Touring Olympic Park in Beijing in 2007 was a momentous occasion – the glorious Bird’s Nest Stadium, the acclaimed Water Cube still under construction across the square.
It was supposed to be a national focal point, a place for the Chinese people to rally behind in celebration of their return to the world stage.
My father’s good friend, one of the lead investors on a side project in the Chaoyang District next to the stadiums, happily sent us box after box of memorabilia for the games.
But when my Aunt Sophia went back to Beijing in 2010, she found a completely different spectacle.
“It’s awful!” she said. “The Bird’s Nest actually looks like a bird’s nest now. Because so much of the metal has rusted away, it’s brown now.”
Her 10-year-old son, likewise, didn’t hold back. “The Water Cube’s bubbles have popped,” he said in a manner totally befitting a let-down child.
Total cost: $40 billion.
But that was downright thrifty compared to the most recent Olympic fiasco, Sochi 2014.
With all the corruption and construction costs (over $8 billion for one highway and rail link), those games tallied in at over $50 billion.
Which explains why Oslo and Stockholm have withdrawn their bids for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
The fact of the matter is this: no celebratory event, no matter how grandiose, should ever set taxpayers back $50 billion dollars.
The only two host cities left in contention for the 2022 Games are Almaty (the largest city in Kazakhstan) and Beijing. Both cities have the antithesis of democratic political systems. For Beijing, this was most clearly shown in their response to the Hong Kong protests.
If the IOC wants countries that aren’t ruled by totalitarian regimes to step up to the bidding table, it’s going to need to revamp the current notion that the bigger the bucks, the better the bang.
We need to stop comparing the sizes of the stadiums and get back to what the core mission statement of the Olympics is all about: striving for better. Better doesn’t always have to equal more, as Sochi and Beijing have shown us.
Here’s to the U.S. not hosting the games anytime soon. Cheers!