An Olympic Hangover on the Way?

by Andrew Stuttaford

The Economist looks at some of the numbers:

London’s supposed over-crowding has in fact turned into an eerie silence. Transport has for the most part worked well and rush-hour traffic has largely flowed freely. That is to be applauded as a big achievement.

Yet shops are quiet and shopkeepers speak of slow trade, delivery restrictions and a harsh end to a catastrophically wet July (this was particularly bad for clothing retailers as no one wants to buy the sort of clothes on offer). Even in Westfield at Stratford, the swanky new shopping mall right by the Olympic park, on particularly busy days such as this weekend, stores will be closed to the general public to hasten traffic through the centre.

The British Hospitality Association, a trade body, claims that London restaurants are experiences of decline in sales for the pre-Olympic week of July 23rd of about 40%, on average, in some cases more. It reckons that drop has continued this week. It also says hotels are worried about occupancy rates later in the summer.

Jeremy Hunt, the embattled culture secretary, still claims that businesses will be “quids in” over the Olympics.

Well, I suppose “let them eat cake” was already taken.

One point of the games is to encourage investment in Britain and that is a legacy that will be hard to assess for a while. Nevertheless, given the recent worse-than-expected GDP figures for the second quarter—and considering how much effect an extra bank holiday had on them—a two-week or longer period of slow sales in the third quarter could spell more trouble.

The London games are going brilliantly. The sport is good, events are going off well and people talk enthusiastically of how well organised and enjoyable their visits to the park and other locations have been. Sure the tickets have been a fiasco and there are still empty seats at a surprising number of events. But so far, the Olympics has been a swell party. When it’s all over, though, the economy could be in for a really bad hangover.

Of course, that’s what the Olympic Games almost always gives its host city.

But not in 1984, as Reason explains:

The Olympics are a giant exercise in sports socialism—or crony capitalism, if you prefer—where the profits are privatized and the costs socialized. The games never pay for themselves because they are designed not to. That’s because the International Olympic Committee (an opaque “nongovernmental” bureaucracy made up of fat cats from various countries) pockets most of the revenue from sponsorships and media rights (allegedly to promote global sports), requiring the host country to pay the bulk of the costs. Among the very few times the games haven’t left a city swimming in red ink was after the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, when voters, having learned from Montreal’s experience, barred the use of public funds, forcing the IOC to use existing facilities and pick up most of the tab for new ones.

Tony Blair, Lord Coe, and the rest of those responsible for London’s bid never, of course, gave taxpayers the chance to decide.

At the very least, no American city should have to host an Olympics without a referendum of its voters first. 

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