It's not that simple, because Olympics host city selection is a complicated interplay between the political and economic environments of the world when the host city selection process is playing out. This run of Olympics is happening in Asia largely because of the financial crisis in 2008.
The bidding for the 2018 games began in the summer of 2009. Back then, you may recall, the world was just beginning to shake off an economic crisis. While stock markets were recovering, the unemployment rate in the U.S. continued to climb and was approaching 10 percent, and a sovereign debt crisis was still destabilizing Europe. This was not the best environment for politicians in democratically governed countries to submit bids to host an expensive global spectacle.
Three cities bid to host the 2018 games: Pyeongchang in South Korea, Munich in Germany and Annecy in France. This was fewer than the seven cities that applied to host the 2014 games. Both of the European bids came from Europe's core rather than the peripheral countries that had so many problems with their sovereign debt in 2010 and 2011, as the bid process was ongoing. Ultimately, Pyeongchang was chosen to host.
Just as the 2018 selection process occurred in the aftershocks of an economic crisis, the 2020 process began during the era of austerity that followed. While New York bid for the 2012 Summer Games and President Barack Obama tried to help Chicago's bid for the 2016 Summer Games, the U.S. chose not to bid for the 2020 games. Rome initially intended to bid for the 2020 games but, perhaps because of the ongoing sovereign debt crisis, pulled its bid at the last minute because of lack of support from the government. The final shortlist was Tokyo, Madrid and Istanbul. Perhaps because of ongoing economic problems in Spain, and political instability in Turkey, Tokyo represented the safest bet.
Then there's 2022: the Olympics that nobody wanted. The bid process began in 2013 at a time when economies had stabilized, but it still didn't feel like a robust expansion in many countries. Governments had yet to emerge from a cycle of austerity. By late 2014, only two bids remained to host the 2022 games — Almaty, Kazahkstan, and Beijing, China. When your choices are China or a country with an economy smaller than Iraq's or Algeria's, you pick China.
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The good news is that the economic and political environments have recovered enough to get Western countries interested in hosting the Olympics again. If the site selection process before the financial crisis was fraught with corruption and sticking unprepared cities with expensive boondoggles — think the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi and the 2016 Summer Games in Rio — then perhaps this new era represents a more prudent, thoughtful environment of putting Olympics in countries with stable political climates that are wealthy enough to handle the responsibility. Paris, chosen to host the 2024 Summer Games, and Los Angeles, host of the 2028 Summer Games, are both global cities that have hosted the Olympics before. While it's still early in the bidding process for the 2026 Winter Games, expect rationality to prevail there as well.
The evolution of the Olympics site selection process over the past generation provides a glimmer of hope for those seeking better governance beyond the hosting of global sports events. For too long, being chosen to host the Olympics left cities with a legacy of debt and vacant, decaying venue sites. It's no wonder cities have become reluctant to take on the burden of hosting. Perhaps it took continued crises and blatant corruption to change that culture. If a reformed, chastened International Olympics Committee can pull off successive Olympic Games without repeating the boondoggles, it'll go a long way toward restoring trust. And if it works for the Olympics, maybe there's hope for other public works and social programs too.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Philip Gray at [email protected]
Marie-Philip Poulin (29), of Canada, shoots a goal against goalie Noora Raty (41), of Finland, during the first period of the preliminary round of the women’s hockey game at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
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You get a crazy-bleeping-fun and irreverent Games that would make Pierre de Coubertin roll over in his grave. That’s a good thing. It’s about time to push this stuffy old winter sports carnival into the 21st century, don’t you think?
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When adolescents rule the Olympics, F-bombs spontaneously erupt on national television. Authority, like gravity, is often ignored. Everything, from the fireworks at opening ceremonies to the freezing weather, is described as “insane.” During competition, athletes get hangry instead of nervous. And we’ll get on with the serious business of winning a gold medal, but not until after sending one last tweet on the cellphone.
On Tuesday, teen snowboarder Chloe Kim created the definitive Olympic meme of 2018. And it wasn’t her gold-medal performance, although her tricks in the halfpipe were beyond sick. They were insane, as all the cool kids like to say.
But know what was even better? It was the incredulous look Kim gave an adult that asked what the heck she was thinking on at the top of the halfpipe before her final run, when instead of concentrating on the biggest athletic moment of her young life, she tweeted to the world-wide web about being “hangry,” because she had neglected to finish her breakfast sandwich.
“Like, what else am I supposed to do?” asked Kim, regarding the journalist as if he had been transported to South Korea directly from the Dark Ages. “Watching the contest just makes me more nervous and anxious. It’s like when you’re just waiting there, when you’re supposed to go to the theme park and your parents are taking forever.”
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Kim is your typical 17-year-old girl in every way, except for the fact she pilots a snowboard the way Aladdin rode a magic carpet. She hates to roll out of bed at 6 a.m., even on the morning when going out to play at the the Olympics is on her schedule. Hanging with her roommate in the athletes village was cool, because fellow snowboarder Arielle Gold of Steamboat Springs was always “down” to order a pizza or shoot some pool, and “it’s fun to have a buddy.”
The International Olympic Committee, like Apple and every other major corporation seeking to make big bucks in the 21st century, is seeking a younger demographic. The problem? Teenagers look at live sports on network television the same way they look at black-and-white comics printed in a newspaper. They don’t.
Red Gerard, a 17-year-old from Silverthorne, arrived in South Korea, claiming to have no clue what the Olympics were all about. His father told me that was the honest truth, because Gerard is a member of a generation that believes every important power in the universe can be found in the palm of an adolescent’s hand, delivered via the smartphone.
On the night before he competed in slopestyle, Gerard passed out watching Netflix, overslept, misplaced his winter coat and watched videos of his buddies shot-gunning beers on the way to the hill for the competition. Then he won a gold medal for the USA, a feat he celebrated by grabbing a friend and exclaiming “Holy f—!” It caught the network censors, to say nothing of America, by surprise.
NBC host Mike Tirico apologized to the TV audience for Gerard’s profanity.
Sorry? Sorry for what? The Olympics have been far too serious, far too corporate, far too pre-packaged and far from spontaneous for far too long.
Teenagers have made the Games more insane, more profane, more like real life and more outrageous fun.