By now everybody knows the modern Olympic Games system—whereby competing cities bid for the right to piss the GDP of Iceland into shabbily constructed venues that will host esoteric sports competitions for three weeks and then persist as rotting, uninhabited, politically radioactive civic boondoggles unto eternity—is a mess. Brazil, already broke and in political crisis, nuked its own wallet to host the 2016 games, while managing to rehabilitate the giant open-air toilet of Guanabara Bay precisely not at all; Sochi was a balmy cardboard Potemkin village stalked by packs of feral dogs and wholly unsuited to winter sports; London now has this hideous monstrosity in it for all time; the Salt Lake City Olympics were a hilarious festival of corruption; and so on. It’s a mess. It’s always a mess.
Documenting this, and inveighing against and/or laughing at it, has become a biennial tradition. Stories of slow and/or stalled and/or shoddy construction function like viral marketing during the buildup (Test audiences fled the theater puking and tearing their eyeballs out, because this movie’s so fr*ckin’ twisted!). Some intrepid, indignant reporter covers local frustration or political unrest or feral dogs, or documents the gallingly wide gap between the hard living outside the Olympic Village and the cushy comfort those poor suckers have purchased, by force, for first-world assholes who will never visit this bankrupt place again. Then the show moves on, and the ludicrously specialized hundred-million-dollar swimming center squats on the landscape like a giant spiteful pile of shit until the buildup to the next Games, in some next city, when somebody makes a photographic slideshow of the cobwebs and jungle-green swampwater to point out just how epically the last one played itself.
An old, but newly popular, rite of the Games is the call for the Olympics to have their own permanent, fixed home. This time around, writers at the Washington Post, Slate, the Atlantic, Mother Jones, Forbes, the Chicago Tribune, the Denver Post, Bloomberg, Salon, and others have taken up the call, advocating variously for Vancouver, Greece, Los Angeles, and so on. It makes a kind of sense! Fewer and fewer well-run cities want to opt into this roving graft carnival just for three weeks of flattering blimp shots, and fewer smart, accountable politicians want to spend their careers answering for insanely costly single-use Olympic ghost towns, which seems to portend a downward spiral of increasingly derelict, autocratic hosts staging more and more transparently embarrassing Games. Presumably the enterprise wouldn’t be quite so wasteful if the venues and infrastructure were guaranteed biennial use in perpetuity, and so presumably a good and functional city might want them in that case, and so this might give the International Olympic Committee an exit ramp off of a path that seems otherwise to result in Kim Jong Un winning every gold medal at the 2036 Pyongyang Games. In any case, at the very least, nailing the Olympics to one city would safeguard beleaguered places like Rio de Janeiro against their own political leaders’ most irresponsible impulses.
The problem with this, though, is Miami. And Atlanta. And Arlington, Texas. And Milwaukee. And New Orleans. And pretty much every other city with a municipally funded sports stadium in it. The problem, that is to say, is that sports arenas are extremely bad investments for cities. Even in the case of, say, baseball stadiums, which host sporting events a fuck of a lot more often than three weeks every couple of years. Four months worth of sports per decade will not make a permanent Olympic home all that much less disastrous for the city that pays to host it.
But wait, you are saying. What about putting the Games in a town that already has suitable venues and infrastructure in place, thereby adding profitable use to existing civic boondoggles and mitigating their boondogglery? Vancouver, for example, already has stadiums and tracks suitable for both luge and running! It does not need to build new ones! Good point. On the other hand, Arlington, Texas already has a perfectly good, modern, 22-year-old baseball stadium, and its taxpayers are being roped unwillingly into a scheme to build an all-new one, for no good reason, but for the extremely bad one that the billionaires who own the Rangers would like to be more rich than they already are. The Rangers haven’t even had to threaten to leave!
And that’s just one stadium. The Summer and Winter Olympics use an entire constellation of expensive, specialized venues, all of which would require maintenance between Olympics, but some of which—the friggin’ bobsled course, for example—have virtually no use the entire rest of the time, except as holes in which to dispose of municipal dollars. Who in the world would trust the IOC—just about the most deplorable, corrupt, craven organization not named FIFA on the face of the earth—to opt out of the recurring stadium financing scam in favor of building and maintaining all that shit on its own?
Of course, rejecting the idea of a permanent fixed home for the Olympics leaves us back at square one: with a massively expensive recurring entertainment spectacle that, for all the attention it draws, has not in 120 years managed to hit upon an infrastructural model that works for its hosts, and the question of how best to continue staging it every two years. Can you spot what’s dumb about this? I bet you can!
Can you spot the easy and obvious fix? I bet you can do that, too!