Fool's Gold Medals

The Olympics: Hasn't New York City suffered enough?


With a massive budget deficit, a year-old hole in the ground where once $100 billion worth of office building stood and 3,000 lives were lost, with a mayor whose biggest concern is whether or not his citizens escape to Marlboro country when they drown their sorrows at the corner saloon, New York City clearly doesn't have enough problems. That's why it was such great news that the United States Olympic Committee announced last week that the Big Apple would be America's nominee to host the 2012 Olympics.

It's not only that there are so many reasons to hate the Olympics on an abstract level. The c'mon-people-now-smile-on-your-sibling athletic transnational progressivism is enough to turn the stomach of anyone with more commitment to national sovereignty than Strobe Talbott. The athletes aren't even supposed to get paid, which is just somehow un-American. On a practical level, the games have no place in New York. The Olympics are more for cities like Salt Lake City, which hosted the games earlier this year amid spectacular scandal. Leaders in countries like China or Turkey hope that a hugely expensive international media spectacle will help out their reputations in the "international community"—sort of the way building a giant stadium for the Rumble In the Jungle forever enshrined Mobutu Sese Seko as a beacon of human rights and enlightened governance.

But New York? Just about everyone on the planet knows about New York, and every one of them has an opinion on it. The city doesn't need to stage a spectacle like hosting the games to make its bones on the world stage.

Yet officials and other grandstanders have been falling all over themselves first to get the nomination, and now to hope for the final nod. No less a luminary than track-suit cleric Al Sharpton has declared his hope that the Olympics would provide "a revival of the spirit of the city," presumably in the wake of the September 11 attacks. But while that day will live in infamy, it's a fair bet that a decade from now, New York will be well and truly on its feet again. Hell, even those unfortunate enough to have a birthday on the 11th may even be able to get away with having a few friends over for cake and beer.

One has to wonder what planet these Olympic advocates are living on—one where invitations to cocktail receptions for foreign dignitaries are used as currency, presumably. New York is a nightmare of traffic and crowds on a good day; the idea of hundreds of thousands of spectators, athletes, media types, and dignitaries taking over the city in the middle of summer would be enough to make even the most die-hard Manhattanite write a check for a share in the Hamptons. (Not surprisingly, very few of the officials enthused about the games have to take the subway to and from work in the middle of August.)

Yet everyone involved seems to be taking a holiday from reality, imagining that because New York's infrastructure already performs at 110%, there's no reason it can't work at 150% for a few weeks. Again, to quote Sharpton, "As a city that is probably the capital of gridlock, I don't think that would be a major problem." This is a statement nearly as stunning as Mayor Mike Bloomberg's recent premonition that bar patrons will drink more if they aren't allowed to smoke. And where the games will actually happen is yet another question; while there is talk of building a stadium over the rail yards on Manhattan's West Side, politics and geography will surely conspire to spread events through every hack's constituency within fifty miles.

Right now I live in Sydney, a city that was "fortunate" enough to have hosted the Olympics two years ago. The idea was to give Sydney and Australia some serious face-time on the world stage. Presumably, Paul Hogan, the Croc Hunter and several decades of Qantas ads (to say nothing of world-famous attractions like koalas and the Sydney Opera House) had failed to clue the world in about the existence of Terra Australis. Sydneysiders, a wonderfully friendly bunch, apparently had a great time during the games, but today the city is stuck with a massive complex of former Olympic venues that have become little more than a venue for school field days. My wife recently had to go to the "Olympic Park" (a good 45 minutes out of downtown) to register for some university courses recently, which shows just how desperately officials want to find some use for the site. The only people she encountered were a busload of Japanese tourists, who were more interested in having their pictures taken with our 9-month-old baby than in looking at countless rows of empty bleacher seats.

New York is already a world capital of everything from finance to fashion. Does it really need a billion-dollar boondoggle like the Olympics blowing through town, leaving its architectural detritus around the five boroughs and beyond? I doubt it. And considering that they already have to endure the United Nations, with its scofflaw diplomatic-plate parkers and corrupt feel-good internationalism, it's pretty clear that New Yorkers are already doing enough for global understanding.