The days when countries vied with each other for the national (dis)honor of spending themselves into the poorhouse in order to host the Olympics — or at least the Winter Olympics — might be fast disappearing. Why any sane city would ever want to host these games is a mystery given that they never pay for themselves — although they do give politicians lots of opportunities for waste, fraud and abuse. (Actually, scratch that, the question answers itself: Most cities are not sane.) But after Russia's recent Sochi debacle bumped the price tag of this sports socialism to a jaw-dropping $51 billion, the outer bounds of insanity might have been reached. It is no longer possible to pretend that the promises of spillover effects and Keynesian multipliers are anything other than a total scam.
The deadline for awarding the 2022 Winter Olympics is barely a year away and potential bidders are dropping out like Indian athletes in a luge contest.
Yesterday, Krakow, Poland, officially withdrew its bid for the games, a day after a citywide referendum where 70 percent of voters came out against hosting the Olympics. "Krakow is closing its efforts to be the host of the 2022 Winter Games due to the low support for the idea among the residents," said mayor Jacek Majchrowski.
In January, another of the six original finalists pulled out, when Stockholm, Sweden's ruling political party declined to fund the games. They cited the pointlessness of paying hundreds of millions for facilities that would be used for two weeks and then rarely again, a story common to almost all Olympic hosts. "Arranging a Winter Olympics would mean a big investment in new sports facilities, for example for the bobsleigh and luge," the Moderate party said in a statement. "There isn't any need for that type of that kind of facility after an Olympics."
In November, voters in Munich, Germany, rejected a proposed Olympic bid. "The vote is not a signal against the sport," said one lawmaker, "but against the non-transparency and the greed for profit of the IOC."
Last March, a joint bid from Davos/St. Moritz, Switzerland, fell apart after being rejected by a public referendum.
Of the four remaining finalists, two are in rough shape. The Oslo, Norway, bid is falling apart. It was supported by a razor-thin margin in a September referendum, but public opposition has only grown since then. And on Sunday, the junior member of the government coalition voted against funding any Olympics. For them to go on, it would require an unprecedented alliance between the ruling Conservatives and the opposition Labour party.
The Lviv, Ukraine, bid seems dead in the water with the turmoil and war in the country. "Currently our dream is on hold," said the bid's chief.
Who's still standing? Almaty, Kazakhstan, and Beijing, China. The first is an oppressive oil-rich state and the second just an oppressive state.
It has taken nearly a century for these white elephants to go out of fashion in the free world. Can the unfree world be far behind? (The answer is "yes." And for proof, observe the 1980s mushroom cut that North Korean strongman Kim Jong-un still apparently regards as high fashion.)
My piece about the obscenity of poor countries like India hosting the Commomwealth Games is here.