Forget the Olympic spirit — the world is finally starting to realize that hosting the winter games is so not worth the huge price tag, political headaches, and often dubious behavior that comes with it.
And now nobody wants to do it.
On Monday, the Polish city of Krakow — a favorite for the 2022 winter games — announced that it was withdrawing from the contest, after a referendum there showed that almost 70 percent of voters didn’t want the Olympics on their doorstep.
'Global sporting events have increasingly ballooned into over-budget money-sucking monsters with few benefits, but plenty of annoyances.'
That’s a pretty common sentiment among the residents of Olympic host cities, but to the credit of Krakow’s authorities at least they were willing to listen to their constituents, and quickly put the bid out of its obvious misery.
"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," Jacek Majchrowski, the city’s mayor, said in a statement. "I regret that the referendum has put a definite end to... the project that I considered to be very important for the development of the whole region."
Developers are just about the only people to get excited about their countries hosting the Olympics anymore, as global sporting events have increasingly ballooned into over-budget money-sucking monsters with few benefits, but plenty of annoyances, for the actual residents of the host city. Locals often put up with years of construction, traffic, and, increasingly, environmental and human rights abuses. At the end of all that, they often can’t even get tickets to the sporting events themselves.
The recent Sochi Olympics — Vladimir Putin’s “pet project” as critics called it — cost Russia a whopping $51 billion. And while most of it went into long-term construction projects that are supposed to outlive the games themselves, the corruption, environmental degradation, and repression of free speech that came with the privilege to host the games, hardly made it popular among Sochi residents.
While almost everyone knows that the Olympics’ promise of prestige, tourism revenues, and eternal stardom is a pile of b.s., Sochi was infamously thrashed by dozens of — admittedly pretty obnoxious — foreign journalists. A number of reporters spent their entire three weeks at the Olympic Village sharing photos of their unfinished hotel rooms, broken door knobs, and the dozens of stray dogs that wandered around the city throughout the event.
My hotel has no water. If restored, the front desk says,
My hotel has no water. If restored, the front desk says,— Stacy St. Clair (@StacyStClair) February 4, 2014
For the time being, the Summer Olympics seem to be doing a bit better. At least they have the added bonus of beach volleyball players and Ryan Lochte, and though they are usually even more expensive they seem to still be in demand.
But both sets of Olympics — and the World Cup — are both ridiculously costly and increasingly unpopular, and winning bids to host them are usually followed by prolonged protests and public outrage, a huge headache for local authorities.
The International Olympic Committee is at last beginning to realize that it may eventually run out of willing hosts, and president Thomas Bach, who was elected to lead the organization last September, is looking for ways to lower the financial burden of holding the games, according to AP.
But many former Olympic sites have quickly turned into desolate landscapes featuring expensive The Day After Tomorrow-style apocalyptic ruins. And who in their right mind would want to sign up for that?
Poland was not exactly the first country to realize that maybe it wasn’t all worth it.
Before Krakow, Stockholm also pulled out of the bidding war. And prior to that, voters in Munich, Germany, and Davos/St. Moritz, in Switzerland, all said “thanks, but no thanks.”
Oslo, which is still in the running, is dealing with some pretty vocal opposition from local residents.
If Norway follows Poland out the door, the 2022 winter games will be contested between three hosts: Beijing, which spent some $40 billion on the 2008 summer games, Almaty in Kazakhstan, whose human rights record is hardly better than China’s, or Lviv.
And that’s in Ukraine.
Follow Alice Speri on Twitter: @alicesperi