The 2008 Beijing Olympics have begun. The nature of the event has always been a paradoxical mixture of nationalism and inane babbling about some "global village," and this year is no different, even with the argument against the Olympics being in China. The controversy surrounding the games' location, however, is a mere caricature of the typical costs that one nation's citizens have to pay during the event.
The Chinese government has spent billions to finance extravagant venues for this year's Olympics while millions of Chinese citizens live in places like Leigu tent city, recuperating from the Sichuan earthquake and still waiting for housing and basic services. Fortunately, the Chinese government scheduled the Olympic torch to pass through these disaster areas, attempting to help their citizens in a grand Promethean gesture.
The profitability of hosting the Olympics is a frequently disputed topic. There are many different ways to measure whether an Olympics is a success, and it is unclear if any of them are comprehensive. Montreal's 1976 Olympics was unquestionably an economic disaster - it just repaid its debts two years ago. The Sydney games may have incurred less initial debt than Montreal, but according to a European Tour Operators Association statement cited by the Financial Times, Sydney has suffered three years of tourism decline after the 2000 Olympics and still has lower tourism growth rates than New Zealand. According to the same statement, Athens has also experienced lower growth rates than Croatia and Turkey since the 2004 Olympics. One of the key selling points of hosting an Olympics is the boom in tourism and the so-called "Olympic legacy." Unfortunately for host cities, the data rarely supports the existence of said legacy.
The majority of expenses come from the cost of building new infrastructure and venues to house the events. Olympic advocates claim that these venues are long-term investments and that building them stimulates the economy by virtue of their own construction. This is a delusional fantasy. Though it is true that building a new stadium employs a few thousand people, it is ridiculous to say that this is a valid investment toward growth. The money could easily be spent on projects that would be legitimate aids to long-term growth, like new schools or hospitals. In reference to venues that are the last vestigial evidence of the 2000 Sydney Olympics, The Sydney Morning Herald paraphrases economists James Giesecke and John Madden: Equestrian centers, softball compounds and man-made rapids are not particularly useful beyond their immediate functions.
Planning for the games also presents innumerable challenges. The UK is having considerable problems setting a realistic budget for the 2012 London games. The original budget proposed was 4 billion, but it has been raised to 9.3 and is likely to rise further. The UK still defends its Olympic bid as an economic boost for the country, even though it seems difficult to see how this is possible.
None of this even takes into account the various ethical charges leveled against the IOC and Olympic athletes. It's hard to take a celebration of world unity seriously when its representatives take bribes or engage in blood or gene doping.
The Olympics are a ridiculous spectacle that represents ideals that do not exist. Symbols like this must be a remnant of our primitive and superstitious past and would be harmless if it weren't for the fact that they put undue burdens on a country's citizens - particularly the poor - and waste valuable resources that could be spent on real change. When people around the world are victim to all types of evil, what is the best solution? Pour billions into a sporting event and put out more torches?