Saturday, June 07, 2014

Conscious Uncoupling of the Five Rings

In the end, the thing escaped Game of Thrones character Vladimir Putin might be best remembered for is killing the Winter Olympics. In the wake of the Sochi games, which cost a staggering $51B dollars to put on, competitors for for future hosting opportunities are looking at the bottom line and saying "ennnh, maybe we'll make a run at the World Cup of Roller Derby instead." And without a steady line of sites lined up to wine, dine, and *cough cough line the pockets of cough cough Salt Lake City cough cough* work with the IOC, the Winter Olympics could run out of places to play sooner rather than later.

(Alternately, climate change could take care of that, too - the last few games have featured embarrassing shortages of things like "snow".)

Now, not every games is going to cost that same $51B. The Sochi games - never mind that they were set at a beach resort - were basically an excuse for the Russian kleptocracy to take Scrooge McDuck-style treasure baths in giant stacks of petrorubles, which is to say that it was a chance for Putin to fork over giant chunks of the Russian treasury to his buddies/supporters. Odds are any future site isn't going to have quite that scale of corruption, simply because the corruption was so massive that replicating it would take another country fifteen years and repeated viewings of the original House of Cards (The English one without Kevin Spacey doing his Foghorn Leghorn impersonation) with pop quizzes after each episode. After all, to run Sochi, the Russians not only had to build the stadia, they basically had to build the ground the venues were sitting on and the roads to reach that ground, all in an untamed wilderness, just thinking about it makes my head explode. It would be like the Yankees announcing a new stadium built entirely with tax dollars in the middle of central Maine, only more so.

But more and more, cities are wising up to the notion that spending billions of dollars on venues that are going to be used for a couple of weeks and then abandoned or otherwise put to partial use is a really dumb waste of money. And for all the rah-rah talk of national pride and the economic benefit from all those tourists who will undoubtedly spill in from across the world to watch ice dancing, those massive piles of money always seem to fail to show up when the games are done.

So maybe it's a good thing that cities are wising up to the economic realities of an Olympic bid. Maybe it's for the best that the only countries that will continue to bid on these things are run by power-mad megalomaniacs with unlimited budgets, because really, any representative democracy that votes to hand over N billion to build a short-track speed skating rink when they're closing schools has maybe got its priorities a little out of whack. Or maybe this is just a blip in the radar, caused by the wild overspending at Sochi, and life - and shenanigans - will get back to normal in Olympics-land soon enough, with all the sketchy politicking that entails.

But in the meantime, at least we have that shining beacon of virtue and civic benefit we call the World Cup, which...oh. Never mind. Forget I said anything.

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