Olympics

How to Reform the Olympics

The Olympics are a great sports event. But there is no reason to tolerate the massive public subsidies, forced displacement of populations, and propaganda coups for authoritarian regimes that go along with them.

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Despite severe restrictions adopted as a result of the Covid pandemic, the Summer Olympics are now ongoing in Tokyo. Over the coming days, we will no doubt see many impressive athletic achievements. But as prominent British sports commentator David Goldblatt explains in a recent Guardian article, the Olympics also have a dark side, most of which long predates the current  pandemic:

The empty seats in the stadiums of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics are a blessing in disguise, for the sporting spectacle, no matter how good, will not be able to dispel the fact that this super-spreader event is being held in the midst of an unprecedented public health crisis and against the wishes of the vast majority of the Japanese public…..

Not that these Games and the IOC's standing weren't deeply flawed prior to the pandemic. As at every Olympics, costs have spiralled and Japan will have to stump up more than $30bn (£22bn), of which the IOC will not be paying a cent. Along the way there has been the usual combination of expensive white-elephant stadiums, allegations of corruption in the bid process and in allocating contracts, and the forced eviction of citizens from their homes.

Paris, Los Angeles and now Brisbane are signed up to host the next three summer Olympics, and the IOC continues to argue that its Games catalyse economic growth and leave positive urban and sporting legacies. Yet the research is unequivocal: with the exception of Barcelona 1992, no modern Games has raised a host city's rate of economic growth, levels of skills and employment, tourist income or productivity.

As Goldblatt notes, these problems are not unique to the Tokyo games. Almost all involve large losses of public funds, forcibly extracted from taxpayers. These losses almost always outweigh any associated economic gains. Previous Olympic games in countries such China, Russia, and Brazil have featured much larger forcible displacement of people from their homes, including the extraordinary total of 1 million expelled for the 2008 Beijing games alone. Compared to that, Tokyo's eviction of some 200 families seems modest by comparison. Still, it's hard not to be moved by the story of a Japanese man who was first expelled from his home for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, and then again—now in deep old age—for this year's Games.

I'm a big sports fan. But no sports event is worth such tragedies, multiplied hundreds or thousands of times over, as is all too often the case.

On top of that, many Olympics are propaganda showcases for brutal authoritarian and totalitarian states that host them. Examples include Nazi Germany in 1936, the Soviet Union in 1980, Russia in 2014, and China in 2008, and the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics.

I don't agree with all of Goldblatt's criticisms of the games. But these three are backed by overwhelming evidence.

Unlike Goldblatt, however, I do not think that the best remedy for these evils is to abolish the games entirely. Instead, future Olympics should be required to follow three simple rules:

  1. No public subsidies. Let the games be funded purely by private organizations and sponsors, as was largely the case for the successful 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. That way, no one has to pay for the games, except those who profit from them and the audience that voluntarily chooses to watch.

2. No forcible displacement of residents, private businesses, or civil society    organizations. We can and should hold sports events without kicking innocent people out of their homes.

3. No hosting rights for authoritarian human rights violators. There are plenty of possible Olympic venues that aren't controlled by likes of Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. Denying these types of rulers hosting rights won't fundamentally alter their regimes. But it will at least damage their image and deny them propaganda victories.

I outlined these reforms in greater detail in a 2016 post, written at the time of the last summer Olympics. More recently, I argued for boycotting or moving the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics, currently scheduled to be held in China under the aegis of one of the world's most oppressive governments.

These reforms won't be easy to achieve. But the same is even more true of Goldblatt's proposal to abolish the games completely.

Sadly, none of these ideas are likely to be adopted by the notoriously corrupt International Olympic Committee. Time and again, the IOC has proven that it is willing to tolerate almost any injustice, so long as the organization and its leaders benefit.

But the United States and other liberal democracies can easily force through these reforms simply by making them a condition of future participation in the games. Without the participation of the US and its allies, IOC revenue would plummet, as the value of broadcast rights massively declines.

The question is whether the US and other Western governments have the political will to do what needs to be done. On that score, I am far from optimistic, especially when it comes to the near future. However, the injustices associated with the games are becoming more widely known. There is a growing international movement to relocate or boycott the 2022 games. To avoid depriving athletes of an opportunity to compete, I have suggested the idea of holding alternative games located in a liberal democracy that already has the necessary facilities, such as Canada. In recent years, more and more cities have refused to bid for hosting rights, as public awareness of the high costs grows.

