Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Vancouver Olympics: Owe Canada, a blueprint for major financial losses

The Vancouver Olympics: Owe Canada, a blueprint for major financial losses

By Evan Weiner

February 10, 2010

(New York, N. Y.) -- It is a good thing that sports journalists (the New York Times, New York Post, New York Daily News and New York Newsday all contributed money to help New York land the 2012 Summer Games which under normal circumstances is a blatant conflict of interest), politicians and sports fans never really seriously question International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge or the entire Olympic movement. Rogge and his group think they are above everything and the way politicians genuflect when Rogge and his minions say jump, there is no wonder why the International Olympic Committee members feel that way.

Rogge has opened his mouth again calling the soon to start 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games a “blueprint” for future games. Rogge apparently likes how the Vancouver organizers have not only taken into account than hosting an Olympics is just more than two-week sports orgy. There is an afterlife and that the 2010 Olympics is environmentally friendly and that sports facilities will be used after the competing athletes both in these games and the Paralympics leave in March.

What Rogge didn’t say is that if Vancouver is a blueprint, then future host cities and American media partners better watch out. The Vancouver legacy is going to be one of extreme red ink. General Electric’s NBCUniversal television division is preparing for losses that will exceed $200 million (US). The Vancouver organizers will not be able to recoup their loonies which means British Columbia taxpayers will be on the hook for whatever cost overruns accrue.

Politicians seemingly never learn from history. Vancouver and British Columbia public officials and private sector leaders who pushed for the Olympics apparently never heard of the philosopher George Santayana who in 1905 in the Life of Reason, Vol. 1 “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Santayana was not talking about the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics when he penned the thought, but Vancouver and British Columbia and Canadian residents know that it took 30 years to pay off the debt from those Games and that the Montreal legacy includes a lot of corruption when it came to building the Big O (or Big Owe as it was referred to in Montreal) and the African nations boycott because the politically insensitive International Olympic Committee did not expel New Zealand after that country’s rugby team played in the apartheid country of South Africa that year. Montreal paid off the bills eventually. Athens and Greece should be so lucky, with Greece in a very deep economic decline; the bills from the 2004 Athens Summer Games won’t be paid for a long, long time.

The lessons learned in Sydney (Australia), Athens, Montreal and other places that have paid for what is a private organization’s event have not resonated with other governments. The London 2012 Summer Games will cost English taxpayers a bundle and things are not very promising in Russia for the 2014 Sochi Games. Still the line forms on both the left and right with politicians and corporate leaders tripping all over themselves for a chance to host the Olympics in 2018 and 2020.

Rogge has promised that the Vancouver Games will help support the rebuilding of sports infrastructure in earthquake ravaged Haiti but offered no specifics and repeated his tired mantra of athletes should be role models and not take performance enhancing drugs.

In 2003, Rogge put pressure on the United States Congress and President George W. Bush to rid Major League Baseball of performance enhancing drugs. What is conveniently left out of the Rogge narrative was that the IOC was unhappy with Major League Baseball for not stopping the regular season for a couple of weeks to sent the best MLB players to take part in what really would have been a meaningless two week international baseball tournament. Rogge in 2006 begged Italian authorities to let the IOC take care of any drug problems in the Turin Olympic Village because taking illegal drugs really isn’t illegal, it is just cheating and that an IOC suspension was more of a punishment than going to jail.

Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association have now played two World Baseball Classic tournaments and IOC delegates have told baseball (and softball) officials they are not welcomed in the Olympics as the sport has been dropped from the Summer Games.

The IOC continues to mesmerize people including the people running Vancouver’s Public Libraries. The libraries were instructed not to hold any gatherings that were sponsored by someone other than an official Vancouver Olympics sponsor. The IOC actually has that type of power as the deal between the Vancouver Olympics organizers and the international body that oversees the Games requires that the host city makes sure than Olympics sponsors are treated with kid gloves and in 2007, the Canadian government bent over backwards to protect the Golden Arches of McDonald’s and other sponsors.

The IOC also really doesn’t care what happens after the Vancouver Games. The world is littered with Olympics-sized financial debt from Games in Sydney, Australia in 2000 and Athens, Greece in 2004. No one will ever really find out what Beijing spent on the 2008 Games but the Bird Nest stadium goes for the most part unused in the post-Olympics era and someone in China is paying about nine million dollars annually to keep the place maintained. Vancouver’s sponsors have done the barest minimum to fund the Games.

The bill for the Olympics will come due in 2011 and there will be a lot of questions that will need answers when the day of reckoning arrives as British Columbia taxpayers will be asked to pay the debt. That is not a concern of the International Olympics Committee, host cities should be happy that the IOC even gave them the time of day. When a host city signs a contract with the IOC, the host city taxpayers have to pay cost overruns, not the IOC.

If Vancouver is a blueprint for future Games, then people bidding for the 2018 Winter Games should be running away as quickly as possible as they are doomed to financial failure.

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