PARIS (AP) — In some ways, the International Olympic Committee really can't go wrong this weekend when it picks the host of the 2020 Summer Games. Tokyo, Madrid and Istanbul are all fine and famous cities. Each would make a more than adequate backdrop for the greatest spectacle in sports.
But Madrid's Olympic blueprint is the cheapest of the three. That makes it the right choice in economically tough times.
By picking the Spanish capital, rewarding its thrifty approach, the IOC would show that it, too, can practice a measure of austerity. Doing so could perhaps help reconnect the Olympics with critics who complain that sporting mega-events too often become excuses for governments to burn through mountains of money. Making do with Madrid's largely existing venues, rather than opting for Istanbul and Tokyo's plans to build new ones, would counter the idea that the games are inherently wasteful, more showy than responsible.
Without getting too sucked in by his sales pitch for Madrid, Spanish Olympic Committee President Alejandro Blanco spoke sense when he said in March that "the important thing to tell the world is that the Olympics can be held in a dignified manner without throwing money away."
Amen to that. Less costly games that don't cheapen the Olympic experience for athletes or fans. That sounds pretty good after the last two summer Olympics — Beijing 2008 and London 2012 — that, together with the coming Feb. 7-23 winter games in Sochi, Russia, produced costs all-told of more than $100 billion. Sochi is shaping up as the most expensive Olympics ever, with massive cost overruns lifting the price tag to $51 billion. After Sochi comes Brazil, where protesters angry about the billions being spent on the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Rio Olympics flooded the streets in June.
Much of the investment goes for things that far outlast the games: train lines, roads, airports, power grids and so forth. London's Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is far more pleasant than the industrial wasteland it replaced. With the modern winter resort in Sochi, wealthy Russians might feel less of a need to fly to the French Alps to ski. Istanbul's Olympic blueprint includes the decommissioning of an industrial port and the reclamation of industrial sites. In Tokyo Bay, there'll be new venues for sport, leisure and entertainment.
Still, the Olympics don't need to be exercises in extravagance. Post-World War II London held the games in 1948 on a shoestring budget, even asking athletes to bring their own towels. Paris in 1924 was the first to build an Olympic village, housing athletes in wooden cabins.
Of course, such rough living wouldn't work or be acceptable today. The security requirements of the modern Olympics, alone, mean that they cannot operate on a wing and a prayer. They are major and serious enterprises and, as such, don't come cheap.
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