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Brisbane's Olympic-sized laugh

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The beach volleyball venue from the Athens Olympics in 2004, now neglected. (Image today.com)

Did you know that Brisbane is looking at bidding for the 2028 Olympic Games? Sports reporter Lachlan Barker does the sums on this potential financial disaster.

I was watching TV during the week when Wednesday night came around and I set the record for my normal viewing, QI at 8pm, followed by Sean Micallef’s Mad As Hell. However, as I checked the guide, I was reminded that Sean’s excellent show has now finished, and has now been replaced by Charlie Pickering’s The Weekly.

I was a bit "how ya’ going: on this, as Charlie Pickering was on commercial TV on The Project and I have little tolerance for commercial TV these days. However, he had given it up and come back to the ABC and so it was only fair that I gave his show a try.

I’ll leave it to entertainment guru John Turnbull to cast his expert eye over the show, if he chooses, but I will just say that, in my opinion, The Weekly is okay. I enjoyed it to a certain level. I would point out, though – Charlie please note – that I turned off the moment he brought on an actor who used to be on Neighbours. That show offends me as a human being and the ABC should have no truck with anyone who has had anything to do with getting that damn show to infect the screens of Australian TV.

However, I mention all that because something on the show really caught my eye. Turns out Brisbane is planning to launch a bid for the 2028 Olympics. What’s more, Melbourne and Sydney are being encouraged to join the bid and make it a truly national disaster.

I was stunned – floored in fact – how could anyone be so financially reckless as to want to do that? At first, I thought that since this was a comedy show, it was a spoof — but no, I checked the news feed and, yes, the burghers of Brisbane have indeed been discussing an Olympic bid.

So, since it’s sport Monday, I thought I better do my bit to head this financial idiocy off at the pass while I have the chance.

The modern Olympics began in 1896 in Athens, appropriately enough. At first, the Olympics had weird and wonderful events like Plunge for Distance, where you dived in the pool to see how far you could get without using your arms and legs for propulsion. Town Planning was another; the winner of the gold medal for this in 1936 was a design of the Berlin Olympic stadium.

Shooting in the early Olympics used live pigeons and so the shooting range became increasingly blood soaked and feather bespattered, as the events went on in an orgy on animal cruelty.

As for cheating, most of that is to do with drugs in the modern era, but there was also this from St Louis in 1904. In the marathon, with few officials available to monitor, the winner came home in an excellent time — really excellent, in fact; it turned out he had ridden 16 kilometres of the course in an automobile.

However with the seventies, the money needed to host the Olympics began to accelerate steeply.

This led to the utter financial disaster of the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, Canada. A big part of the cost, by the way, was the need to upgrade all the facilities and provide a massive amount of facilities for the (mostly) American TV companies who wished to undertake an orgy of nationalistic celebration of U.S. dominance on the podiums.

The upshot was that Montreal Olympics left a deficit of US$0.99 billion and Canada didn’t finish paying this off till 2006.

Four years later in Moscow, the U.S. boycotted over the Afghanistan invasion and so the Russians won the medals, but not the financial contest. 64 nations in total boycotted, so their supporters didn’t travel to the east and the Russians ended up with an unconfirmed US$2 billion deficit.

Los Angeles in 1984 made a profit of US$250 million — the first Olympics in the black since 1932. Seoul in 1988 did better than that, with a profit of US$300 million. Barcelona, Spain, in 1992 showed the needle dipping with a final readout of a close to break even result of US$5 million profit (estimated costs US$9.4 billion).

Atlanta in 1996 “broke even” with a profit of US$10 million, due largely to the most extreme commercial sponsorship.

Then to Sydney in 2000, which is still being hailed as a success. But what is a success? Certainly not the finances, at the end of the day the Sydney Games cost US$3.8 billion and left a US$2.1 billion hole in the budget.

It was trumpeted that the Games would increase tourism and create jobs in the construction of the various stadia and facilities. However, the people who built the stadiums weren’t removed from the unemployment lists, but were taken from their current jobs and simply transplanted to the Games preparation.

Tourism was also going to massively increase following the Olympics, but it seems that nothing of the sort occurred. Once the Sydney closing ceremony was over, everyone went home and didn’t return, with no lasting “tourism legacy” left in the wake of the Games.

Athens in 2004 was so bad for Greek finances that the US$15 billion price tag (€50,000 per Greek household) was thought to be a causative factor in the Greek financial crisis.

China in 2008 went dizzyingly over the top, and spent US$40 billion on the Olympics, and claim a profit of US$146 million, another “break even” amount. It is recorded that China has no legacy debt from the Games thought to be due to the staggering amounts of capital China has, so a mere US$40 billion could be absorbed with ease.

London in 2012 "broke even" with a profit of £52.8 million (US$75.2 million) on US$10.4 billion cost.

The Winter Olympics of 2014 in Sochi cost – and I can hardly believe I am writing this, an estimated US$51 billion – with no confirmable record of what debt has been left.

And finally, Rio in 2016 has a projected infrastructure bill of US$10 billion.

So if the capitals of the east coast are indeed serious about hosting the Olympics in 2028, then they are having a laugh at the same time.

Considering the ongoing talk this week as we run up to the next budget, which has a deficit for Australia running at around $47 billion over the next four years, then Australia would do well to drop this damn silly idea now and spend what money they do have on health, education and the environment.

I also noted with a distinct lack of surprise that the Olympic committee – and there’s a snouts-in-the-trough organisation if ever there was one – are saying that Tony Abbott is “open” to the 2028 Olympic bid idea. 

All I can say about that is, if Abbott does support this financial idiocy, then it will be the last "captain’s pick" he ever performs, as any shred of financial credibility the Federal Government may have had will disappear at that moment.

Lachlan Barker blogs at cyclonecharlie88.blogspot.com.au. You can follow him on Twitter @cyclonecharlie8.

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