The Olympics Imbroglio

by Reihan Salam

I’m a little late on this one, but I’d like to point you to Annie Lowrey’s report on London’s struggles with the 2012 Olympics as a sign that Chicago should be grateful for losing to Rio. 

The budget for the games has quadrupledto a truly Olympic size: £9.3 billion ($15 billion), and rising. Jack Lemley, the ousted chair of the Olympic Delivery Authority, forecast the games might at the end of the day cost Britain as much as the 2008 Beijing games cost China, in the region of $40 billion — more than Britain’s stimulus package, a mayday measure designed to save the country from economic ruin last November.

That was a cost China — an expanding economy with very low labor costs and the need for infrastructure anyway — could bear. It’s less clear that Britain can. For one, London hardly needs the facilities it’s building, and they are of questionable legacy value. More importantly, such exorbitant costs are coming at the same time that the British economy is struggling beneath the weight of the credit crunch and recession.

The sad truth is that the hosting the Olympics should be the province of developing countries with something to prove. Conservatives have been accused of gloating over Chicago’s loss, and that may or may not be true. This accusation does strike me as an effective way to deflect legitimate criticism of the president for going to Copenhagen when he evidently didn’t have enough time to regularly consult with and reassure an increasingly erratic Hamid Karzai before Afghanistan’s rigged national elections. The job of any president is almost impossibly hard, and it’s important to recognize that. But if President Bush had fought hard for Dallas or Houston to win the games, I promise that there’d be howling from the opposition.

On a lighter note, Brad Flora wrote the definitive take on the cultural politics surrounding Chicago’s bid for the Olympics for Slate.

Why the grumbling? The bid’s most visible opponents have spent years howling that the Olympics will breed graft and political corruption and bleed an already cash-strapped city dry. Chicago 2016’s supporters, by contrast, have argued that the Olympics will improve the city’s standing, create jobs, and boost local morale. The debate here wasn’t best understood as an honest disagreement over what’s best for Chicago. Rather, the rhetoric was indicative of a more fundamental clash: the eternal battle of jocks vs. nerds.

In Flora’s view, Obama was well-placed to bridge the jock vs. nerd divide.

Who in America has the power and the bona fides to end this perpetual jock-nerd standoff? If anyone can do it, it’s President Obama. With his professed fondness for comic books and his prowess on the basketball court, he speaks both nerd and jock. And having agreed at the last minute to fly to Copenhagen to stump for the Games, he put himself at the center of the dysfunctional local shouting match. 

Alas, it didn’t quite work out. The jock vs. nerd concept might even shed light on infighting among conservatives these days, but that’s a whole other story.

The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.