Thursday, May 19, 2016

Brown-Bag Olympics

Charles Lane, writing for the Washington Post, suggests in a column today that the modern Olympics should simply be stopped.

He rages – rightly, I believe -- against corruption and nationalism that have “discredited” the modern Olympic movement.

Here’s the part of his argument I want to explore further:

The truth is that incentives influence behavior. And participants in the Olympics, at all levels, face overwhelming incentives, financial and political, to cheat – or try to cheat – whether by using performance-enhancing drugs, rigging the venue selection or raking off government funds, which most nations borrow and spend like water in pursuit of ephemeral economic stimulus.

I don’t have solutions to doping. But I think there’s one viable solution that could get the corruption and fund abscondage out of the way: Take the money out of the Olympics.

And you take the money out of the Olympics by hosting them in cities that do not have world-class facilities and will not pay or borrow to build them. Hold them, for example, in towns like the one I grew up in: Idaho Falls, Idaho, USA.

At 58,000 people, Idaho Falls would not be the smallest town to host the Olympics. But consider this: There are no gigantic sports arenas in town. Melaleuca Field, home to the bush league Idaho Falls Chukars baseball team, has only 3,750 seats. There are soccer fields and running tracks in town – but simple ones, owned by the city or the two local school districts.

And those and other similar facilities are where Olympic events could be held.

Laugh, clown, laugh. But continue listening.

Does every host city need to build enormous stadiums and sports centers and Olympic villages to host a successful Olympics?> That’s what the fund-absconders, bribe-takers, and perk-seekers want people to believe. But when you get right down to it, runners and sprinters could get used to running on a high school track. Soccer players could play in the OldButte Soccer Complex.

And there are already plenty of hotels in town.

No one in their right mind would come to an Olympics stages so spartanly, would they? Not if they’re looking to line their pockets or hobnob with the hoi-polloi or scrape funds away from the masses. But maybe people who like sports – remember sports, the events that actually take place at the Olympics – would come to watch them. Hell, we’ll even spring for some bleachers for the soccer fields so you don’t have to bring your own chairs. And if you want a lunch, brown-bag it.

If there’s no perks, if there’s no millions of dollars floating around for new complexes, there’s no money to steal. If there’s no money, the money-grubbers go away, unless they want to start knocking over lemonade stands on the way out to watch soccer.

I know I am not a logistics genius. But if you make the vast amounts of money go away when you host the Olympics, the ideals of sport remain, right? People can still win Olympic gold medals if they’re not doing it in a $750 million stadium, right? Or am I missing something?

Call me a simple fool. I’m used to that. But I’m a fool who believes the Olympics – or any event – could still be done, and done well, by cutting 99.9% of the money out of it.

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