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Virginia is enthusiastic about being part of the Olympics, but state leaders should take a hard look at the risks.
Friday, August 30, 2013
So. Some group in D.C. wants the nation’s capital to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. If it wins the bid, DC 2024 sees big, big things ahead for the whole metropolitan area, meaning great swaths of Virginia and Maryland.
Already, Richmond is all in — because, just naturally, “It would be a tremendous economic boost for the state,” Gov. Bob McDonnell’s communications director told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The mayor’s press secretary enthused, “we would view hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics as great for the region.”
But would it be? Probably not.
Virginia’s initial enthusiasm may be understandable. Our squeaky-clean governor has been stumbling interminably through a gifts scandal, and the race for his successor has become an unusually grim plod. All diversions are welcome — and this is the Olympics they’re talking about!
But drawing some part of the most celebrated of world sporting competitions into Northern Virginia would not necessarily be “a tremendous economic boost for the state.” It would be a financial gamble, at best. A long shot.
The state needs to take a hard look at the proposition before it antes up to — possibly — get in on the Games.
The prize is so coveted, it’s easy to think victory must bring handsome rewards, economically and in a more vibrant municipal life, for many years afterward. Easy to think. Hard to see.
Numerous post-Olympics studies of host cities do not bear that out.
The infrastructure built for the Athens Olympics of 2004 was supposed to be transformative, the mainly public investment in new facilities and the opportunity to showcase them before the world leaving a legacy of economic activity for years to come.
Instead, writer Mark Perryman noted in a commentary for The Daily Beast, “As the Beijing Games opened four years later, Athens faced a bill estimated at $784 million to maintain this ghost town of Olympian extravagance.”
Ah, but Washington, D.C., and its surrounding area has so much existing infrastructure, its boosters point out. And security — “the largest expense of any Olympic Games,” DC 2024 President Bob Sweeney avers — why, “we’ve got it built in to our everyday life here in Washington.”
When calculating the area’s assets, Virginia should figure in this warning. Perryman writes: “The Games are designed to serve the interests of the IOC in maintaining and defending their very particular model of the Olympics, and not the needs of the host city and nation.” Meaning: The International Olympic Committee isn’t inclined to accept existing infrastructure.
To locales, the Olympic Dream is as much about pride of country and hometown as about economic balance sheets. Let’s not let pride go to our heads.
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