The U.S. Olympic Committee made grown men and women cry this
week when it eliminated Houston and Washington, D.C., from the running to
host the 2012 summer games. Texas-sized tears rolled in both towns. D.C.
Mayor Anthony Williams looked more crushed than Charlie Brown after a play
date with Lucy. New York City and San Francisco made the cut.
To the taxpayers in the losing cities: Be glad and rejoice. To
the "winners," one of whom will be nominated in November to pitch the
International Olympic Committee: Watch your wallets.
Grand and thrilling as the aura of the Olympics may be, the
pursuit of the games has descended into a shameful orgy of blind civic
boosterism, economic junk science and Big Government boondoggles.
In the same manner that massive taxpayer funding of private
sports stadiums is falsely sold as a means of economic development, costly
Olympic bids are couched in terms of urban renewal -- only with more odious
rhetorical drapery. Hosting "the world's greatest sporting event,"
government cheerleaders tell us, guarantees "World Class" status. The
endeavor, moreover, "will pay for itself."
Actually, federal, state and local taxpayers end up paying for
these athletic enterprises with few lasting benefits. The federal government
spent nearly $400 million to boost the Salt Lake City (make that World-Class
Salt Lake City) winter games, including $220 million for Olympics-related
security and more than $100 million in federal transportation subsidies. The
federal tab for the 1996 Atlanta games was $192 million. Georgia taxpayers
forked over $240 million on top of that -- so that reporters and tourists
from around the world could spread the word about its sweaty, traffic-jammed
Them's peanuts compared to the current finalists' bids on the
table. The New York city proposal is a $2.3 billion bread and circuses
blueprint that includes new construction of an Olympic Stadium for track and
field games on Manhattan's West Side, plus more than $1 billion for
renovation and expansion of parks and recreational facilities around the
city and construction of a sprawling Olympic Village at Hunter's Point,
The San Francisco package, incorporated into a 1,000-page tome
of megalomaniacal proclamations -- we are told that the city "has enchanted
the human imagination, exerting a magical pull across oceans and continents
. . . inspiring poets and presidents to sing of its glories," that it is
"one of the top five fittest cities in America," and that it is a "world
leader in environmental protection" (a critical factor, presumably, for
staging Olympic tae kwon do and synchronized swimming) -- totals $2.4
Both cities insist that their proposals are fiscally responsible
and will place no burden on taxpayers. Yet, the IOC mandates that each host
city promise to have government subsidies at the ready in case the games
lose money. California Governor Gray Davis signed a law earlier this year
authorizing a "trust fund" guaranteeing up to $250 million in subsidies to
make up revenue shortfalls. The New York State Legislature passed a similar
measure to protect against cost overruns last fall.
Olympic pied pipers pooh-pooh pessimistic economic forecasts and
insist the games are a net winner. But experience around the world fails to
back them up. Promises of increased tourism have never been fulfilled.
Olympic buildings sit empty and abandoned. An investigation by the Toronto
Star found that the 1988 Calgary Games were a huge money loser, contrary to
the IOC's claims that the event made a $90 million profit. An independent
audit by the state of New South Wales estimated that the 2000 Sydney Games
cost taxpayers $2.2 billion.
And that's not including the countless business owners and
residents who are inevitably displaced and evicted to make way for those
gleaming sports palaces and villages.
In short, the Olympic bidding war is a losing plunge for the
public -- bad form, terrible execution and nothing but splash.
Correction: In my column on ethanol, I referred to "nitrous
dioxide" as a precursor of smog. The correct compound is nitrous oxide.