In the wake of the doping scandal, is the Olympics more trouble than it’s worth?

Andrew Hammond says the Russian doping scandal only adds to the problems already plaguing the Rio games – political crisis, Zika outbreak and an inability to pay for it all

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 July, 2016, 3:45pm
UPDATED : Monday, 25 July, 2016, 7:49pm

The International Olympic Committee’s decision not to totally ban Russian athletes at the Rio games because of state-sponsored doping only adds to controversies surrounding next month’s Olympics.

The IOC ruling, which bars Russian athletes who have had doping bans in the past and passes the buck to individual sport federations on whether athletes are “clean”, will relieve Moscow. Russian officials had asserted that any IOC decision to impose a total ban would have been a Western conspiracy.

Even before Sunday’s decision, the Rio games were troubled and offer a stark example of the political and wider risks of hosting major sporting events. When the city won the right in 2009 to host this summer’s games, the national economy was booming and the country was enjoying enhanced international prestige as a leading emerging market within the so-called BRICS group of nations.

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Today, however, Brazil is mired in political crisis surrounding the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, and the worst recession in decades, which has forced significant spending cuts to the Olympic budget. Further, more than 100 prominent doctors and professors earlier this summer wrote an open letter to the World Health Organisation asking for the games to be postponed or moved from Brazil, in light of the widening Zika virus outbreak, and a number of high-profile sportspeople have withdrawn.

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The problems afflicting the Olympics underline the massive challenge and expense of hosting such mega tournaments. Brazil will spend at least US$10 billion, and probably much more – potentially far in excess of any revenue the games can generate.

The problems associated with the huge costs were also exemplified by Athens 2004,which occurred just before Greece’s slide into economic turmoil in recent years. Those games, at that stage the most expensive Olympics ever, are estimated to have cost around US$12 billion but only generated about US$3 billion in income.

Athens 2004 became a symbol for the period of profligate public spending and unsustainable borrowing in the country at the turn of the millennium, and within days of the Olympic closing ceremony, the Greek government warned Brussels that the nation’s public debt and deficit would be significantly worse than anticipated.

Major sporting events continue to be seen as a source of national pride, but growing evidence indicates they do not generally provide a substantial economic boost from stimulus like capital investment and tourism.

Andrew Hammond is an associate at LSE IDEAS (the Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy) at the London School of Economics