The Olympic Torch, the Olympic Rings, global unity, and a tradition that stretches back to 776 BCE—the Olympic games represent the pinnacle of both international harmony and national glory. It is the world’s largest and most diverse sporting event, encompassing disparate sports from wrestling to skeleton sledding.However, with growing allegations of corruption within the International Olympic Commission and fiscal cuts in the light of the 2008 financial crisis, many potential host nations are now weary of hosting. Although most Olympic host nations are developed nations, many nations attempt to bolster their regimes or unity in the advent of riots, and face immense consequences if they should hold the games, voiding their social contract to the people in favor of sport and the worldwide publicity it brings.
In the case of the bids for the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sweden, Norway, Poland, and Ukraine all rejected the Games, leaving two contenders for the event. Both of the contenders, Kazakhstan and People’s Republic of China, have abysmal human rights records. Even more so, Kazakhstan severely lacks the infrastructure necessary for hosting the games, and China’s designated location, Beijing, does not have a mountain suitable for ski events within a fifty-mile radius. Attempting to host the Olympics under these circumstances would be detrimental to the two countries and their people.
Even more than straining infrastructure and creating a huge weight on a nation’s budget, nations that host the Olympics may have to cope with diverting funds from social welfare programs and economic stimulus plans. In Brazil, for instance, where a conservative coalition ousted President Dilma Rousseff, wealth inequality is among the most pronounced in the Americas, with millions of mestizo Brazilians forced into cramped slums as the oil and logging-rich European elite thrive in the Bohemian urban centers.
Beyond systemic inequality, in terms of general economic trends, Brazil is faring poorly, with hyperinflation and high unemployment rates. Coupled with the ongoing issue of the Zika virus, Brazil is the most unstable it has been since the 1984 pro-democracy demonstrations against the Brazilian military government.
The unpreparedness of Olympic host nations yields a difficult yet important question: To what extent should the international community condone the siphoning of resources to entertainment over basic services to its citizens?
A country unready for the Olympics or a similar sized event can endanger the well-being of citizens, lose billions in taxpayers money on careless infrastructure, and damage its legitimacy and international reputation.
For example, in the Sultanate of Qatar, where the 2020 World Cup is to be held, venues are being constructed by essentially migrant South Asian slave laborers. Owen Gibson of The Guardian estimates that approximately 4,000 workers may perish in construction for the event, of which already 1,200 Nepali and Indian nationals have been reported dead, due to poor working conditions. A country that is unable to give workers a wage or any degree of protection should not be the host of a global sporting event.
Infrastructure built hastily under time and budget limits has also proven volatile. In the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, for instance, there was much concern over the poorly developed lodging for the influx of foreigners and the lack of security in spite of threats by Chechen Islamist groups to target the event. Similarly in Brazil, a 50-meter stretch of bicycle track along the coast crumbled into the ocean on April 21 just as the Olympic Torch was lit in Rio de Janeiro, and the construction of stadiums is running months behind schedule. Hence, it is clear that in using taxpayer money to fund international sporting events, countries do not only contradict the interests of their constituents, but can spoil the games for the entire world with poor development.With the eve of the 2016 Brazil Olympics upon us, it is time for the IOC to reconsider its guidelines for host countries, ensuring that countries do not put athletic achievement over the livelihoods of people, especially the poor. In the future, the international community cannot allow sports to transcend issues such as the spread of epidemic disease, social welfare, human rights, economic prosperity, and infrastructural improvement. If this negligence continues, it can only serve to degrade the special sanctity with which we view the Olympic Games.