Reforming the Olympics will continue to be an uphill struggle.  But, as awareness of the issue grows, the prospects for at least some degree of success are now greater than before.

 

 

NEXT: Special Court Dedicated to Appeals from Cosplay Disputes?

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  1. Just hold them in Greece every time. Saves a fortune in costs, because no need to build new infrastructure every four years.

    https://greekreporter.com/2021/07/10/will-greece-ever-be-permanent-home-to-olympic-games/

    1. It would also make Olympic records more meaningful if the competition was consistently held in the same location.

      For example, surface gravity effect differs by several tenths of a percent between different cities – enough that the exact same jump or throw could gain (or lose) a significant amount of distance.

      1. Don’t forget 1968. It’s been widely speculated the altitude, and consequently the thin(er) air in Mexico City was a huge influence in the outcome of many events, some for good, some for ill.

      2. “surface gravity effect differs by several tenths of a percent between different cities”

        But wait. The moon and sun have gravity that can be felt at Earth’s surface. How shall we isolate these forces? Will we have to have asterisks next to some records, *moon aided, the way we now have to because of differences in wind?

    2. LA is hosting the Summer Olympics? Love it. Revenge will visit Prof. Volokh for his indoctrination of law students into supernatural doctrines from the Medieval catechism.

    3. They need to hold them in the same city in the Southern Hemisphere because the August weather is better…or they could hold them every 4 years in Florida but it would have to be moved February…the date of the World Cup was changed so they could have it in Qatar so it would not be unprecedented to not have it in the July/August.

      1. Keep them out of Florida! We have enough trouble with the snowbirds.

    4. It’s the right idea, but not Greece. Because Greece.

      Sydney would do fine.

      1. Sydney is a million miles away from everywhere. Greece (or at least Europe) is probably pretty close to the location that minimises the total travel distance of all the athletes.

      2. What’s wrong with Greece? Asking seriously, because I don’t know. Just their economic position?

        1. Have you been there or met any significant number of Greek people? While they’re technically white, they have all of the social ills of non-white third worlders. They’re genetically lazy, stupid, and corrupt.

      3. Maybe pick an island in the Aegean and devote it exclusively to the Olympics? Call it Olympic Island and have it consist of nothing but facilities for The Games.

  2. Rules 1 and 2 – strictly private funding and no displacement – would make it unlikely that the games could actually be put on, so Ilya and Greenblatt don’t disagree all that much.

    Nonetheless, I think those rules would excellent, and if the IOC can comply with them, then let the games go on. Maybe a permanent home in Greece would work. It seems more intelligent than current practice, though I wonder what the Greeks think about the idea.

  3. Until saner minds prevailed, Boston was being considered for the 2024 Olympics, as if the 2004 Dem Convention hadn’t been bad enough.

    Boston is a hub — unlike NYC or LA, there aren’t redundant ways to get through the city. Memory is that the 2004 Clusterfuck involved the closure of an Interstate Highway, two (of the city’s four) subway lines and displaced a half dozen commuter rail lines.

    What Ilya is neglecting in the local costs is the impact on everyone else — lots of folk wound up losing a week of work because of the convention.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_bid_for_the_2024_Summer_Olympics

    1. “Boston is a hub — unlike NYC or LA, there aren’t redundant ways to get through the city.”

      Didn’t they bury all the roads leading into the city?

      Seattle had the Goodwill Games. Seattle has water on three sides, and ferry service in only one of those directions.
      Atlanta had the games 25 years ago, and it’s super-hard to get around, even with I-85 AND I-75 AND I-20 all passing through.

  4. The ‘sporting’ events that I follow, the IOC has corrupted so badly that they are in the realm of deciding which kid on the short bus is the least screwed up…

    Why do we need an Olympics? Further, why can not the ‘Olympic Medals’ be given to the top three participants in the previous 4 years, based on international competitions? All the Olympics do is show who, during a period of two or thee weeks every 4th year, was good enough to defeat the others.

    And by all means, lets discontinue, with extreme prejudice, any activity that relies on ‘judges’ – the most venal and corrupt people this side of Mos Eisley. If it takes a judge, it’s not a sport.

