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The Olympics should use its postponement to totally reinvent the Games

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One of the brutal casualties of the coronavirus is the Olympics, which has now been rescheduled for 2021 — although it will still be called “Tokyo 2020.” And while this postponement is clearly the correct decision, the fact it took the International Olympic Committee (IOC) so long to make the call, when all medical evidence suggested there was no other option, shows just how big and bloated the Games have become.
That needs to change.
Take away the competition and most every other aspect of the modern-day Olympics is rotten. From a bidding process beset by corruption to the vested interests of a glut of corporate sponsors, from the vast amounts spent on staging the Games to the obscene and frankly inexcusable waste of resources used to build venues and stadia that now stand derelict, it’s about as far removed from the original ethos of the Games as can be.
The much-vaunted argument that the Olympics gives an economic boost to host cities is the biggest problem of all. It just isn’t true. Very occasionally it works, with Los Angeles in 1984 and Barcelona in 1992 being examples of Games that either made a profit or genuinely rejuvenated a city’s fortunes. But while the Olympics creates thousands of temporary jobs, improves infrastructure and raises a country’s global profile, most host cities end up significantly worse off long after the medals are handed out. Nearly all deliver over budget and few produce any tangible, long-term benefits.

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When London hosted the 2012 Olympics, the UK received 5 percent fewer foreign visitors during the month of the event than they did in the
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When London hosted the 2012 Olympics, the UK received 5 percent fewer foreign visitors during the month of the event than they did in the previous year.EPA

When London hosted the 2012 Games, the UK received 5 percent fewer foreign visitors during the month of the event than they did in the previous year, despite spending billions of pounds trying to attract people to the city. Brazil spent $13.2 million on their Olympic Games Rio in 2016 (having spent $15 billion hosting soccer’s World Cup Finals two years earlier) and, since then, many of the venues built especially for the event have been abandoned. Even the iconic Maracanã Stadium had its power cut off because of nearly $1 million worth of unpaid bills, the result of a continuing dispute between the IOC and the city of Rio. Sure, they got a great Games for their money, but it also helped to wipe out a decade of uninterrupted economic growth, with The World Bank citing a significant contraction in the Brazilian economy of 3.4 percent in 2016.
Brazil’s brush with bankruptcy could have been predicted, not least because it also happened to

Athens. In 2004, the Greek capital staged the Games, 108 years after it had hosted the inaugural modern Olympics. It was a romantic, nostalgic gesture but a decision that backfired. Mired by delays and with construction companies working ’round the clock to get the venues ready in time, Athens spent over $11 billion to stage their Games — double the original budget. They even spent $1.2 billion on security alone.
Today, many of the of the 35 venues used for the Athens Games lie abandoned and derelict.
That’s not a legacy. It’s a millstone.

Many of the venues used in the 2016 Olympics in Athens now lie abandoned.
Many of the venues used in the 2016 Olympics in Athens now lie abandoned.Getty Images

And for what?
A couple of weeks in the global spotlight.
The postponement of the 2020 Games gives the IOC an opportunity, a genuine chance to reset the Olympics and put it on a new and sustainable footing for the future. It needs a leaner, greener version fit for the 21st century.
Worldwide, there are only a handful of cities that are capable of staging the Olympics and those are the ones that have done it before. They retain the facilities and infrastructure to make it easier, cheaper and more efficient to do so again.
In the future, the Games should only be hosted by previous host cities or cities where new stadia aren’t required to be built. That means North-Central Italy, Madrid, Jakarta in Indonesia and Ukraine — all of which have expressed an interest in staging the 2032 Olympics, but have never hosted before — should be rejected. Meanwhile, Germany, which is cleverly proposing to host the Games across 16 cities with 80 percent of the venues already available, makes a lot more sense for a modern-day Olympics, which should avoid saddling a city with the kind of debt that can decimate a generation.
Yes, you can argue whether BMX or break-dancing should be included in the Games’ roster but who really cares?
The real change needs to happen on a much bigger scale.
Gavin Newsham is a British sports writer and winner of the National Sporting Club Best New Writer award for his first book, “Letting the Big Dog Eat,” a biography of the golfer John Daly.

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