Pierre de Courbetin, the father of modern Olympics postulated a concept known as Olympism,
“a philosophy of life, … blending sport with culture and education, seeking to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles”.
He believed every country should celebrate hosting Olympics in turns, thus resulting in the first Olympic games outside of Greece, Paris Olympics 1900. However, with today’s rising cost and sustainability concerns, Olympism should be viewed in a new perspective. Sports are no longer a cheap and simple affair. The nasty bidding wars, huge debts and countless abandoned infrastructure after 28 Olympics hosted in 23 countries, the question to ask is, is it worth the effort?
The curse of the Olympic flame
One of the major aspects of a rotating Olympic host is the requirement for the host country to build or upgrade sports facilities. This is a large undertaking for many countries and requires substantial investments from the country’s government. The host government is also required to procure land to build stadiums, gymnasiums and other sporting infrastructure, which are in many cases become abandoned after the closing ceremony.
In many countries, such land is very difficult to find near populated areas, and there have been reports suggesting government authorised displacement of people from their homes to free land for building Olympic infrastructure. Staging of the last 20 Olympic games has displaced an estimated total of 20 million people. This is the moral myopia issue countries face as they focus on boosting infrastructure, their citizen’s well-being is negatively affected.
There are also reports that suggest extremely poor conditions for construction workers responsible for building the Olympic infrastructure. These reports indicate that multiple workers have been killed due to non-existent or lacking safety regulations. Looking from the utilitarianism ethics point of view again, the deaths of these workers is an issue, as not only are the workers being killed, the families of these workers also suffer due to the lack of safety regulations, and therefore negatively affects the well-being of many people. From a duty ethics (Kantian Ethics) perspective, the onus should be on the country’s government to ensure the safety of the many workers responsible for the construction of the infrastructure that will bring publicity and exposure to the country.
“Should we go back to the ways of the Ancient Greek?”
In the ancient world for around 12 centuries, Olympics were always held in Olympia, Greece. Similarly, should modern day Olympics be held in one specifically designed city, “an Olympic City” held in a neutral soil? Greece for instance, could ease its debts by selling one of its sparsely populated islands to International Olympics Committee which then could be turned into an Olympic City, developed sustainably with investments from both participating
countries and private sector. This can have a positive impact on the economic and sustainable development of Greece, thus being justified from the consequentialism point of view.
Additionally, every Olympic host since 1992 has experienced cost overrun. The 2016 Games in Rio for example, were projected to run at $4.6 billion but the actual figure has risen to as high as potentially $20 billion. There is an ethical question if these investments could be used in a better way by investing in new schools, universities and construction of public infrastructure.
Also, by creating a developed sports infrastructure in one place and focusing investment on one city, it is possible to show the world the state of the art technology with focus on sustainability and efficiency (offering a model of sustainable urbanism to a wider world) with justified costs as it is going to be heavily reused.
It’s simply not going to work
The very fact that a modern Olympia was never established exhibits the benefits of the current status quo. The Olympics, with proper planning, acts as a catalyst for the host country to build or improve infrastructure and invest in new technology. Construction of sports complexes in less inhabited places forces creation of better transportation infrastructure across the country and can potentially improve life for the citizens of the country.
“Before the Rio Olympics the public transport system was able to cover only 38% of the population. There was a significant increase to 66% with the construction of new infrastructure in the course of preparation for the Olympic games”.
While a lot of investment is required for the construction of sporting sites and Olympic village, careful and thoughtful management of resources would allow efficient usage of these facilities after the Olympic games and as a by-product contribute to the well-being of the surrounding community in line with eudaimonism. After 2012 summer games London Olympic village was converted into 2800 apartments with 5 neighborhoods created, ⅓ of which was affordable housing. Barcelona on the other hand still benefits from infrastructure such as a port, beachfront and transportation that were improved back in 1992 for the games.
Another direct advantage of rotational Olympics is sharing of state of art technologies. Host countries often use Olympics as a platform to boost and encourage engineering technologies. For example, in 1912, at the Stockholm Olympics electronic timing devices and public-address system were introduced to the world. South Korea today boasts of their 5G mobile network and its connectivity by offering live VR experience to visitors in Pyeongchang, Winter Olympics meanwhile Japan plans to roll out instant language translation devices for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
In a nutshell, we believe the IOC should adopt changes in determining Olympic hosts. We believe the best course of action would be to pick hosts amongst proven hosts, with a good reputation of hosting global sporting events, some infrastructure in place and strong economic power to avoid problems due to cost overruns.
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