    1. I have heard it said that was is diplomacy by other means. The modern Olympics are war by other means.

      It’s a dick measuring contest between not individuals, but nations.

      1. Stupid typeo “war is diplomacy by other means”

    2. It is kind of strange, all (most?) of these sports have annual world championships anyway.

      1. Aside from team sports, world championships are about individual athletes, not national teams. The Olympics is all about the national teams and bragging rights on the overall medal counts.

        1. not even close. If it were all about national teams, we’d have been sending NBA players to the Olympics all along, instead of NCAA players (who had a pretty good record, until the Russkies figured out that one way to beat the better team is to have the officials pick a winner. Extend the game until the “right” team is ahead, then stop the game and celebrate.)

          1. And if it were about medal counts, they’d count the medals, which they do not do for team sports. The 3 members of the gymnastics team finished second in the gymnastics team competition, so that counts as 3 silver medals, right? no. The 4x100m relay team wins a medal, that’s 4 more medals, right? no.

  5. A few points.

    1. The Olympics aren’t the “liberal democracy” Olympics. They’re the worldwide Olympics. Using Ilya’s criteria would just fracture the international order.

    2. Public subsidies are quite common for sporting arenas. Are they excessive in many cases? Sure. But eliminating completely them would be folly most likely.

    1. ” The Olympics aren’t the “liberal democracy” Olympics”

      I agree with Armchair here — and who can forget Jessie Owens defeating Hitler’s Aryans, or the joy of the 1980 USA Hockey Team’s defeat of the Soviets?

      1. More to the point, the Olympics bring together individuals and countries, many with opposing ideologies and philosophies on a number of subjects, together in a friendly competition in sports.

        The value there really can’t be understated.

        1. On the contrary, while the Olympics did that at one point, the World Cup has displaced it by a substantial margin.

          1. The world cup is only a single sport. In addition, many, many countries don’t attend. In the 2022 World Cup, there won’t be teams from the US, from China, From Japan, from India, etc.

            1. Only because they’re not good enough to qualify.

              1. Only because the tournament is deliberately too small to admit anyone who wants a go, and might be able to pull off a win. See also, college football playoff.

        2. More to the point, the Olympics bring together individuals and countries, many with opposing ideologies and philosophies on a number of subjects, together in a friendly competition in sports.

          And much more entertainingly, it’s a total shagfest.

          And one which according to the accounts of the athletes, conforms precisely to the most conventional un-PC evolutionary theories of human sexual attraction. The female athletes who are most in demand are the hottest ones, whether or not they are successful in competition. The male athletes who are most in demand are the winners.

          1. I wonder how much that has to do with many of the winning females being underage, relative to male winners?

            1. Interesting. A five second google came up with :

              https://www.theguardian.com/sport/datablog/interactive/2012/aug/07/olympic-athletes-age-weight-height

              which suggests very little difference between the ages of male and female athletes. What that says about the age of winners, I don’t know.

              Of course, in the opening couple of weeks, we don’t know who the winners are ……. and so presumably last time’s winners back for a second go count as winners for the pairing up during that period. And being a last time winner would make you a bit older than the others.

              However I also assume that the amount of sex increases during the Olympics, as more athletes finish their actual athletic jobs, so perhaps in the first couple of weeks it’s only on “simmer.”

              But if you are offering another shocking non PC stereotype (albeit an entirely accurate one) that women tend to go for men who are a bit older than themselves, then fine.

              Anyway regardless of age, the hot girl who came 19th in the diving, will be getting a lot more offers than that splendid, and splendidly homely, Austrian woman who snuck to gold in the cycling, because the favorites wrongly thought they’d caught up with all the cyclists who’d been part of an early breakaway. And the very homely guy who wins the men’s shot put will be getting many more offers than the equally homely gal who wins the women’s shot put.

            2. “I wonder how much that has to do with many of the winning females being underage, relative to male winners?”

              100% of this year’s women’s gymnastics team was legally adults, in sport that used to consider a 13-year-old’s physique to be ideal.

          2. ” The male athletes who are most in demand are the winners.”

