chapter
14 Pages

The politics of hosting the Olympic Games

Occasions such as the Olympic Games, the football World Cup and other sports mega-events, act as socio-cultural reference points, and reveal both the appeal and elusiveness of sport. In the age of global television, moreover, the capacity of major sports events to shape and project images of the host city or nation, both domestically and globally, makes them a highly attractive instrument for political and economic elites. It is in this context that the pursuit of hosting sports mega-events has become an increasingly popular strategy of governments, corporations and civic ‘boosters’ world-wide, who argue that major economic, developmental, political and socio-cultural benefits will flow from them, easily justifying the costs and risks involved (Horne and Manzenreiter, 2006). Numerous studies fuel the popular belief that sport has a positive impact on the local community and the regional economy. Sport has been seen as a generator of national and local economic and social development. Economically it has been viewed as an industry around which cities can devise urban regeneration strategies. Socially it has been viewed as a tool for the development of urban communities, and the reduction of social exclusion and crime. Compared with this conventional-or dominant-view of the Olympic

Games and the Olympic Movement, here are a series of conclusions derived from a recent book and documentary film about the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics (Shaw, 2008; Schmidt, 2007). The Olympics can be seen as a tool used by business corporations and governments (local, regional and sometimes national) to develop areas of cities or the countryside. They permit corporate land grabs by developers. Five major construction projects have taken place in association with the 2010 Winter Games-the building of the Canada Line (formerly known as the RAV-Richmond Airport VancouverLine) connecting the airport and downtown Vancouver, the athletes’ village and a convention centre; and developments in the Callaghan Valley west of Whistler (the main skiing area where the Olympic snow sport events will take

place), and the building of an extension to the ‘Sea to Sky Highway’ through Eagleridge Bluffs, in West Vancouver, to enable faster automobile transportation between Vancouver and Whistler. The view of one of the contributors to the film was that it was a disaster for any city on the planet to host the Olympics. Host city populations face increased taxes to pay for the ‘party’. The poor and the homeless face criminalization and/or eviction as downtown areas are gentrified-improved to appeal to more affluent visitors or full-time residents. The hosting of such a mega-event skews all other economic and social priorities and means the loss of the opportunity to do other things with public resources spent on the Games. The IOC markets sport as a product, pays no taxes and demands full compliance with its exacting terms and conditions, including governmental guarantees about meeting financial shortfalls. The end results are ‘fat-cat’ projects and media spectacles benefiting mostly the corporations that sponsor the Games, property developers that receive public subsidies, and the IOC which secures millions of dollars from television corporations and global sponsors. Clearly when considering the politics of the Olympic Games, the role and

impartiality of the researcher is called into question-as Montalbán suggests in the quotation above (he was originally writing just before Barcelona hosted the Olympics in 1992), researchers may find that there is no middle ground. Amongst the questions that this chapter will attempt to answer, none the less, are: Why do governments and cities compete for the right to host major international sporting events such as the Olympics? What are the commercial underpinnings of hosting the Olympic Games? What can we learn from recent ‘bidding wars’ about the contemporary politics of the Olympics? How do Olympic ‘boosters’ and ‘sceptics’ portray the ‘legacies’, economic and otherwise, which are proclaimed for the Games?