Olympics need a permanent home
By Charles Banks-Altekruse
The Winter Olympics are over, and while the Vancouver Games had moments of glory, I couldn't help but conclude — as the snow refused to fall on the gleaming new walkways of the Olympic Village — that rotating Olympic sites does more harm than good. The tradition ought to be replaced by the creation of a permanent site for both the Summer and Winter Games.
The father of the modern Olympics, Pierre de Coubertin, thought that rotating Olympic sites would promote peace and understanding and open portals into exciting foreign cultures. But the idea of those portals seems quaint in the Internet age. At the same time, the financial problems plaguing the games — corruption, recurring cost overruns, decaying former venues and excessively costly bid campaigns — have tarnished the luster of playing host to the Olympics. Nonetheless, like lemmings, cities queue up to compete to lose money, only to regret it later.
The poster child of financial calamity remains the 1976 Montreal Olympics, where costs exceeded estimates by some 400 percent, nearly bankrupted the city and took 30 years to pay off. The $14.4 billion cost of the 2004 Athens Games likely contributed to Greece's financial problems today. And of course there were the extravagant 2008 Beijing Games, with a reported price tag of $40 billion or more. A lack of transparency obscures the full cost of China's outlays, but already many Olympic structures have been shuttered.
Few Olympic cities have fared better. The Olympic committee in Sydney reported that the 2000 Games, widely considered a success, had broken even, but the Australian state auditor estimated a long-term cost of over $2 billion. The 1984 Los Angeles Olympics made a profit — but only because organizers relied on existing arenas and volunteer labor.
And then there are the political costs of rotating Olympic sites. Boycotts prevented thousands of athletes from competing in the Montreal, Moscow and Los Angeles Games, and it's impossible to forget the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Most recently, protesters opposed to awarding the 2008 Summer Games to China disrupted the Olympic torch relay around the world.
The Olympic Games are better than this. And there is one way to restore them to their original glory: Create a permanent home for them.
This is not a new proposal. At the end of the 19th century, Greece petitioned to permanently host the games. The Greeks resurrected the idea in 1980 following the Moscow boycott, and the International Olympic Committee set up a panel to discuss it. In 1984, after the Los Angeles boycott, the U.S. Senate passed a nonbinding amendment sponsored by Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., a former Olympic basketball player, calling for future Olympic Games to be held at a permanent site "suitable for insulating the games" from "unwarranted and disruptive international politics."
That same year, the president and executive director of the U.S. Olympic Committee suggested a different solution: five permanent sites (one for each ring in the Olympic logo).
There are advantages to this approach, but I think the best solution to end Olympic waste, promote stability and return the focus to the athletes would be to base all Olympic activities in the traditionally neutral Switzerland, which has the geography, weather, expertise and transportation necessary to hold the Winter and Summer Games. The Swiss could reduce and then recoup the costs of building and maintaining venues through recurring use and tourism receipts.
In 1980, I was supposed to compete with the U.S. rowing team in Moscow, but instead, like 466 other American athletes, I stayed home. Eventually we were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in appreciation for our role in the boycott. Thirty years later, I would still rather have earned the Olympic medal that our team was favored to win.