            Depends on what sport they won in. the tall ones who win in basketball will outdraw the short ones who win in judo. And, of course, some of the female athletes won’t be getting with any of the male athletes, winner or loser.

    2. Public subsidies are quite common for sporting arenas. Are they excessive in many cases? Sure. But eliminating completely them would be folly most likely.

      Why would it be folly? Professional sports are massively profitable. Let the owners pay for their stadiums. We don’t subsidize the guy who wants to open a shoe store. What’s the difference?

      1. They “can be” massively profitable. Often, they aren’t.

        Since we’re talking about the Olympics here, the original modern Olympics, in 1896, was publicly funded in part. Would it have gotten off the ground without that funding, without that public support? Unlikely.

        The Olympics serve as more than a purely private sports enterprise. They serve as a means to bring together a broad number of people, from around the world, from a broad number of different ideologies and philosophies, in a friendly competition. There’s an immense amount of goodwill and understanding that these sorts of events promote and facilitate. If just for that reason, they benefit from some public funding.

        1. Yes, but look at what was happening in Europe in 1896 — there were new nations (e.g. Germany & Russia) that desired entry into the world of nations.

          1. As always, what on earth are you talking about? Russia was not a “new nation” in 1896.

        2. They serve as a means to bring together a broad number of people, from around the world, from a broad number of different ideologies and philosophies, in a friendly competition. There’s an immense amount of goodwill and understanding that these sorts of events promote and facilitate.

          Facts not in evidence. (Is that the right legal terminology?)

          1. There aren’t a bunch of ideologies, just dictatorship/kleptocracies that mouth things for idiots in the west to drool over, not living under them, and the free west, where people sometimes drool wishing to live under the dictatorships’ cover memes.

          2. Which fact isn’t in evidence?
            1. Broad number of people?
            2. Around the world?
            3. Broad number of different ideologies and philosophies?
            4. Friendly competition?
            5. Goodwill and understanding?

            1. 3,5. And as for 4, I doubt all the competition is friendly.

              1. Regarding point 3:

                You’ve got people from liberal democracies on the same field with people from monarchies, people from communist countries, people from Islamic theocracies, and more.

                Regarding point 5…. When you bring together in person, people from disparate groups, who have something in common, it brings them together. It gives them a sense of commonality. And that’s a good thing, especially towards promoting relations.

                Regarding point 4: It’s generally friendly. There have been a couple isolated incidents in the past, but it’s generally friendly.

                1. “Regarding point 4: It’s generally friendly. ”

                  Two athletes from Muslim majority countries have dropped out of the 2020 Tokyo games Judo competition rather than face an Israeli athlete.

                  One of the two dropped out of the 2019 World Judo Champion ship to avoid facing the same Israeli athlete.

                  1. One example does not disprove ‘generally friendly,’ in fact, it supports the argument.

                    1. No it does not support the argument for “generally friendly”.

                      These are two major incidents that made the news. I suspect that there are many more incidents of unfriendliness between athletes that go unreported in every Olympics.

                  2. “Two athletes from Muslim majority countries have dropped out of the 2020 Tokyo games Judo competition rather than face an Israeli athlete.

                    One of the two dropped out of the 2019 World Judo Champion ship to avoid facing the same Israeli athlete.”

                    Their choice, to duck an athlete that might have beaten them. I wouldn’t have wanted to face the top American team in women’s beach volleyball circa 2008, either. On the other hand, if you think you’re good, you want to face the best because beating other top competitors is how you SHOW you’re the best. I mean, unless the officials keep adding time to the game until the Russkies have more points.

                2. “It’s generally friendly. There have been a couple isolated incidents in the past, but it’s generally friendly.”

                  Tell that to the families of the Israeli team in Munich.

                  1. Yeah, all those Munich residents were hell to the Israelis.

        3. So what? If the sports aren’t profitable, that doesn’t mean they should be subsidized by taxpayers. In any case, whenever people propose to subsidize public stadium, it’s always based on a lie. A lie that increased revenues from sales taxes and other development near the stadiums will more than pay for the subsidies. They don’t. They never do.

          If you want to propose a subsidy, go ahead and do so, but don’t lie to make your case.

        4. “Since we’re talking about the Olympics here, the original modern Olympics, in 1896, was publicly funded in part.”

