Saturday, 31 May 2014

Bread and Circuses: why the World Cup and the Winter Olympics are coming to China.

Back in my days as a university English teacher in Nanjing (of course, I didn't describe myself as such) one of the role-play assignments I gave my students was to come up with a pitch for Nanjing to host the "2014 Olympics". Most classes found this fairly fun as everyone was, in those days, still excited about the 2008 Beijing games that were still a few years away, however in one class a student objected simply "but, there won't be any Olympics in 2014!", a failure of suspension-of-disbelief that I found a bit perplexing.

Well, now disbelief need no longer be suspended, since Nanjing IS scheduled to hold the Olympics this year, albeit their poorer cousin, the Summer Youth Olympic Games. Happily the cost of the games will hopefully be no more than the US$315 million budget reportedly allocated to it,less than 1% of the 2008 game's estimated cost.

The news that Krakow has pulled out of hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics was no surprise to anyone who knows much about that city. The fact that the snow-capped mountains clearly visible in some of the promotional material looming over the city . . . erm . . . aren't there but are much further away, was a fairly obvious point. The potential lack of snow was also an issue, as in February, whilst the games in Sochi were going on, pretty much everyone in Poland was crossing the border into the Czech Republic to find decent snow-coverage. Just as relevant, Cracovians were clever enough to spot that they could have the investment in infrastructure hosting the games normally brings, without having to have the games, and in the same referendum that ended the bid, approved a program for building a metro system and cycle-paths.

As has been widely covered elsewhere, Krakow is not the only city to pull out of hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics, leaving Beijing and Almaty as the only cities still in real contention, and as Antony Tao over at Beijing Cream points out, Beijing is by far the most likely of these two to win because of the spending power that will be put behind their bid. The fact that these are also the only places where local residents have no say about what their money is spent on has also not be lost on many observers.

What you are left with is the impression that, in pursuing ever-grander plans for world sporting events, the various bodies that control world sports have painted themselves into a corner where no country not in need of bread-and-circuses distractions to divert their population from the oppressive nature of the state they live under is willing to pay the massive cost of hosting an event like the Olympics. Since the ludicrous decision to award the World Cup, a multi-city, multi-stadium summer event, to Qatar, a country with only one real city and, at the present time, one stadium with a capacity above 40,000, on the basis of a plan that will require the spending of a year's annual GDP for Qatar, this can be said to include FIFA as well.

If this is the trend, then the one country that will end up costing the lion's-share of event will be China. Indeed, if China manages to get the 2026 World Cup and the 2022 Winter games, that country will have hosted the World Cup, The Winter Olympics, and the Summer Olympics within a 20-year time-span. Even if FIFA's continental cycle upsets this (though the Qatar decision shows that they'll do anything for a high-bidder, even moving the tournament to winter), they will have happened within 22 years of each other. Indeed, with suggestions that Guangzhou should make a bid for the 2024 games, China might have held the Summer Olympics again before 2030.

[Picture: A gate-house not far from Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, where I taught back in 2003]


justrecently said...

Logically, the first comment concerning world sports is commercial spam. :-))

Gilman Grundy said...

Yeah, for some reason this page just seems to attract spam-bots