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Host City Criticism Is The New Olympic Sport

12/09/2016 12:43

The number of sports featured in the Olympic Games, for various reasons, changes constantly. The 2016 Rio de Janeiro event had 28 games, as had the previous three Olympics since 2000. In 2012, the games in London had only 26 after baseball and softball were dropped by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Five more sports were recently approved for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games at the 129th IOC session. Several criteria guide the inclusion of new sports into this most celebrated athletic event of the world, among them is its global popularity and attractiveness for media and the public. Hence, games may be included or dropped depending on the circumstances of the times, making them vulnerable to the whims and frivolities of the decision-makers, or how they perceive the popularity of a certain sport. Granted, data from surveys and research will support their judgments, theirs is still the final word.

If host city criticism is a sport, it would get a convincing nod from the IOC to be included in every Olympic event. What, after all, could be more popular and appealing for the international audience than giving bad press about a host city?

Criticizing the chosen venue for Olympics, or the frontrunners before an election, has become de rigueur for this event which is held every four years, with the Summer and Winter Games alternating at two-year intervals. Watchdogs come out of hibernation or are instantly created, and cities and governments look for the slightest hints of corruption, security issues, adequacy of preparations and just about anything they can pin on a potential host to bring it down.

The 2012 London Olympics is one such example. When the IOC awarded the host city to the capital of England on July 6, 2005, there were protests over the use of public funds being concentrated in an area that was already developed and the neglect of other cities. When the original budgeted £2.4 billion swelled to £9.2 billion, critics decried the tremendous waste of money. The Olympic Park with its village and stadium were forecasted to become future white elephants like the one in Athens and in other prior host cities. Security became a major concern, with the Games coming so soon after 7/11 and the London transit system bombing a day after the city won the bid.

But the post-Olympics reports declared it a huge success. The dour predictions didn't materialize and the opening ceremony was acclaimed as one of the most inspiring TV moments of all time.

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics is under scrutiny by the French police over hints of bribery in the bidding process. In the course of an investigation over the Russian doping scandal that found the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) ex-president Lamine Diack accepting bribe money to cover up the results, a $2.2 million payment from a Japanese account to a suspicious bank account in Singapore was discovered. The account belonged to Black Tidings, controlled by a friend of Diack's son who is also wanted by the French magistrate. This same account is allegedly a channel for the bribe money on the doping cover up. The Japan Olympic Committee has also begun a separate independent investigation on the matter, even if its chairman Tzunekasu Takeda has said that the $2 million is for the legitimate payment of consultants it had hired for preparing its bid. It should be noted that no evidence was found by the French prosecution investigation, which is ongoing since several months ago.

Whatever the outcome of the twin probes, Tokyo has been unjustly maligned because of the negative publicity. Even the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics was dredged up again, accusing the JOC of lavishly entertaining IOC members who visited the city for inspection prior to the bid. Adding to the burning issue are media sensationalizing the possible repercussions of the investigation, although no authorized organization has ever released a statement about it.

Rio de Janeiro recently hosted the 2016 Olympics, and even though they received some of the harshest pre-games criticisms that any host city has endured the games were overall, a success . Months earlier, IOC vice president John Coates had noted that the Rio preparations are the worst he had ever seen.

Rio was beset by numerous problems, too - the sewage-infested waters that athletes would compete in, the Zika virus that had quite a few players backing out, the bloating budget that the city can ill afford, and law enforcement battles with drug trafficking groups. Talks of re-scheduling or cancelling the games had circulated and Rio, instead of getting positive recognition, had its skeletons rattling in its closet.

Not all host city criticisms are baseless, however. The 2014 Sochi Games is notorious on two fronts - it is the most expensive Olympics ever, at more than $51 billion in total expenses; and, it scores highest in human rights abuses related to the Games. Tens of thousands of workers involved in the construction of venues, hotels, transportation and telecommunication systems were exploited, working long hours with meager wages under unsafe conditions. Homes were demolished and its residents evicted in favor of Olympic infrastructure and without fair compensation, waste were dumped illegally and oppositionists were harassed and threatened.

The IOC doesn't seem to be sensitive to the general sentiments. After Sochi, the 2022 Winter Olympics was awarded to Beijing, which is right up there with Russia and North Korea as perpetrators of human rights violations. But the only other option for the Olympic Committee was Almaty, Kazakhstan whose record is no better. Four other candidate cities backed out because of the escalating cost of hosting the events and lack of local support. Although it is still six years away, the criticism on Beijing isn't lacking.

From serious charges like abuse of workers to the hilarious absence of snow and the theft of the "Frozen" song, this Chinese city can expect the bashing to go on indefinitely. If only to build up more excitement and hype for the Games, criticizing the host city should be in the Olympic list of sports because it sisn't going away anytime soon.

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