          So was the Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World. I think we got our money’s worth building her a platform in New York. She draws tourists, but she’s never been profitable.

    3. The olympics are the corrupt celebration of the clerisy of the IOC – which is as corrupt as the central party of the CCP or the former USSR.

  6. I agree with most people to keep them in one dedicated place that would be the default. But I think there should still be a guest hosting option if some place really really wants to go all out a particular year and can pay for it.

    1. “But I think there should still be a guest hosting option if some place really really wants to go all out a particular year and can pay for it.”

      That’s generally what’s happened…until now. Cities really, really, really wanted the Olympics and the prestige, and potential (emphasis on potential) payday. Multiple cities bid, put together big packages, and so on.

      It’s how we got to the current situation.

      1. Nah, There is no default options and the requirements aren’t strict other than ponying up the money and infrastructure.

        1. Those were certainly the biggest elements (money and infrastructure), but you had multiple cities putting together bigger and bigger bids to bring the Olympics to their city.

          In the absence of that, there would’ve been a “default” option.

      2. If what happened in Boston is reflective of the larger picture, *cities* did not bid.

        Instead, developers and others who would personally make a lot of money building the otherwise-not-needed structures and people on their payrolls were bidding.

        1. Boston isn’t necessarily reflective.

          1. Special Ed isn’t necessarily an accurate reporter, either.

  7. Don’t forget to boycott any company that advertises during the competitions held in any country that maintains slavery.

  8. They definitely should choose one site, and that would reduce corruption.

    But fundamentally, Prof. Somin has to accept that China has over 1 billion people and no matter how much we may dislike their awful system of government, they have quite a lot of pull in international organizations. Trying to shut them out will simply destroy international competitions, and that will be terrible for the athletes and the sporting public.

    The 1936 Olympics was actually highly overrated as Nazi propaganda. What does everyone actually remember from those games? That’s right, Jesse Owens. Winning 4 gold medals right in Der Fuhrer’s Face. Hitler wanted propaganda, but he nonetheless met an ignoble demise just nine years later, and most of the world hated him.

    If China wants to host the Olympics, and we aren’t going to a one site system, let them.

    1. More a case of having to accept that everyone with a say in the matter is already too corrupt to want things reformed.

      1. No, there will always be powerful dictatorships. And that means moralistic stands of noncooperation are never going to work. (At best, they only work in the South Africa situation where the target isn’t powerful and the whole world agrees.)

        1. They would not keep China or Russia from attending the Olympics, only hosting them.

          1. One of the hobgoblins of the simple minded in foreign policy is the notion that nobody will ever punish us for anything we do or retaliate against us.

            The Soviet Union didn’t come to the 1984 Olympics precisely because we had a President who hated athletes and sports and made a preening, moralistic decision against the USSR in 1980 (and in support of Osama Bin Laden and our other “friends” resisting the Soviets in Afghanistan, no less!).

            If you start trying to take the Olympics away from China, China won’t just sit around and take it. They’ll retaliate, and part of their retaliation will surely be to blow up international sports. (For instance, I would imagine they would start by contesting Taiwan’s carefully negotiated presence in international sports. And they could start boycotting stuff we care about as well. Or kicking the products of American sports figures and leagues out of their country. Etc.)

            1. Or they might stop exporting consumer electronics to the US, so we won’t have TVs to watch the Olympics on.

          2. “They would not keep China or Russia from attending the Olympics, only hosting them.”

            Tell them they’re disqualified from hosting, and see how many athletes they send, how many tickets to the show they buy.

    2. “They definitely should choose one site, and that would reduce corruption.”

      Put FIFA in charge. Make corruption a medal event.

  9. You need a tourist city so it already has the hotel rooms available. Ideally it should have room to grow to build the new sports complex. In a country where the culture of corruption is at least minimized.

    If they weren’t running out of water, I’d recommend Las Vegas. Bonus: night life, gambling, machine gun shoots for the foreigners, prostitution.

  10. Build a dedicated artificial island in international waters. It would be expensive enough that the graft would make it politically feasible. Then we could move the UN there, too, and sink it.

    1. Can we move the DNC there as well?

    2. Get some of those Trump-wall contractors to build it, and it’ll fall down by itself.

  11. I was with Mr. Somin until this horribly bigoted sentence.

    To avoid depriving athletes of an opportunity to compete, I have suggested the idea of holding alternative games located in a liberal democracy that already has the necessary facilities, such as Canada.

