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Hosting the 2012 London Olympics is estimated to cost UK 14 billion (US 21.9 billion), up from the initial 2005 bid estimate of UK 2.37 billion (US 3.7 billion). This comes when the UK government budget is still growing, albeit more slowly, and the state fires soldiers and slows local garbage collection while protecting its desk-bound bureaucrats.

But Sky Sports, a television broadcaster, has mined documents under freedom-of-information laws to estimate that hosting the Olympiad may ultimately cost British taxpayers UK 24 billion (US  37.6 billion).

If true, that will be a 1,000 percent cost-overrun against initial estimates; as if your garage mechanic guessed $500 to fix your car and surprised you with a bill for five grand. The news comes as the Bank of England revised its 0.8 percent May estimate for 2012 economic growth to zilch; zero expansion.

These estimates ignore the much greater real costs, which must include each participating national team’s training and other expenses over the four years between Olympic Games. While global figures are elusive, Australia spends A 170 million (US 180 million) a year on what they call “elite sports,” meaning the un-commercial events that sports-mad Aussies only bother to watch once every four years, or around US 720 million per Olympic cycle.

Total four-year costs must reach upwards of two hundred billion dollars worldwide; rather pricey for games that began, about a century ago, with private donors paying for truly amateur athletes instead of, predominantly, state-subsidy funding full-time ball-bouncers and javelin-chuckers who count as amateurs today.

Modern bureaucrat-jocks practice either obscure sports that no one wants to watch outside of Olympiads, or popular games such as basketball where spectators prefer to see better athletes from college or professional teams. The events are rife with corruption: from the cities offering bribes to host the games, to those members of the Olympic Committee who presumably trouser the loot (God knows what corporate sponsors pay under the table), to doped athletes. The host-country taxpayers lose fortunes against the vaguest promises of international business to be attracted years after the games conclude.

Misfortunates living in a host city suffer enormous inconveniences in transportation, small businesses are intimidated by cops and lawyers over their decades-old signs that infringe on modern Olympic copyright, and other UK family businesses have been shut down for months in order to protect the monopolies of Olympic corporate sponsors. Host-country nationals, in Britain at least, get only a few seats, in the worst locations for the least popular events, losing out to every Olympic official, foreign small-town mayor and indigenous politician, insignificant journalist and United Nations indignitary.

So why do these Olympian monstrosities survive?

The Olympics survive for three reasons: they enrich elite contractors, they provide the circus part of “bread and circuses” for the global Great Unwashed, and primarily they glorify the State.

It is a badly-kept secret that the Nazis concocted the cod-pagan ritual of Olympic torches, ending their tour in Albert Speer’s vast stadium for the Berlin Olympiad, and today only the swastikas have been edited out. While the Olympics promote an intense nationalism that many will say is better in sport than in war, nationalistic impulses that glorify the state often encourage (or do nothing to oppose) war: it only took a half of an Olympic cycle for Nazi Germany’s 1936 athletic ubermenchen to march into Poland two years later.

There are strong moral, economic and political arguments for ending the Olympic debacle altogether.

But if we cannot convince the Big Government fascisti and the Great Unwashed to shut down the Olympics entirely, then we may consider reforming the games in order to make them more modern and relevant. This would change the focus, the structure, the financing and the sporting events themselves.

Structurally, multi-national corporations could be permitted to field teams of athletes in competition with the nation-states that they are already superseding in many ways. While this may annoy the rabid nationalists, who care far less for obscure sports than for grinding the faces of their foreign rivals and then goose-stepping around a grandiose stadium, corporate money would vastly increase the amount of bribes available to Olympic Committee officials, who may then choose to ignore the national supremacists glued to their teevees or inhabiting the cheap seats.

Adding athletic teams from multi-national corporations would also appeal to various Leftists, especially when athletes from some nasty super-state defeat contestants from a supposedly even nastier corporation, or when a “good” multinational, such as Apple or Body Shop, wins more medals than a “bad” one peddling, say, weapons or cheeseburgers. Some right-wingers would be equally happy when the private sector poltroons beat the public sector ones.

Bidding procedures for hosting the New Olympics could be streamlined and made more transparent. This could be farmed out, cost-effectively, to eBay where cities would bid online for the games, offering cash-on-the-barrelhead. In order to minimise obstruction from some Olympic Committee members, who can earn vast fortunes in backhanders under the table, a set percentage of the winning bid could be transferred directly into their Swiss bank accounts when the auction ended.

Needless to say, this would rule out any bid considerations apart from cash, but that seems to be where the process is headed anyway. It would also generate jobs in an entirely new industry, selling insurance to governments in case their city was unlucky enough to be chosen as the next Olympic host and suffer the attendant economic hardship.

While it may seem paradoxical that governments would bid to win on eBay while taking out insurance against winning, politicians always spend rashly while their Treasury officials try to curtail risk and cost, so the two are complementary.

Besides, big governments have a long tradition of inconsistency: supporting both drug-traffickers and narcotics cops, backing both sides in civil wars, committing acts of terrorism and blaming it on their enemies or rivals, and so on. The point is never consistency; it is to make government ever bigger while spending ever more taxpayer money.

Games will also be improved by banning amateurs, or by making them compete with professionals for places on the teams; there are almost no real amateurs now, since most exist on state athletic welfare hand-outs. Games will be more exciting to watch with the world’s best competitors; and sports too obscure or boring to develop a commercial following will disappear automatically and not elicit the whining that we would hear were the Olympic Committee to abolish them by fiat. It would cut costs since professionals are multi-millionaires already; and this would achieve a balance between the avaricious players on the field and their stinking-rich counterparts who monopolise the bleachers and boxes.

