POSTED: January 17th 2014

NEIL WILSON: Five rings for five continents

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

(SFC) Dave Zirin, sports editor of magazine The Nation, used the platform of BBC Radio’s most-listened morning show this month to speak darkly of a new cult that is afflicting the world of sport.

 This cult, he said, has been given a licence to militarize whole cities, exhort public money and shut down civil liberties in the protection of its monopolistic interests.

Recognize this cult? You should. It is the Olympic Movement, the five-ringed circus that pitches its tents in the Russian city of Sochi in the next few weeks to present the latest edition of its biennial festival of sport.

Zirin exaggerates for effect but nothing he said was untrue. The Olympic Games, in the name of sport, is as guilty as he charges. It has been allowed to get out of hand, in size, in financing and politically.

Great sporting feats are now only a 16-day part of it. Before the first line is crossed by a pair of skis or skates In Sochi is the certainty that the records that will enter Olympic annals will be for over-spending and corruption, an all-time record of $51 billion of which one third is reckoned to have been in back-handers.

Similar over-spending and corruption is expected  from Rio, and while nobody is yet pointing finger of corruption at Tokyo, its few-month old budget of $5 billion has been dismissed as ’nonsense’ by business analysts.

No Olympic executive board doing its work properly should ever have allowed a host city to exceed its original budget by 171% but that is the average of the EB’s failure for the last 16 Games for which audited figures are available. Even London, recognized as a tightly run ship, exceeded its bid by 101%.

The Games must be constrained. No more vanity projects, a la Vladimir Putin. They are threatening to give the Olympics a bad name and what corporate giant would want its name attached to it then.

To make the Olympic flame worth the candle the costs of future Games must be reduced, and they can be by not building new sites in different cities every second year to leave a trail of white elephants in the circus’s wake.

This is not the old argument for a single permanent venue. That is unrealistic. The five rings of the Olympic movement stand for five continents. Why should it be restricted to one forever where the risk of an unforeseen event might make the place unavailable.

No, a better idea would be to revolve the Games around a single city in each continent, with the continents putting up their own candidates from which IOC members would choose in a once-and-for-all election.

 Africa might present Cape Town, Asia including Australasia Tokyo, North America Los Angeles, South America  Rio and Europe Paris.

The advantages are obvious. No more wasteful quadrennial bidding wars and construction costs restricted to one-off build and renovations every sixteenth year.

 It could work even for the winter Games although the rotation might have to be restricted to three continents, say Nagano in Japan, Innsbruck in Austria and Salt Lake City or Vancouver.

The cities chosen would have permanent Olympic organising committees – instead of the present quadrennial re-invention of the wheel for a new group of people - responsible between Games for maintenance and ensuring that interim use is made of venues for  global and continental championships.

It is time the Olympic stopped running away with itself. As splendid as the new facilities will be in Sochi, their creation for just 16 days of sport has endangered the good name of the Olympic Movement.

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 · Neil Wilson · Olympics · IOC · Sochi 2014

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