blatantly in need of much more than “profile” and “prestige” was obscenely stupid. That it was facilitated by people far from stupid only emphasises the vacuum at the heart of an Olympic movement which clearly doesn’t give a damn that no one believes anything it says anymore.
Rio is going to be paying the price of this idiocy for a long time to come. It hardly seems fair then that the lessons it has provided should make it a dying dinosaur kick in terms of how this creaking Olympic mess is staged in future.
For billions around the globe it doesn’t matter where the Olympics are. On telly, any stadium is just a stadium, any arena just an arena: 100 metres in Rio looks exactly the same as 100 metres in Rome. The experience is confined to the dimensions of the screen. Most of Brazil watched it that way too, provoking huffy first-world indignation at empty seats that reeked of a condescension which one can only hope is due to profound ignorance of the everyday survival reality for so many in that country.
That’s telly for you though and it reinforces how for the vast majority of us sport is now a second-hand experience with the actual location of where it’s happening being incidental. And that could be the root to restoring credibility to the overwhelming cynical process of deciding where the Games are held.
The old chestnut about them permanently returning to Athens has already been aired but the Greeks have enough on their plate without worrying about hosting the world every four years. And it’s a depressingly regressive idea, just a variation on a theme which has evolved to a stage where most cities possessed of a working calculator won’t even contemplate applying for this Olympic farrago anymore.
An industry has grown up around this concept of the world dropping on a single city every four years. Like any industry there are central players with a stake in perpetuating the myth that it’s a good idea. And the strength of that stake will be gauged by how long it takes them to finally admit its old hat.
The Olympics is a brand, a debased and seedy brand, but still a brand, one recognised the world over by an audience which doesn’t budge from home and which mostly doesn’t care a hoot where the actual pictures in their living room are coming from.
Spreading sports around the world, preferably in countries that appreciate them already and provide a market, and then beaming the pictures around the world under the Olympic brand is a technical no-brainer.
At a time when the costs of hosting an Olympics are crippling to any one city, the logistical advantages to spreading the financial load around are obvious. But if it’s felt that pinning a location to proceedings adds something, it would hardly be beyond anyone’s wit to spread things around a continent or a specific network of countries or cities.
It might mean facilities could be reused again and again rather than being left to rust. It might also make the bidding process less of a palm-greasing exercise for shysters and despots on the make.
Crucially, it might even put a stop to the sort of grotesque spectacle that puts an Olympics in a city where getting into a sweat about Usain Bolt’s triple-treble is an indulgence so many can’t afford.
There is a new global digital TV reality now. It’s time to exploit it. Whether you were in Rio or Roscrea for the last two weeks made little difference from an information point of view. And it will be even more so in Tokyo 2020.
So if Rio 2016 is to have a legacy, hopefully it is to properly acknowledge that the Games are a second-hand experience for the vast majority of us. If that happens it might mean the beginning of the end of these grotesque Olympic splurges that ultimately do no credit to anyone.