In the New Olympics, doping bans and drug-tests will have to go. Already only the incompetents get caught, and training athletes at high altitudes replicates the effect of steroids without the legal risks. Instead, new athletic events can be designed around the maximum drug-abuse possible.

The illegality of drug-abuse can be resolved since Big Governments already break their own laws with impunity: American soldiers in Afghanistan are often already hopped-up on enough drug-cocktails to earn them time in Leavenworth were they civilians. And big pharmaceutical firms would happily pay the costs for these events, since they are already under-testing dangerous drugs and forcing them prematurely onto children and adults alike; so this would enhance marketing. It would generate new jobs as drug companies grow, and make even more jobs caring for their victims and the shysters who represent them in court

So, while speed would remain a prime consideration in, say, New Olympic track and field events, “extra credit” would be awarded to the most doped-up contestants. The new 500-metre Freak-Out would be held, not on a conventional linear track, but in concentric circles for heavily drugged athletes who have forgotten where they are going.

Young audiences, couch-potatoes who show little interest in exercise, would be attracted in droves to new events that reflect their modern hierarchy of values. There could be the 15-metre Shuffle, based on the average, round-trip distance between a couch and a ‘fridge. This would compete for attention with the more vigorous 100-metre Butt Shot, in which modern athletes try to keep their trousers up and their keisters less than fully exposed while they negotiate the track. Those, plus the 500-metre Nosepick, judged on speed, style and quantity of retrieved material, would more accurately reflect the culture of today’s youth.

More problematic is finding new events with which to attract civil service audiences, since all Olympics celebrate the massive state with its ever-growing numbers of apparatchiks, pencil-pushers and professional nuisances.
My fellow members of the all-volunteer, wholly-independent, New Olympic Restructuring Committee initially considered attracting bureaucrats with non-competitive events, since they tend to resent any qualitative or quantitative performance measurements, preferring to chart their increasing salaries, holidays and pensions. So, we initially thought that more broadcast attention paid to glorifying the state would be enough. On consideration, however, the committee decided that enhanced security shake-downs and more televised extra-judicial beatings would prove attractive but insufficient.

Moreover, athletic events reflecting many bureaucrats’ professional interest in doing nothing would make it hard to choose a gold-medal winner; while civil-servant teams competing to make a misery of innocent human lives, or crushing small businesses or bullying smaller nations, impose time constraints impractical in an Olympic season of only a few weeks. We are still looking into these matters and others.

A friend was once told, by a college dean in Michigan, that the hardest part of running an American institution of higher learning was ensuring enough parking for the faculty, football for the alumni and sex for the students.

Similarly, it should not be hard to redesign the Olympic Games to accommodate the main interests of modern audiences, particularly bling and avarice, malice, sloth and corruption.

Books on the people and topics discussed in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

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3 replies to this post
  1. Sadly, the same can be said (on a smaller scale) for professional sports teams who get their arenas paid for in part or in whole by municipalities. Here in Michigan the former home of the Detroit Lions (the Pontiac Silverdome) sits empty as the city of Pontiac works through the bankruptcy (in part because Pontiac agreed to build the Silverdome). But at least local pro-sports teams turn a profit and are enjoyed by the middle and lower classes, unlike much of the Olympics.

  2. As much as I love sports, Stephen is right on every point in this sad, hilarious and insightful essay. Let me add one point: Although the 1936 Berlin Olympics were a preview of what the lethal combination of ideology and nationalism could do to sports (not just the "Olympic ideal," which was nonsense in 1896 and still is), it was the Cold War that shaped the games as we know them, starting when the Russians came in 1952. I remember Americans and Brits and many others waxing hysterical during the 1950s and early 1960s over the state subsidies for athletes and their "training" routinely offered by the commies, while we pure democracies stubbornly held to the ideal. When one reviews the incredible human cost of communist training methods (the perfect mix of rewards, discipline, science, and drugs) one should also note that similar methods were adopted readily and voluntarily all over the world in order to compete. How many people noticed that the oldest track world record broken in London was the women's 4X100M relay, by the American team, which had been set 27 years earlier by East Germans? I won't even mention the implications. The end of the Cold War has simply meant the universal acceptance of state-based Olympics for the purposes of national glory. And by the way, there is no better example of people who wish to direct our attention to less competitive views of sports than our current President, who is a little embarrassed that the US brought home so many medals. The next step in the state system is to add a UN flavor, and make sure that, say, Ecuador wins at least one in every games. Like the NCAA and so many other contemporary athletic structures, I'm afraid I agree with Steve that the Olympic "movement," as they used to call it, is broken beyond repair.

  3. John, many thanks! You reminded me of that 1980s comedy film "Top Secret," when the East German Women's Gymnastic Team enters the Olympic Stadium. They are all men in drag, of course (mocking Kleinfelder's Syndrome? Two X chromosomes and Y). Some of the 'ladies' have Grover Cleveland mustaches if I remember correctly.

    Then the joyous crowd rises to sing the supposed East German national anthem, which we hear in German before they scroll the subtitles to make it initially convincing: "Hail, hail East Germany! Land of vine and grape! We strongly do discourage…thoughts of escape!" Then the song stops rhyming at all as the happy singers describe how you can get machine-gunned trying to jump the Berlin Wall, how their police dogs will tear you to bits if you try to tunnel out, etc. One scene and it told us all we needed to know about the "communist experiment."

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