    Woke people seem to be blind to how bigoted they have become.

    1. Rather than assuming everyone but the immediate target of your ire sees the world through your eyes, maybe you could try explaining what you think was bigoted about that?

    2. This was done in the boycotted 1980 games and again later when the Soviets held their “friendship games”, where one of what then passed for a woke leader, Ted Turner, broadcast it.

      Fool me once…

      1. Of course I wouldn’t rule out wanting to butter them up to expand one’s TV channel core business there.

        Wait, wasn’t that the suggested impetus behind Trump’s supposedly friendliness and non-resistance to Russia?

  12. “3. No hosting rights for authoritarian human rights violators.”

    Well, that lets out the US, at least among the Woke.

  13. Professor Somin….This was not a particularly good effort.

    Since this is a legal blog, what legal issue is there?

  14. The IOC is hopelessly and irredeemably corrupt. The situations that rules 1-3 are designed to eliminate are put in place to provide grift for the various IOC actors. Eliminating them would eliminate the over riding reason to have the Olympics, which is to enrich the grifters.

  15. Let it die. Too many olympic events have large, popular professional leagues such as basketball and golf. Having them also in the olympics makes no sense. The second reason is too many event winners are determined by the subjective viewing of judges. These fully choreographed events are artistic expressions and and have no place in a sporting competition.

    1. ” These fully choreographed events are artistic expressions and and have no place in a sporting competition.”

      Sounds like sour grapes from someone who wasn’t competitive in sporting competition.

  16. Who defines what’s an authoritarian human rights violator? I don’t think it’s unreasonable to argue that it wouldn’t take THAT broad of a definition for the U.S. to be included.

  17. There are plenty of possible Olympic venues that aren’t controlled by likes of Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. Denying these types of rulers hosting rights won’t fundamentally alter their regimes. But it will at least damage their image and deny them propaganda victories.

    Cannot agree with Somin on this one. He seems neither to know, nor care, about athletes, and what competition means to them. When you are talking about the Olympics, that is a peculiar omission.

    Somin takes as a premise the notion that the Olympics are first and foremost a political football, struggled over in a tawdry contest for national prestige. Nations like ours must triumph. Except for its baleful potential to deal frustration to athletes, that kind of thinking has nothing to do with an athlete’s frame of reference.

    In my youth I trained hard as a swimmer, did okay, and sort of got swept along in a tier of hopeful athletes who aspired to world-class status that would elude most of them, especially including me. That experience did bring me in contact with a number of athletes who would go on to compete in the Olympics, and in some cases win gold—and also with others who fell short by smaller margins than I did.

    Among that latter group, I especially remember a 9-year-old girl, competing in age-group swimming. B. was lanky, and surprisingly tall for her age. You would have picked her for a 12-year-old. And from only a month or two after she was taught to swim at age 7, it became clear that she was a potential standout. By age 9 she was all-but-dominating the girls 10-and-under class in a pretty large suburban league, consisting of approximately 50 clubs stacked in seeded divisions. At the top, it was a talented league packed with precociously ambitious athletes.

    You could see fairly easily that B. was the outstanding competitor at her age, but, as it turned out, not yet the champion in her age group. There was a very good 10-year-old who just barely touched her out in head-to-head competition. B’s coach tried to console her, saying, “Don’t worry, she’s going to move up next year to 12-and-under, and not only will you have the 10-and-under division to yourself, but you will beat all her records.” B’s response was quick and angry, “I don’t want her to move up, I want to beat her.” Pretty good mental toughness from a 9-year-old, I thought. Not much to do with what Somin is talking about.

    Later, when I swam on a college team which featured world champion competitors, I had more chance to see B’s determined style of personal commitment in action. Don Schollander was a team member, along with several other Olympians. Schollander already had 4 golds from the first Tokyo Olympics. What I saw him do in workouts impressed me more. We had one workout worth mentioning: 30 one-hundreds. The way it worked was you started out of the pool, took a racing dive at the signal, and swam a 100-yard sprint. Thereafter, you stayed in the pool, pushed off the wall, and every 2 minutes after you started your last sprint, you started another. The more fatigue slowed you down, the less rest you got between sprints.

