Candidates for the 2022 Winter Olympics are dropping like flies as Europe's citizens express their horror at the prospect of shouldering the financial burden of the quadrennial extravaganza. Krakow last week pulled out of the running when 70 per cent of voters in the Polish city said Nie. In January, the mayor of Stockholm declined the opportunity due to the cost, and the electorates in Munich and in Switzerland's Davos and St. Moritz have already spurned Olympic gold. With civil unrest threatening to wreak havoc in Brazil during the football World Cup and allegations of corruption swirling over Qatar's bid for that event in 2022, one begins to wonder whether the future of global sporting events lies in unsuitable locations in states governed by the incompetent and the corrupt.
Oslo is the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) last hope for a plausible candidate for the Winter Games, but the Norwegian government has yet to make up its mind, public support is weak and the opposition is not supporting a bid. Left in the running are Almaty in Kazakhstan, Beijing (again) and Lviv in Ukraine. The latter has effectively disqualified itself, for obvious reasons and the other two candidate cities don't need to consider public opinion. However, the IOC badly needs an uncontroversial venue with guaranteed snowfall to refocus the games on sport, rather than politics and the allegations of cronyism and corruption that engulfed the $51-billion (U.S.) Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia.
Global sporting championships make great television but almost without exception, they deliver negative financial returns, redundant sports facilities and municipal indebtedness. Vancouver, which hosted the last winter games, escaped financial cataclysm by whisking most of the $7-billion cost out of the city and into the political embrace of provincial and federal government. Unlike in Russia, where a bevy of oligarchs and oil companies shouldered much of the bloated cost, the citizens of Western democracies have to pay for the event and although the 2012 games were widely enjoyed, London will be paying for its Olympics for many years to come. The original budget of £2-billion ($3.7-billion) inflated to £9-billion and each London household will suffer a levy of £20 per year for a decade to fund the city's share of the bill.
The debate over the benefits in tourism and infrastructure stimulus of global sporting events never ends, but it is clear that public appetite in developed countries to host such jamborees is waning. Added to that is the grotesque corruption that seems to afflict the organizations which dominate global sport, whether it is the Olympics, Formula One motor racing or World Cup soccer. After the recent allegations in the British press that a Qatari former vice-president of FIFA, the soccer governing body, had paid £3-million in bribes to secure votes for Qatar's bid to host the 2022 World Cup, it now seems almost certain the competition will have to be rerun.
Meanwhile, there is mounting anxiety about the safety of people attending the World Cup events which start next week in Brazil and what extreme measures the Brazilian police might take to "pacify" the population in the slums of Rio and Sao Paolo. So violent and so visible has been the opposition to the World Cup among Brazil's lower middle-class of teachers and public sector workers that there is speculation that any setback, in particular a failure by Brazil's team to at least reach the quarter-finals, could lead to the downfall of Dilma Rousseff's government.
These are big stakes, even for global sporting fixtures, and you might wonder why politicians take the risk. The answer is that governments have always relied on circuses to distract voters from the daily drudgery of existence in crowded cities infected with crime and unemployment. If the world begins to tire of such grandiosity, extravagance and corruption, perhaps it is a good sign, that for a large minority, life has improved sufficiently that we no longer need sporting operas to distract us from reality. It may also be true for many among the impoverished majority, that the truth is now too appalling and the insult too great to tolerate any longer.