This is the last Tokyo Olympics edition of Open Court. Please feel free to comment, subscribe and share!
The Olympic flame is out, partially because they did it on purpose, but also with some help from the typhoonish rain during the Closing Ceremony in Tokyo. It was a perfect tepid, slow-clap ending for these Olympics. Kind of screwed up, still happening, still following tradition.
Being an Olympic host city used to be a thing of glory.
Quick – can you name which American city has bid for the Olympics the most?
The Motor City has tried seven times to host the Games, coming the closest for the 1968 Olympics. President John F. Kennedy and Michigan Gov. George Romney (yes, Mitt Romney’s dad) did a pitch with the U.S. Olympic Committee. A few months later, Kennedy was assassinated. Mexico City won. And Detroit, well, a lot of things have happened, from riots to recessions to recoveries. Today. hosting an Olympics is a crazy idea.
I wasn’t roaming the planet back then, but can you IMAGINE a Motown Opening Ceremony in 1968? Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, and all the Aretha Franklin jams. Yes, it would have brought it all down. Makes me sad for the world that didn’t happen.
Hosting the Olympics is a pain in the wallet and psyche, akin to voluntarily being held hostage for 8 to 10 years by an untouchable shadow organization located in a magical Swiss enclave.
We know that 83 percent of surveyed Tokyo residents did not want the Olympics as it drew closer. There were protests on the streets during the Games, through Sunday's Closing. Some was related to the massive cost overruns, with a lot of anger directed at the folly of holding an Olympics during a surging pandemic with local lockdowns. Our global science experiment will take a new twist, as all the competitors, media and officials in Tokyo for the last 3 weeks now head home. Will they be spreading COVID to every corner of the planet? We will soon find out.
The price tag for these Games is at $15.4 billion (twice the original budget), $6.7 billion on Japan’s taxpayers, and the tab is still open. The IOC says It kicked in $1.3 billion. Of course, nobody saw a global pandemic coming, so the Japanese were handed a raw deal in terms of no fans, no tourists, no merchandise sales, no filled hotels or packed restaurants. Corporate partners had their marketing strategies, both on the ground and on TV, radically diminished. NBC had its ratings tank.
Summary: this was not good. But for the athletes, it was a success. We saw a lot of happy people, which is cool.
Gold medals and sportsmanship stories aside, even without a scary health crisis, this Olympics is a white elephant that grew to a T-Rex with Jurassic Park attitude. (Note: I resisted using a Godzilla or Mothra reference. Too easy.)
The 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics cost $12.9 billion. The 2008 Beijing Summer Games were the first billion-dollar Games, clocking in at $44,000,000,000 large.
Don’t get fooled by the pandemic stuff. The pushback on building unneeded stadia and facilities to host the Olympics and Paralympics is global. Have you noticed there is no host city for the 2030 Winter Games? Have you noticed the cities who are pushing to host the Olympics are…kindly…on the emerging side and this is being done to put them on the map.
The Olympic site flowchart is thus: 2022 Beijing, 2024 Paris (Summer), 2026 Milan and Cortina (Winter), 2028 Los Angeles (Summer), NOBODY FOR 2030 Winter, and 2032 Melbourne (Summer).
February 2022 will bring the snowcapped peaks of Beijing and the longstanding traditions of winter sports like hockey and curling. (To clarify, the only peaks in Beijing I saw were the skyscrapers barely peeking out of the thick green-gray smog. It is as flat as Chicago. All the Alpine events are being held about 90 minutes away, and the other snow events like cross-country, about 2 hours out.)
The IOC is not trotting out its lofty bull from 2008, that the Chinese will embrace human rights and democracy because of the Games. We all saw how that has played out, with even worse human rights violations happening right now to the Uighurs. Beijing is hosting the Games because it threw down the cash. Also because Stockholm, Lviv (Ukraine), Krakow and Oslo withdrew from the process. People from Sweden to Poland were saying a loud no thanks to the price tag, and the politicians saw their butts in the electoral wind. This isn’t the first-time cities and countries have bailed. Rome wanted the 2024 Games, had a grand vision of repurposing the 1960 Olympic grounds, and the Italian citizenry and legislature were like no thanks. The Norwegian legislature vowed not to fund the Olympics if Oslo won.
So what happened in 2015 to decide what we will see in 2022? The finalists were Beijing vs. Almaty, Kazakhstan (a former capital, biggest city in the country, population 2 million. But yes, there are some mountains!) Beijing won by four votes.
IOC President Thomas Bach spouts all the soothing words about Olympic ideals, the joy of competition and world peace. At the end of the day, the dude is a shady combo platter of unelected politician, Gucci-wearing mafia leader and global pseudo-diplomat with unchecked power. He knows keeping the big, big, big, big, big business of the Olympics rolling is his job one, and he has o push the public perception of the Games being holy and good. The 2022 situation led him to do what caught politicians always do – suppress information. The Olympic bid process, where we used to know what cities were going for the Games…is now pretty much private. Melbourne was the last one standing, and won 72-5 in the IOC vote for 2032. Paris and Los Angeles were also brokered deals that went unopposed by another city at the end.
The day of reckoning is coming, the question being, what will force the IOC to recognize the weight of the Olympics and its footprint isn’t sexy enough to take the risk for many of the world’s cities?
Quick answer: follow the money. Or maybe, let's start a real discussion about scaling the Games back or having rotating permanent sites.
What’s on first: I devoured Billie Jean King’s new autobiography, All In, this weekend. Entire forests have been sacrificed over the years to write about BJK and her impact on women, sports and the world. This is the first time she is writing freely from a good place about everything in her complex life. The book comes out Aug. 17, and the Open Court on Aug. 16 will dive into All In with co-author Johnette Howard.
What’s on Second: Peakboy. His new groovy beats single, Gyopo Hairstyle, is a great addition to my workout playlist. Take a listen. (YES, before you ask…it’s not in English. Which is OK.) If you want to be a super-hip child of the world, peep his MV, which features some of his famous friends, which you may recognize from the movie Parasite or some music group called BTS.
What’s on Third: I am in full admiration of multiple Olympic medalist Tom Daley knitting an awesome sweater in Tokyo. He had time to kill in Tokyo, and man, did he do some good work. Not bad to go home with a gold medal and a sweet sweater.
Home run: One of the best parts of my life is getting to know people. My job has me interacting with fascinating people that I would never meet otherwise. I just did a series of profiles on Team USA Paralympians in cycling, on the eve of the Games in Tokyo. Here’s the first story of many to come.