International sporting events bring fame or shame

Are major sporting events worth it? Our contributors share their thoughts.

The Sochi Olympics are raising questions about the true cost of major sporting events.
The Sochi Olympics are raising questions about the true cost of major sporting events.
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Jordan Cathcart, ArtSci ’14

The starting gun has just been sounded for the 22nd Winter Olympics as Sochi, Russia plays host to the eyes and ears of the world for a fortnight. The build-up to these winter games caused a media firestorm across the globe as Russian President Vladimir Putin has shown disapproval towards the LGBT community within his country and as participants in the Olympic Games.

So far, the subpar living conditions the athletes and media have endured have been well documented. Photos of tiny beds, unfinished hotel rooms and yellow water posted by members of the media and athletes have gone viral in the past few days.

Despite problems, the games have been a success thus far. There have been no issues in the sporting events, and sportsmanship continues to be a staple in these games.

Isolated incidents of hate have occurred at the Olympics. For example, during the Summer Olympics of 1972 in Munich, Germany, 11 Israeli Olympians were killed by a Palestinian terrorist group. The games were suspended for a day as the rest of the athletes mourned. The rest of those games became a celebration of the lives of the lost athletes as the power of sport helped show support for Israel.

As the Olympics and the World Cup continue to branch out to different places, the chosen locations are bound to have varied societies and cultures. This was the case when the World Cup was hosted in South Africa in 2010.

South Africa has a well-documented history of racial segregation, but the event went off without a hitch. The event was a spectacle celebrating native South African culture with dancers on the pitch in between halves and the unforgettable vuvuzelas buzzing in the stadium.

This summer, the world’s eyes will shift to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the World Cup. FIFA, the World Cup’s governing body, has been reluctant to host the event anywhere outside of Western Europe or North America in the past but is now starting to branch out to other countries. After all, soccer is a global game. Issues with hooliganism are plaguing Brazil, but the organizers are looking to be resolve the issues by the time the event kicks off.

To see the true beauty in the Olympics and other large-scale sporting events, you have to see the spirit of sport and not the politics that overshadow the events. Conflict will always exist in this world and different cultures or groups of people will disagree with each other. It’s unfortunate that some other countries and cultures are less accepting and less progressive than Canada.

As for these Winter Olympics, take a step back from the hate-spewing politics that are going on in Russia and try to witness the beauty of sport. So grab a seat on the couch, throw on your red and white and enjoy one of your favourite Canadian beverages. Go ahead and cheer for your country, but remember the true spirit of sport is the celebration of culture and the unity that sport can bring to the world.

Taylor Mann, ArtSci ’14

The Olympic Games are, at their heart, a celebration of the human spirit. They challenge athletes physically and mentally and provide an opportunity for countries to showcase their very best.

The last part rings even truer for the host city and country, as they open their doors and attempt to host the world’s most prestigious international event. It is now, more than ever, an honour filled with pomp and spectacle, and one that carries a very high price tag.

But for all the media attention, for all the national pride, can we really say the Games are worth the price? As countries spend billions of dollars hosting the biennial event, we have to ask if the billions we’re spending on celebrating the human spirit could go further in actually improving the lives of millions.

The answer is, as one would expect, very complex, and it would appear that some games are worth it, while others are not. Numerous recent Olympics shine a light on the issues of poor planning and inadequate spending controls, spurred on by a short timeline and intense political pressure.

Examples of poorly planned Olympic infrastructure are plentiful. The Bird’s Nest in China was so expensive and ran so over budget that it will take over 30 years to repay, even after government subsidies. The Olympic Stadium in Montreal took a similar number of years to pay off, costing over $1.1 billion by the time payments concluded.

Of the 22 major venues used in the 2004 Athens Olympics, 21 are now abandoned or condemned. The same can be said for many venues in Beijing, Turin and so on.

The underlying problem with this mismanagement is simple: it represents a huge opportunity cost to the host nation.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Sochi. Beyond the accusations of mass corruption and graft, one need only look at the state of Russian social services and ask, “what could the state have done with $46 billion?” The answer? A lot.

We can look to the preparations currently underway in Brazil to see a similar scene unfolding. The government is spending billions on stadiums and hastily constructed infrastructure ahead of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Games, while Brazil’s schools crumble and their hospitals provide subpar care. Citizens in that country have taken note, and it has led to massive political upheaval over the past six months.

Of course, the Olympics are sometimes worth it. Vancouver and London are both examples of cities that used proper planning to mitigate the impact of hosting the Olympics. And while they saw a decrease in tourism during the Olympics (as do most cities, contrary to popular belief), good long-term planning may have saved them.

So while some Olympics are more successful than others, it may come down to the opportunity cost for the hosts. For countries such as Russia, it’s hard to see how any celebration of sport can be worth such cost while millions of its citizens live in squalor.

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