Friday, August 12, 2016

How Do You Fix The Olympics?

As the Rio Olympics reach the end of the first week of competition, so far, things seem to be going okay. I say 'so far' because we've got a lot of Olympics left, but for now, they don't seem to be the smoking dumpster fire that people were predicting. The Opening Ceremonies, despite the usual tedious commentary and umpteen million commercial breaks from NBC, were beautiful without being over the top ridiculous- and that Olympic Torch (or an actual cauldron in this case) probably ranks right up there as one of the coolest I've ever seen.

But with the Olympics, you get the usual chorus of voices crying out that the Olympics are irretrievably broken and need to be fixed. There's a growing sentiment that there's something to this notion- complaints of financial mismanagement and boondoggles have been around for decades- Montreal was dealing with the fall out for decades afterward and Denver actually backed out of hosting the Winter Games because well, people were pissed off about the cost- amongst other things. White elephants and crumbling remains of venues past are scattered throughout every host city you can think of, but lately you get the sense that the usual calls for reform might actually be building to something concrete.

Consider 2024- Boston, who had been selected as the candidate city for the United States ran screaming in the other direction from the prospect of hosting the Olympics. The people of Bah-stahn said not only 'no' but 'hell no.'  The 2022 Winter Olympics went to Beijing pretty much after every other city had looked at their budgets and/or asked their voters only to be told not only 'no' but 'hell no.'

So, the Olympics finds itself in a bit of a pickle. Stick with the current model and those pesky voters, if given an opportunity will probably give the IOC the middle finger before signing up for a billion dollar,  multi-year boondoggle followed by a hangover that lasts decades in many cases- which means that the Olympics then flips to autocracies and dictatorships that don't give a shit about the money and wants to use it to burnish the prestige of their regimes. (See: Sochi 2014 and to some degree Beijing 2008, though I think the latter was far more about announcing China's arrival on the world stage than trumpeting communism.)

If you're the IOC, you need a plan. There are ideas out there- Seattle and Vancouver wanted to float a joint bid at one point, but got told no because bids can't cross national boundaries. That's stupid. Change that- let cities partner up, get creative and share the load a little bit. (Copenhagen-Malmo, Vienna-Bratislava, Helsinki-Tallinn, hell even San Diego-Tijuana if you really wanted too.)

A lot of people seem to like the idea of making a permanent venue somewhere- like Athens, Vancouver or Olympia itself. I see the sense of that- it would avoid the usual hassle of building venues from scratch every four years. However, part of the attraction of the Olympics, I think is that it helps people discover different parts of the world- that doesn't help you balance the checkbook if you're a potential candidate city, but I can see why people both like and dislike the idea.

But what if you relied on existing infrastructure that will be in use before, during and after the games? Facilities aren't white elephants, cities don't have to spend billions on building new venues and everyone walks away happy.  Let's look at a hypothetical: Minneapolis-Saint Paul.

Consulting the interwebs, we find the following sports venues already in places in the Twin Cities Area:

Target Center
Target Field
US Bank Stadium
Williams Arena
Mariucci Arena
TCF Bank Stadium
Xcel Energy Center
CHS Field
MLS Stadium (Coming Soon)

There's got to be more than this, but you get the idea. There's a hefty amount of existing venues already in and around the Twin Cities Metro area- do you have to build anything shiny and new? Not in the least bit. You've got Lakes a plenty for things like rowing and I'm sure you can find some sand somewhere for beach volleyball, but the bulk of your venues are already there.  So what are you left with?

Where to put the athletes? Well, the University of Minnesota has dorms a plenty- plus, if you run short there, there are a variety of other smaller colleges around the metro area to lean on as well.

Transportation infrastructure? There's already two light rail lines that should get you into the general area of most of the venues- and they're working on another light rail line out to the southwest 'burbs next- so it's not like they're not investing in that anyway.

In short, you could have the Olympics in the Twin Cities with relative ease and probably at a significantly lower cost than a lot of recent games simply by using infrastructure that's already in place.

But wait, Tom! Doesn't that sort of limit the Olympics to richer nations where cities have extra cash to invest in things like stadiums? You would think so- but here's the kicker: who says the Olympics have to be held in just a city? Maybe your capitol city doesn't have the infrastructure to host the Olympics- but maybe your entire country does?

The Olympics don't have to be broken. They just need a little bit of creative thinking is all... which is, of course, precisely what large global organizations are just so good at.

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