Yangtze Briefing

Nanjing should think twice before bidding for Asian Games

Nanjing expressed an interest in holding the 2019 event after Vietnam pulled out, but would the billions be money well spent?

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 May, 2014, 2:37am
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 May, 2014, 2:37am

When Nanjing Communist Party chief Yang Weize told a press conference earlier this month the Jiangsu capital was interested in hosting the 2019 Asian Games after Vietnam withdrew, he exuded absolute confidence.

To Yang's surprise, the idea was met with a wave of online criticism. Commentators sarcastically suggested the party commence a pre-emptive anti-graft investigating of the confident Nanjing chief.

In the eyes of some taxpayers, senior officials tasked with managing such events always end up lining their pockets and moving up the political ladder.

And once the crowds and television cameras have departed, residents are stuck with billions in debt and "white elephant" facilities far too big for local needs.

The sporting community is still feeling the effects of the 2011 World University Games in Shenzhen, a fiscal fiasco by most accounts. City auditors determined the event generated 1.2 billion yuan (HK$1.5 billion) in revenue, a fraction of the 14 billion yuan spent on venue upgrades, security and extravagant opening and closing ceremonies. Liang Daoxing, the former Shenzhen deputy mayor in charge of the event, was expelled from the party following a graft investigation.

Just to the north, Guangzhou reportedly spent 120 billion yuan hosting the Asian Games the year before.

And now it's South Korea's turn. The Games are due to kick off in Incheon on September 19 and will come with a price tag in excess of US$1 billion. It's no wonder Vietnam thought twice and pulled out.

Nanjing authorities tried to explain Yang's comment meant the city was capable of hosting the games but would not necessarily seek to do so. But in an interview last year, Yang told reporters that major events allowed the city to tap its enterprising spirit and show off its cultural heritage.

The city is preparing to stage the Youth Olympic Games in August. City officials stress that budgets for such events are tightly controlled. Fewer than 4,000 athletes are expected to attend the event, whereas the Asian Games draws about 10,000 athletes.

But hosting the 2019 event at even a modest level seems far-fetched. The city would need to build luxury hotels for foreign officials and competitors. Who will stay in the suites afterwards?

The Olympic Council of Asia will choose the host city on September 20. Whether Nanjing pursues a bid remains to be seen. President Xi Jinping is determined to curb wasteful spending, and it has been widely speculated mainland cities are unlikely to receive Beijing's approval to host costly events. The only exception might be the Fifa World Cup finals. China has yet to host the event - and the president is a die-hard soccer fan.