(*Originally published on White Cover Magazine…)
Thanks, party poopers.
The price tag for Vladimir Putin’s Winter Olympics, (exaggerated but) reported to be around $51 billion, has apparently scared away any viable, desirable candidate for the IOC’s next yet-to-be-decided Games.
Krakow, Poland withdrew from consideration for the 2022 Winter Olympics this week, following the same decisions from Sweden (for Stockholm) and Germany (for Munich). Krakow let its citizens decide, and 70 per cent of them slashed the campaigns tires. And Oslo, in Norway, will hold its own referendum on that city’s candidacy. Wisdom and trends suggest they’re going to balk, too.
That leaves just two cities. Beijing, China and Almaty, Kazakhstan. Yay.
Vancouver let its voters decide, too, while the city was still campaigning for the Games in 2003. 64 per cent of the city chose the light, and the Games were green lit. Then, B.C. had to actually to win the bid – which it did over late-charging Pyeongchang, Korea.
So, Vancouverites chose to play. But that was a decade ago.
Since then, costs have ballooned and Russia popped it. The Sochi Games – in its effort to be the grandest, most incredibly awesome show ever – threw down a bill that is, quite frankly, terrifying for any other nation that would ever think of leaving the tab for its people.
That’s why Sweden, Poland, and Germany bailed. They have common sense, and they have democracy. Kazakhstan and Beijing? Well, let’s just say they’re not going to leave it up to the populace to decide, and the ones deciding aren’t going to be the ones paying.
But it’s not just the AH-OOO-GA of Sochi’s cost that is flat-lining the IOC’s hope for a decent venue in 2022. (I can’t imagine they’d want to double back to Beijing either, or force the world to get excited about Kazakhstan, not when the first thing most of us think of is Borat. YES. OLYMPIC. U, S, and A!)
The Winter Games are plagued because, well, they’re the Winter Games.
Those two weeks in February have little of the panache, history, or fireworks that its Summer brother does. There are those that don’t even consider the Winter Games to be the real Olympics, because the Olympics is sorta still a Greco-Roman deal. And, lately, the Olympics are a Sino-American deal.
And just look at the last few Summer venues… London, the greatest city of the past half-millenium. Beijing, which blew the roof of its Bird’s Nest. Athens wasn’t a stunner, but it is where the Games were invented, after all. Sydney could top anyone’s travel wish list. You’d have to go back to Atlanta in 1996 to find a locale that doesn’t carry a global city rep with it, but that was a terrific Games and the city has its fans. Anthony Bourdain even did an episode of The Layover there, and it’s the root of more American history than almost everywhere else in the country. Barcelona in 1992? Man, what a party that must have been.
The Summer Games are a blockbuster movie with new releases every four years. But if the summer is the Star Wars trilogy, the winter is the Bourne series.
Pyeongchang, in 2018. Sochi, 2014. Turin, 2006. Salt Lake City, 2002. Nagano, 1998. Lillehammer, 1994.
It’s like supporting actors and actors… grapefruit and apples.
I don’t want to dump on my own city, but I don’t consider Vancouver a world-beater, either. A beautiful, friendly place – absolutely. Would I rather live anywhere else? Most of the time, no. Well, unless you’re talking about any of the cities that have hosted the Summer Games in the past 20 years.
Pyeongchang. Sochi. Turin. Salt Lake City. Nagano. Lillehammer.
That’s like a Carson skit that ends with the question, “Places you couldn’t picture before they hosted an Olympics.”
And yes, I’m being an ignorant North American, or Westerner. But it’s those countries that just dropped out. And it’s those countries that, realistically, have driven the success of Olympic Games – on television, in the media, financially, and culturally – for the past century.
Simply put, those committees behind the Krakow bid and the Stockholm bid and the Munich bid (and probably the Oslo bid) didn’t bail just because of the price tag.
They bailed because the Sochi bill only cleared up a very obvious fact, which is that while a Summer Olympics can add unparalleled cachet and profile to your city, the Winter Olympics can’t.
Vancouver has escaped its expenses. I’m sure the rest of them are doing okay, and I don’t think Putin has any business of paying off a debt.
But what country in its right mind would willingly and consciously walk into a Winter Games with the possibility of anything even reaching toward $50 billion on its table?
The Sochi Games gave everyone else a chance to think about it for a second, and once you do it’s sort of like being sober in a club where all your friends are buying bottle service… I mean, you can only get so drunk.