On July 6th, 2005, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted at a meeting in Singapore, and awarded London with the 2012 Summer Olympics Games. On July 27th 2012, London held their Opening Ceremonies, finally showcasing what they had been planning for the past seven years. Seven years is an extremely long time to be planning, and lots of things can happen in that span. The crazy part? For a city to win the right to host the Olympics, their bidding process can start up to 10 years before the Olympics actually begin. What’s even crazier, is that there are cities that commit to the time frame and to hosting, they spend money to prepare their bids well in advance – and don’t win. They invest extensive amounts of time, money and other resources because they expect to win and want to have the honour of hosting the Olympics. But, for whatever reason, the IOC awards the Olympics to someone else. Chicago, for example, spent a rumoured $100 million dollars in their losing bid for the 2016 Olympics – in 2009. While it was a major blow to the city, not only because President Obama and his wife Michelle had become personally involved, Chicago had genuinely thought they would be the successful candidate. Instead, the 2016 Summer Olympics will be held in Rio de Janerio, Brazil, beginning on August 5th, 2016.
Richard Cashman (2002), in his study titled “Impact of the Games on Olympic host cities”, identified several factors that can lead to bidding and host cities spending more and more money as the process unfolds. In addition, some of these factors can also have an affect on a city, when and if they win the right to host.
With each Olympics, bids become more and more extreme. When bidding, a city wants to out-bid their competition, to ensure they are the last city standing. As a result, expectations are raised, and cities may begin making promises they can’t or won’t keep. Cashman believes these promises may cause the city to spend extra, unnecessary money and create a more extravagant, unrealistic bid. This happens in Politics as well, which also has a major influence on a city’s bid. Since the bidding process beings up to 10 years before the Olympics, the situation can become intense because the stakes are so high. Those in power during the time of the bid, may not be in power when the Olympics actually take place. Cashman points out that reputations are involved, where individuals want to maintain or enhance the image they may already have within the city. In addition, there are contracts to be won for any new infrastructure and the changes that are proposed. Problems can arise in this process, as there are growing environmental concerns with constructing new infrastructure for a specific set of events. Organizers want to make plans that satisfy all, while being cost effective and efficient, which doesn’t always match.
As soon as a city is awarded the Olympic games, construction of venues, changes in transportation and large projects of urban renewal can produce many unexpected changes and inconveniences for the residents of the city. The citizens may not have expected these disruptions, as Cashman believes organizers may have hinted other wise throughout the bidding process. Hidden agendas and costs come to light only after the city begins to implement their Olympic plans. This could include taking over community spaces and places, for an extended period of time, without informing the community. Costs may constantly increase, if the organizing committee didn’t plan for certain aspects of their plan and what it would take to make it a reality. Cashman also mentions that there are certain outside factors, such as unexpected external crises, that may force cities to spend additional money on their plans for the Olympics. These crises affect the city and/or globe as a whole, and can drastically alter the make up of the games.
In addition to increasing costs, host cities experience substantial publicity when they are awarded the Olympics. Mostly negative, Cashmsn comments that this publicity comes from the International Media, who scrutinize the details of the city and their plans. If cities are not open and informing throughout the process, Cashman believes their image will suffer even more. That is why it is important for cities to deal with any problems that arise, professionally and honestly. If the media realizes that a host city is hiding something, they will not hold back and it may have negative effects on the cities image, even after the Olympics are complete.
Amongst the negative factors Cashman identifies as influences in the process leading up to the games, he also identifies a positive factor that can benefit a city in many ways. Because the residents of the city need to be part of the Olympics for the games to be successful, Cashman believes that it is essential for organizing committees to involve them as much as possible. By involving the public, host cities can foster a relationship that allows the individuals to feel personally involved and invested. Events, like the Torch Relay, are a good example of this, as it allows the organizers to enhance the relationship with the community and gain more of their support. Without the public, a host of other things can go wrong for a city, so it is important that this is recognized and addressed.
So why do cities bid to host? Is there a benefit to spending a substantial amount of money on an event that doesn’t make any promise of return? Having the honor of hosting the Olympics is a big draw for certain cities, regardless of the cost. During our class, I asked my peers if, given the chance, they would want to host the Olympics. With some hesitation, because of the costs, we all agreed that it would be an amazing experience. In the end, we decided it was something we would definitely agree to, provided that it wasn’t our money being spent. However, we also discussed how difficult it may be in the future, to have cities make the financial commitments required in hosting an Olympics, as the bids become more and more extreme. One suggestion was to create an “Olympic Island”, one for the Summer Olympics and one for the Winter Olympics. Another suggestion for this dilemma, was picking two cities in each continent, one for the Summer Olympics and one for the Winter Olympics, and rotating the games among the continents to the selected cities. Both of these options would take the bidding process out altogether, as the Islands would be the only option, and the selected cities would host the Olympics every time it was their continents turn. Both ideas have their strengths and weaknesses, but it is evident that something should change. Whether the IOC wants to admit it or not, the Olympics are becoming more about putting on a show or “circus” for the world, taking away from the incredible talent and skill of the athletes who should be the spotlight. Removing the act of bidding may be a potential solution to this, as my classmates and I have discussed, but there would be some obvious resistance from the IOC. What do you think the IOC should change to get away from cities over spending? Is there a way to get the Olympics back to focusing on the athletes and their sports? These are a few of the questions that went through my mind after reading Cashman’s article, among others. Keep an eye on the IOC, Olympics, and the host cities, because changes are coming and it will be interesting to see what happens next.
Cashman, R. (2002). Impact of the Games on Olympic host cities. Barcelona : Centre d’Estudis Olímpics (UAB). Retrieved from: http://olympicstudies.uab.es/lectures/web/pdf/cashman.pdf