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Business News/ Opinion / Views/  ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’: Save it for the economy
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‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’: Save it for the economy

Research indicates that the cost of hosting the 2036 Olympics could outweigh its tangible benefits. It’s best if we achieve ‘faster, higher, stronger’ economic output before making a bid

As a poor developing country—even if we have graduated to lower middle-income status—with limited resources, we should carefully assess whether playing host for the Olympic Games is the best use of public money. (IOC media X)Premium
As a poor developing country—even if we have graduated to lower middle-income status—with limited resources, we should carefully assess whether playing host for the Olympic Games is the best use of public money. (IOC media X)

The Prime Minister’s announcement at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) session in Mumbai that India will “leave no stone unturned" in its bid to host the 2036 Olympic Games has removed whatever doubt there might have been about India’s ambition to host the modern world’s biggest sporting extravaganza. Unfortunately, much as we would like India to join the small club of nations that have hosted the Olympics, there’s no getting away from ground realities. And here the reality underlying our bid is best summed up in the words used by Samuel Johnson to describe second marriages: “the triumph of hope over experience." And, in the case at hand, over hard evidence too.

Although hosting of the Olympics has been confined largely to Europe, North America and Australia, developing nations have increasingly been seeking to host major sporting events in order to promote their countries globally. Prior to the Beijing games of 2008, all the 25 modern Olympics, with the exception of Mexico City in 1968 and Rio De Janeiro 2016, were held in rich countries. The IOC too is now more willing to consider their bids in an effort to make the games more truly international. Hence, India’s desire to bid for the 2036 Olympics. But this must be weighed against the large body of research that shows that it’s just not worth it. When it comes to counting pennies after the games are over, the sad truth is that it is an extravaganza that can at best be justified by intangible and ephemeral benefits such as enhanced global visibility. Tangible benefits for either the host city or country are woefully inadequate, if not absent. Regardless of which city is finally chosen for 2036, hosts are often left with white elephants. Sydney’s Olympic Stadium costs $30 million a year to maintain, while Beijing’s Bird’s Nest is empty. The Tokyo Olympics 2020 cost about $13 billion, though its final bill was inflated by covid postponement. Some host cities have openly rued bidding. London’s Olympics minister was more outspoken than most when he later admitted, “Had we known what we know now, would we have bid for the Olympics? Almost certainly not." If that’s the view of a country whose per capita income is many times ours, surely we need to learn from that, rather than make costly mistakes of our own. A research paper titled ‘A Look at the Costs and Benefits of Hosting the Summer Olympic Games for Developing Nations’ by Alicia Wnorowski of New York University’s Leonard Stern School of Business concludes that hosting the Olympics in itself does not deliver economic benefits that are higher than its costs. As a poor developing country—even if we have graduated to lower middle-income status—with limited resources, we should carefully assess whether playing host is the best use of public money. Note that we have a host of competing needs crying out for attention, and urgently.

Editorial writers have the thankless job of bringing readers down to the ground from lofty heights. So perhaps our readers will pardon us for saying we will have to keep our wishes and hopes at bay. This is an idea whose time has not come. If our economy continues to grow in the 6-8% range and we are able to lift all Indians out of poverty, then we could make a bid for the games. For now, let’s save “Citius, Altius, Fortius," the famous Olympics motto that translates to ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger,’ for our efforts on the economic front.

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Published: 19 Oct 2023, 07:07 PM IST
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