    At the time the national record for 100 yards in a 25-yard college pool was somewhere in the range of low 46-seconds. Schollander’s first 100-yard time came in the 47-second range. Several succeeding sprints were all well under 50 seconds. Then he ground out about 20 more in the low 50-second range. After that, each time was again under 50-seconds, and each was faster than the one previous, until the 30th 100-yard sprint, with all done in an hour, without a racing dive, was completed only a second or two above the record time for the distance—a record which Schollander did not even own, by the way.

    That record was held by Schollander’s college teammate Steve Clark. And that pissed Schollander off. Clark got his own triple gold in Tokyo, without even qualifying for any individual event. An appendectomy during the Olympic trials kept Clark from qualifying. According to the rules, Clark could not compete in individual events. So the Olympic coach brought Clark along to swim in relays. A controversy arose after Schollander won gold in the 100 meter freestyle. Schollander figured that was a pretty good credential for the freestyle anchor leg of the 400-meter medley relay—and a then-unprecedented 5th Olympic gold medal. Clark got the nod for the anchor leg, to win his third gold, and Schollander had to content himself with four.

    All of that is more than 50 years in the past, but vivid in my memory today. Personal trivia, of course, and easily dismissed. But what of the subject matter Somin focuses on do you suppose anyone remembers likewise from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics? What of Somin’s subject matter features the determined human excellence of those 30 workout sprints by Schollander? It seems like we might all do better if we let the contrast between athletic and political ideals inform and elevate the latter, instead of encouraging politics to drag athletics down.

    1. Right on, Stephen.

      So much of Prof. Somin’s objection boils down to his not thinking sports are very important, so no harm is done by using them to make political points (and destroying an institution that everyone participates in is a feature, not. a bug, to him).

    2. For the athletes, it is very definitely a big deal and I agree with your assessment.

      The issue Somin brings up is very similar to his issue with eminent domain to benefit private individuals along with creating arenas venues, housing that have very short term usage. Basically creating wasting assets to benefit a few.

      Many cities already have the infrastructure / venues to host the events. (though it is noted that most of the natatoriums lack sufficient spectator seating for an olympic event.

      1. Why should taxpayers, especially taxpayers in relatively poor nations, go into debt, be inconvenienced by traffic and crowds, etc be inconvenienced for a few athletes, and almost none from their own nation?

        And as far as the venues, the 84 Los Angeles Olympics built some new venues, most of which are homeless encampments now… At least they were paid for. The venues in Rio are falling apart.

        1. What venues are those?

          We built a velodrome. It was replaced by the stadium the Galaxy plays in, plus another velodrome next door which will be used again in 2028.

          We built a swim stadium, which became USC’s home swim stadium, used to this day.

          We built an Olympic village, still used as housing to this day.

          We built a tennis stadium, still used by UCLA as well as for concerts.

          I believe every other venue in 1984 was already standing. The Coliseum, the Forum, the Sports Arena, the gyms at CSULB, CSUF, and UCLA, Santa Anita racetrack, the Long Beach arena, etc.

          And 2028 is going to be similar. I am not in love with holding the Olympics in LA, but we do a far better job than probably any other host at not building white elephants and saying no to the IOC.

        2. “The venues in Rio are falling apart.”

          You should see Sarajevo!

    3. “There are plenty of possible Olympic venues that aren’t controlled by likes of Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. Denying these types of rulers hosting rights won’t fundamentally alter their regimes. But it will at least damage their image and deny them propaganda victories.”

      Speaking of propaganda victories against authoritarian regimes, does the name Jesse Owens ring a bell?

  18. Interesting that your proposed reform for the Olympics involves depriving other people of their choice(s) in how to support the games (or not) Stick with insisting that your own government may not use public resources to support the Games, and let other people decide if they want their government(s) to do so.

    As for displacing people from their homes, my opinion on that one depends greatly on what alternatives were offered. For example, a bunch of people in the Miami area probably wish they’d been displaced from their homes, before their home was displaced. Coincidentally, local media in Portland recently carried the story about a number of people being displaced from their “homes” in a Portland park.
    https://www.opb.org/article/2021/07/26/portland-gives-campers-3-days-to-leave-laurelhurst-park-area/

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