POSTED: February 27th 2013

NEIL WILSON: Who can afford an Olympic Games?

Chicago spent an estimated $100 million and even had First Lady Michelle Obama behind the bid
Chicago spent an estimated $100 million and even had First Lady Michelle Obama behind the bid

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications

February 27 - The citizens of the Swiss canton that contains the cities of Davos and St Moritz go to the polls on Sunday in a referendum that will decide whether the two bid jointly to host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games.

Davos is where the movers and shakers of the financial world go each winter for theWorld Economic Forum.  St Moritz is the winter playground of the fabulously rich. Latest reports though suggest that the locals are not convinced they want to afford the price of the Games.

 ‘What is in it for us?’ is the question they will be asking themselves, a question that the mayors and councils of 35 US cities far less well-endowed than the Swiss have been asking themselves since the US Olympic Committee sent them a letter inviting bids to be the country’s applicant city for the 2024 Summer Games.

Some have decided almost immediately that the price is not right. What is in it for them is not worth the effort. Count San Jose, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Nashville and Chicago out. Already they have said thank you but no thank you without a second thought.

Chicago knew exactly what they would be getting themselves into. The USOC chose them to be the country’s bidding city for the 2016 Games.

President Barack Obama flew to Copenhagen to lobby for the city he calls home, and yet it did not get past the first round of IOC voting.  Estimates put the cost of not getting through even one round of voting at $100 million.

More staggering was the USOC’s estimate in its letter to cities that the cost of getting even to the status of US applicant city, as Chicago did for 2016 and New York did for 2012, was ‘upwards of $10 million’.

Eight US cities bid for that right for 2012. That suggests upwards of $80 million of local taxpayers’ hard earned cash went up in smoke in that unsuccessful and ultimately pointless exercise. How many schools and roads would the price of that lottery ticket have financed?

So the US cities have first to ask themselves whether they have the price of a ticket for the ballot. And then they have to ask themselves why they would want the prize.

If the only good reason they can see is the possible benefit to their city’s economy they are in it for the wrong reason. And if they think the Olympics might put their city on the global map, they should also think again. The IOC would never take it five-ring circus to any city that is not on its map.

 Only the world’s best known cities need apply, and only the world’s best endowed cities can afford to apply. By 2024 the IOC may well think that it needs to return its Games to the world’s greatest market but not to just any US city. This is an exercise for the biggest kids on the block.

Step forward Los Angeles, New York or Washington DC if you want it. The others were sent letters only out of politeness.

NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books.

Keywords · Olympics · Neil Wilson · bidding

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