Once again, the Olympic disconnect

Do you want to know why nine cities have dropped out of the running for the 2022, 2024 and 2026 races for the Olympic Games?

Why only Los Angeles and Paris are left for 2024 and the International Olympic Committee is all but certain this summer to award both the 2024 and 2028 Games to those two, order yet to be determined?

Because the 2016 Rio Games are just the latest super-expensive Olympics and because the IOC, in attempting to explain billions in spending tied to an Olympic Games, issues a statement that’s filled with inconsistencies and double-speak.

“The IOC made a huge contribution to support the staging of these Olympic Games,” the statement, issued this week to news outlets, said. “This included the commitment of $1.5 billion and an exceptional effort to find cost savings and additional financial contributions by all Olympic stakeholders to make these historic Games possible. On top of this, Rio 2016 was also able to take advantage of very considerable marketing revenues. All of this would not have happened without the Games.”

Six months later: Carioca Arena 2, which hosted wrestling and judo during the Rio 2016 Games // Getty Images

Six months later: Carioca Arena 2, which hosted wrestling and judo during the Rio 2016 Games // Getty Images

So the IOC made a significant contribution to the Games — which would not have happened without the Games — and Rio 2016 took advantage of very considerable marketing revenues — which would not have happened without the Games — and these historic Games were made possible — because of the Games.

There’s so much more in this statement — see below — and all it does is underscore the disconnect between what the IOC apparently sees when it looks out from its bubble in Lausanne and what is happening in the real world.

That disconnect is why cities are falling away.

The IOC’s No. 1 priority is to find a way — ways — to remain relevant in our 21st century.

To be clear:

Our world is better with an Olympic Games and an Olympic movement, no matter how flawed.

Even so, the IOC and the movement are, right now, at a perilous juncture.


Years of franchising out the Games as government-run infrastructure projects. That has put the IOC, and the movement, in jeopardy.

This is the lesson of, among others, London ($15 billion), Beijing ($40 billion), Sochi ($51 billion) and, now, Rio.

Costs for the 2016 Games were fixed this week at just over $13 billion.

To be fair:

At least financially, the IOC knew what it was getting when the members voted in 2009 for Rio.

The evaluation report, issued a month before the vote in Copenhagen, made plain that the operating budget for the Games would be $2.8 billion and the Brazilians intended to spend $11 billion on infrastructure, the report declaring:

“Government officials and Rio 2016 emphasized that hosting the 2016 Games would accelerate the transformation of the city and that the Games would benefit from major infrastructure projects already planned for the long-term development of Rio and the staging of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.”

That report also says:

“The commission,” meaning the IOC team of experts, “is confident that the growing Brazilian economy would be able to support the necessary infrastructure development needed for the delivery of the 2016 Games.”


See, this is but one of the problems when hard-edged risk-assessment gives way to any number of other variables, just as may well be the case now with Paris and Los Angeles for 2024 and 2028.

In the case of Paris:

The “sentiment” associated with the 100th anniversary of the 1924 Games along with European solidarity for the French capital.

In the case of Brazil:

The “legacy” associated with taking the Games to South America for the first time.

Along with the massive corruption that has attended doing business with the government in Brazil, as a steady stream of news reports has made plain.

The then-Rio governor, Sergio Cabral, pitching the IOC in 2009 as part of the winning Brazilian campaign. Cabral is now sentenced to 14 years in prison for corruption // Getty Images

The then-Rio governor, Sergio Cabral, pitching the IOC in 2009 as part of the winning Brazilian campaign. Cabral is now sentenced to 14 years in prison for corruption // Getty Images

Sergio Cabral, from 2007 to 2014 the governor of the state of Rio, was among those who helped sell the Rio bid to the IOC in Copenhagen. This week he was sentenced to 14 years in prison for corruption and money laundering. Prosecutors say he got lucrative kickbacks for getting building contracts that including the refurbishing of Rio’s Maracanā stadium, site of the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies as well as the 2014 FIFA World Cup final.

This just can’t be said more plainly:

The Rio and Sochi — and now, over-budget Tokyo 2020 — projects are why taxpayers are rebelling, why cities are falling out in bidding for future Games, and why the IOC should think carefully indeed before awarding Paris the 2024 Games, where the plan calls for $2 billion in construction of an athletes’ village, a swim complex and media housing.

The LA 2024 plan calls for zero dollars in permanent construction. Zero.

An Olympics is not supposed to be a construction boondoggle.

This is the disconnect, and unless the IOC wakes up and smells the Brazilian coffee — to be brewed beautifully in a Parisian cafe, bien sur — its words are as empty as the howling wind.

Like this, from this week’s statement:

“The Olympic Games Rio 2016 provided the opportunity to Rio to bring forward a number of long-term investment projects, many of which were not directly related to the staging of the Olympic Games.”

Which, you know, begs the question: why such projects?

“This infrastructure budget was under the scope of the government authorities and included the metro, new bus lines, the revitalized harbor, the clean-up of Guanabara Bay and other projects which directly benefit the people of Rio. This is a long-term investment from which the city will benefit for many years to come. It simply does not make sense to include these infrastructure investments which will provide long-term benefit to the city and the region in the cost of the Games.”

Agreed that the $2.8 billion operating budget is a separate line item.

However, in every other way it totally makes sense to include these infrastructure investments in the “cost of the Games,” and even the IOC acknowledges as much, and even in this very statement: “The Olympic Games Rio 2016 provided the opportunity to Rio to bring forward a number of long-term investment projects …”

Easy logic. Without the opportunity the Games provided, these projects would not have happened. As the statement itself notes: “The Games served as a catalyst for investments … which will serve the city not just for 17 days of Olympic competition but for generations to come.”

The statement continues, and here you see the IOC attempting to shift responsibility from itself and any Olympic stakeholder — now that the show has left town — to the Brazilians. Apologies in advance for re-printing this paragraph at length, but there’s a point to be made

“Those in charge of the legacy must make every effort, as they have promised in the past, to ensure that these investments bear fruit for the general public. When the right efforts are made, we already see good examples – the Maria Lenk Aquatic Park continues to have regular training and competition action as a part of Team Brazil Training Center, which receives over 200 athletes from 12 different Olympic disciplines. The Training Centre received another boost from the Rio 2016 legacy when state-of-the-art equipment from the Olympic laboratory was installed to provide scientific support to high performance athletes. Several venues are operational, as seen at Carioca 3 and the gymnastics arenas; the city has its first public golf course, open to all. We hope that these cases will act as an example for the remaining challenges and that they will particularly encourage the public authorities to deliver on the commitments for a strong legacy. This is in particular true for the Future Arena (handball) which was promised to be turned into four public schools.”

Again, the disconnect.

Earlier in the statement, the focus was on the “long-term investment projects” under the “scope of the government authorities” — the metro, bus lines, harbor, bay and more.

Here, it’s such small stuff, and moreover all sports-related, being cited as evidence of “good examples” of legacy — 200 athletes from 12 Olympic disciplines using a gym, for instance.

In no way, obviously, does that benefit the “general public” the IOC suggested in just the very previous sentence those “in charge of the legacy” ought to be strenuously looking after.

Let’s not even get started on the golf course.