Monday, August 29, 2016

Olympic Wrap-up, Part Two

It's a given that wherever the Olympics are held, NBC will spangle our televisions with the handsomest views that the host city and surrounding countryside have to offer. The 2016 Summer Games ended eight days ago and were no exception.

We saw the green, sawtooth peaks of the Brazilian Highlands rising over tall buildings by the beach.

We were treated to aerial views of the statue Cristo Redentor -- Christ the Redeemer -- perched atop the narrow pinnacle of Corcovado Mountain with the city of Rio de Janeiro far below.

We caught a glimpse of a ribbonesque waterfall cascading down a steep slope.

We got an extended report by Tom Brokaw that showed him eating steak and hanging out with gauchos in a landscape that looked like the Ozarks.

And also, during these Olympics and right there in Rio, an unseemly incident occurred with a man who happens to be one of the highest ranking figures in the International Olympic Committee.

When the Games began, Pat Hickey, a 71-year Irishman, was serving as president of both the European Olympic Committees and the Olympic Council of Ireland. He was considered Europe's top Olympic official and a major player who could help bring the Summer Games back to that continent in 2024.

Eleven days later (four days before the Games concluded) he was arrested stark naked in a luxury hotel on suspicion of helping run a ticket scalping racket of greater than three million dollars.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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There has always been friction between the fantasy of the "Olympic movement" and the reality of the bureaucratic machine that lords over the whole shebang... but over the last 15 or so years, that friction has become particularly bad.

There is something inherently good about the world's greatest athletes convening to compete in their respective sports to determine who is best, and doing so with a sense of national pride... but there is something inherently wrong with governments spending multiple billions of their currency constructing facilities that will, after two weeks of use, sit empty with no anchor tenant for the rest of time.

There is something inherently good about athletes making their own path and earning their own way without asking for public handouts... and there is something inherently bad about the fact that while athletes do that, and while they also spend countless hours in thankless training, Olympic officials jet around accepting bazillions in bribes and feasting on $50 steaks while promoting amateurism for athletes.

On the heels of the notorious grift of the Sochi Winter Games, these Rio Summer Games kept right on pushing the cart further down the hill. God knows how much money passed hands during the "getting ready" stage, yet things were so poorly organized that spectators couldn't get to the events they came to see, and the diving pool turned green, and the Olympic Village was so incomplete and ramshackle that at least one country (Australia) warned its athletes to lodge elsewhere due to safety concerns. It seems like a lot of money went into someone's pockets without ever being put to use, and it's hard to believe that situation won't repeat.

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Which leads to a related question: Have the Olympics grown too big?

Which leads to another: Are they worth continuing to stage at their current extent?

Some of the world's finest and richest cities -- i.e., the ones best equipped to stage the Olympics -- have dropped out of the bidding process in recent years after deciding the costs are too high and that the potential rewards do not outweigh the actual risks.

Stockholm was favored to get the 2022 Winter Games, but shocked everybody by withdrawing its bid. Its withdrawal put Oslo in the driver's seat, but Oslo's own citizens were so antipathetic toward the idea of hosting the Olympics that its committee merely went through the bidding motions rather than going all-out. The unsurprising result was that those Games were awarded to the human rights disaster known as China, which will of course use them to propagandize about the, ahem, glories of their "communist experiment."

Meanwhile, Boston dropped its bid for 2024, and Chicago, which was gung ho about bidding for 2016, didn't even bother to re-submit for 2020 or 2024.

If places like those are bowing out, how can places like Rio justify the expense? On this front, I have plenty of questions but no answers.

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Theoretically, if we could get past the issues of money and security and lopsided cost-benefit ratios, Earth is filled with all kinds of intriguing places that could host future Olympics.

Although we think of Israel and Lebanon as hot desert nations, they both have ski resorts because they both have mountains that receive significant snow. Lebanon even has its famous cedar groves that look somewhat like the evergreen forests of California's High Sierra. So how about having the Winter Olympics in the Middle East?

Ideally they would be in Israel, not Lebanon -- better to have them hosted by a first world democracy than by a Syria-influenced puppet state run by the terrorist organization Hezbollah -- but again, I'm talking theory, so they could be in either. And hey, if you really want to show that the whole "Olympic Movement" thing is not a fraud, how about those two countries, one Jewish and one Muslim, get together and co-host the Games?

How about Winter Olympics in South America? When we think of that continent we think of sweaty rain forests and tropical heat, but the Andes have some of the snowiest summits on Earth and there are ski resorts in Chile and Argentina. So why not?

And since Beijing, the headquarters of Communist China, will have hosted two Olympics in fourteen years come 2022, how about the IOC man up and make a statement about independence and sovereignty by awarding a Summer Olympics to Taiwan? They should make Taipei the host city and call the country Taiwan instead of spinelessly referring to it as "Chinese Taipei" or "Republic of China." They should have the whitewater events in a free-flowing river in the Central Mountain Range. And trust me, it would be good.

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Of course all of that is a long shot and some of it is, at least for now, a pipe dream.

But it doesn't have to stay that way. Even the Israel-Lebanon co-hosting idea could eventually become plausible, when you remember how close the Cedar Revolution came to succeeding.

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The next three Olympics will all be in the Orient: Winter 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Summer 2020 in Tokyo, and Winter 2022 in Beijing.

That is good, but the Olympics obviously need to step away from that that neck of the woods for 2024, and it will be interesting to see which neck they choose to enter.

Los Angeles is bidding for those games (Go America!) and if it wins, it will mean the City of Angels gets to host on the 40th anniversary of its staggeringly successful 1984 Summer Games.

But Paris is also bidding (last hosted in 1924) and so is Rome (last hosted in 1960). And so is Budapest (going for its first).

I do not know the logistics -- i.e., number of hotel rooms within a certain radius, abundance of facilities, reliability of public transport -- but I do know that Budapest would get my vote if everything else is even close to equal.

It is one of Europe's greatest cities, but nobody (or at least no American) ever thinks about it.

It would be the first non-Russian city from behind the Iron Curtain to host an Olympics since the Iron Curtain got ripped down.

It would put an often overlooked country, Hungary, front and center on the world stage.

I say do it!

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And with that said, I'll sign off. I've rambled long enough and this blog post isn't going to change anything, but it was fun to opine. And fortunately, the World Cup of Hockey is right around the corner!

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