Between Sochi for the Winter Olympics and Brazil for the World Cup, two different places will play host to major international sporting events. This is nothing new, it only repeats itself every four years. However, the plotlines surrounding Sochi, with the Russian Federation’s recent invasion of the Crimean province of Ukraine, and the rush in Brazil to complete the required number of stadiums in time for the World Cup.
The International Olympic Committee, hereafter referred to as the IOC, and FIFA, the international governing body for soccer, are not entirely honest organizations. I hesitate to use the phrase ‘corrupt’ since they manage so many things, and there is always going to be people willing to game the system, but their recent track record is not a positive one. However, looking at the reality behind both the World Cup and Olympics, I wonder if it’s even worth caring.
Let’s get one thing straight: either event will cost a lot of money. Every city that has hosted the Olympics in recent years, summer or winter, has lost a lot of money in the process. I’m not counting the Sochi games of last month, which has had more accusations of internal corruption regarding contracts than can be counted; the total costs of the games, over $50 billion, is more than all the other winter games combined.
Why are the Olympic games so expensive? Well, here are some of the reasons:
- Facilities related to the games (bobsled runs for winter, pools for summer, for instance)
- Roads and other forms of infrastructure
- Overhead for aforementioned construction
- Security arrangements
- Travel costs
The games require a massive investment of capital, and even worse, it is usually on a relatively short time frame in which the city has to get the money, build the facilities, and get all the arrangements in place so that things go smoothly.
The World Cup, on the other hand, is a far greater undertaking, but with a surprisingly bigger upside. The World Cup is a few weeks in length, but unlike the Olympics, it disperses more people from around the globe across the country, as opposed to focusing all of them in a relatively confined area. People move across the country, allowing it to show off, but unlike the Olympics, it is not a grand and ultimately pompous display, or at least not as much. The World Cup requires security, accommodations, transportation, and numerous facilities, like the Olympics, but unlike much of the Olympic facilities, all the stadiums built serve a general purpose beyond the World Cup; the host nation is obviously soccer crazy, so you can imagine them putting the stadiums to good use.
However, as evidenced by Brazil this year, making the start date is difficult, especially with the growing unrest in the country over the expense. As with smaller scale sports issues, the government may claim eminent domain to force out tenants who stand the in the way of facility space, which in turn causes more problems.
The Olympics require cities that will have a use for the facilities beyond the actual games. For instance, a major American city, such as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Miami, and I imagine Atlanta had this as well, would have uses for fields, pools, and other athletic facilities that would be built for the games. Although the cities would probably lose money on the games themselves, the cities would be enriched by what they built. Also of note, most American cities have at least some leeway to lose money on the Olympics.
The fact remains that there are only a handful of countries that could, tomorrow, support the World Cup: the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, with Mexico, France, Italy, and a joint bid by the Netherlands and Belgium all possibly being able to pull it off with a problem. The United States has plenty of already built stadiums that can be used for soccer, namely NFL-oriented multi-use stadiums that are often shared with MLS squads, whereas the European nations all have plenty of space and sufficient fandom to support the games. Fandom by itself is not enough, though, as evidenced by Brazil, which usually exports its players to European leagues for non-international play.
Likewise, very few places could support the Olympics without additional building, and most of those fall within the United States.
Finally, something that has occurred in Russia and is occurring in Brazil, which is a harbinger of things to come: security turns your town/country into a police state. There is no margin of error, as far as the government is concerned, and so they will do whatever is necessary to prevent a major security issue. In the case of Russia in February, President Putin sent in tens of thousands of armed troops to ensure stability and security, which made some of the Western reporters uncomfortable, albeit whilst acknowledging that they felt safe from possible incidents. Brazil is forcing people out of homes and closing down neighborhoods to ensure they have room to build their facilities.
So, to answer the question: is it worth it to host one of the two pre-eminent international sporting events? Given the proper financial standing, yes. Given a strong fan base by itself, no. With total government support, yes, it may be worth it, but it will devolve into a police state very quickly.