The Olympics are the pinnacle of sportsmanship and athletic competition. The Games allow athletes from around the world to compete and earn their glory. The host nation of the Olympic games shares in this pursuit of glory. The Olympics act as a way for host countries to celebrate their culture, display their cities and structures, show off their infrastructure and technology, and to earn prestige in the international sphere.
The problem with the modern day Olympics is that they have set the bar astronomically high in terms of production and cost. In the last 20 years alone the cost of the Olympics have jumped from around $2 billion USD for the largest events, to a titanic $50 billion USD for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. Countries are spending to show off. They are constructing major stadiums, hosting lavish opening ceremonies, building new infrastructure, and modernizing their cities.
Some countries, while still arguably over spending, can handle this type of massive financial demand, such as England, Russia, and China. Countries such as Brazil however, have shown that this level of expenditure and standard is unmanageable. Brazil is currently in the midst of political upheaval due to the population perceiving their elected officials as corrupt and inept. Massive sections of the population lack a reasonable standard of living, many regions lack necessities such as running water, and many locations lack security and order.
The Olympics, while attempting to demonstrate the pride and achievements of a nation, in this case, have highlighted the problems of the country and the grievances of the people. Very few Olympic games are ever profitable, even for the major countries that spend billions in attracting tourists.(1) Allowing countries such as Brazil to host such a lucrative and straining mega-event is unethical and reckless. The billions of dollars used for the Games could easily have been migrated into spending on healthcare, education, or infrastructure.
The Brazilian Olympics have been rife with uncompleted projects, collapsing buildings, athletes being robbed, polluted waters, and security risks. The problems with the Games mirror the problems occurring in the country itself. When the International Olympic Committee knows a country is already under financial, social, and political strain, it is unethical to approve the Games to take place there.
We see a similar, and perhaps more serious, problem occurring with Fifa and the 2022 Qatar World Cup. Qatar is not a country that should be allowed to host a mega-event of this scale. Billions upon billions of dollars are being spent on this Football event. While it is likely possible for Qatar to absorb these costs with its gigantic wealth from fossil fuels, the real controversy emerges from how these games are being constructed.
Qatar has had at least over 1000 construction deaths already in the lead up to the World Cup – substantially higher than any other mega-event. Fifa is under heavy fire for the high levels of human rights abuses occurring in Qatar and its seeming lack of interest in acknowledging or administrating these issues in the current and future World Cups.
Harvard Professor John Ruggie in an interview with the Guardian argued that “Fifa can’t impose human rights on countries but in return for hosting a tournament there are certain human rights to which you should have to adhere…if you can’t, you have to make tough decisions. That may include having to terminate an existing relationship.”(2) Fifa should set standards and precedents. Allowing countries with known human rights issues to host mega-events, and knowing that the construction of the stadiums and facilities will be completed with immoral practices including essentially slavery is unethical.
Fifa and the IOC should both be more cautious in selecting hosts for mega-events. A country with known human rights abuses should not be a candidate, especially when the victims are often directly involved in the construction and implementation of the games. A country with known economic and political instability should also not be considered. Hosting mega-events is expensive, exhaustive, and challenging. Beautiful and vibrant developing countries such as Brazil, while deserving their own platform to celebrate their country, can not reasonably and ethically be expected to host multi-billion dollar entertainment events. Especially when the country itself has an endless list of more significant priorities and grievances that need to be addressed.
Glory and prestige are worthwhile; but people’s lives and well being are more important. Fifa and the IOC need to be more accountable for these decisions. The Olympic’s are not just about the billion dollar stadiums and fireworks, they are also about the impoverished construction workers and the struggling favela families.
Human rights and the well being of a population is more important than entertainment.
By Daniel Govedar (August 2016)