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August 13, 2012 | by  | in Opinion |
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Lavish Squander Takes The Gold

According to Twitter, triathletes often need to pee mid-race. Those guzzled gallons of water cannot all be sweated out; bladders need to be satiated. Obviously, there’s no time to stop and find a loo, but having a leak while riding a fast-moving bicycle is, apparently, incredibly inconspicuous. Humanity finds a way.

The Olympics have been great, and not just for those interested in the urinary habits of high-performance athletes. Few could belittle the fierce competition and extraordinary performances. While the athletes have been superb, we cannot bestow similar accolades upon the organisers. London 2012 has cost around NZ $18 billion; can one party really be worth that much?

Organising a well-run and entertaining competition could be pretty cheap. London didn’t need to build themselves a new stadium, they already had two larger than Olympic Stadium. They didn’t need to create an entire suburb for the Olympians, London hotels had plenty of room. Developing a three-hour spectacle of (revisionist) British history may have seemed exciting, but need it have cost $50 million? Olympic infrastructure is good only for the games themselves, and a city can only host once in a generation. It’s a lot to spend on two weeks’ excitement.

The indignant argue that they were not ripped off: that the tourism, ticket sales and international advertising are worth it. Reality disagrees. The World Travel & Tourism Council expect only a 1 per cent increase in 2012’s British tourism spending, because the Olympics discourage the sport-apathetic from visiting. It’s hard to see why Britain needs such grand advertising: the world knows who they are and what they do. While ticket revenue helps, many events aren’t even selling to capacity. Playing host will be nice for some, but in comparison to the costs, the benefits are minute.

The bidding process renders this disappointment inevitable. The International Olympic Committee votes to determine who hosts each Games. Cities develop bids, with the best bids earning the most votes. It’s difficult to calculate the benefits and costs of hosting accurately, yet you’ll always offer as much as you think you can afford. Those who overestimate the benefits and underestimate the costs are those who win the bidding and host the games. That’s why Beijing and Athens were both supposed to cost $2 billion, yet Athens ended up at $14 billion and Beijing blew $49 billion. If you screw up your maths, you’ll be asked for the cheque.

Avid fan though I am, I doubt that I would have noticed if London had spent only a quarter of what they did. At least their economic foolery is amusing; elsewhere I am less entertained. Brazil will host the 2016 games, despite seventy million of their citizens surviving in abject poverty. That they have prioritised an $18 billion party is insulting to every Brazilian struggling to feed their family. It’s also unnecessary: we can have the sport without the squander.

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