US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney chats with journalists on board his campaign plane at the Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on September 28, 2012. With 39 days to go for the election and polls showing an narrowing path to victory for the Republican nominee, Romney warned a second Obama term would be subsumed by economic malaise as he tried to draw the battle away from his own perceived missteps and back to the president's economic record. AFP PHOT
USA TODAY - Are the Olympics worth it? Every two years, Olympic critics argue that the money should be better spent on causes such as fighting poverty and disease. I am a staunch defender of the Olympics, but I think it's time to draw spending boundaries.
Reports claim that China and Russia each spent in the neighborhood of $50 billion on their Olympics. The London Games cost at least $15 billion. Greece's $11 billion Olympics pushed the country toward collapse. Arguably, the Olympics would be worth every penny if the spending were absolutely necessary. But it's not.
Atlanta and Salt Lake City each spent under $3 billion, including security and inflation. Necessity is the mother of frugality. In the United States, unlike every other host country, the money for the Games comes almost exclusively from private sources: sponsorships, broadcast revenue and tickets. The exception is government spending on security and transportation. But in every other host country, the government picks up nearly the entire check.
Too much self-promotion
Why do governments spend so much?
Public-sector inefficiency accounts for some of the gap, and corruption is surely to blame as well. But the big difference is that government personalities are promoting themselves and their country with someone else's money. Governments don't have to stick to a budget: If something costs more than planned, well, they just spend more. In privately financed Games, if something costs more than expected, you must cut something to make up the difference. You meet the budget or you meet the bankruptcy judge.
What's needed for Olympic sport itself is a fraction of what might actually be spent showing off the country and its politicians. The speed skating track for the Nagano Games is reported to have cost $300 million. It's beautiful, boasting a ceiling of decorative wood. The comparable venue in Salt Lake City cost $29 million - one-tenth as much. It wasn't as pretty, but the competitions were every bit as excellent.
If a country wants to show off, what's the harm?
Waste is harm, particularly when need is as great as it is. Harm occurs when a country spends more than it can afford to keep up appearances with the big spenders. Harm occurs when a country is excluded from hosting an Olympics because it can't afford the fabulous frills. And harm occurs when the world's poor look in anguish at the excess.
IOC should set limits
The International Olympic Committee should set budget limits for an Olympics and award Games only to countries that demonstrate that they will live within them. The IOC will need an independent analysis because candidate countries will fudge their budgets. The analysis will consider the pre-existing presence of transportation infrastructure and sport venues, among other features.
Security costs might need to be excluded from the limits because some places are surely more prone to security risks than others. The IOC is up to the task: Its new president, Thomas Bach, is an experienced and accomplished leader.
Some will insist that even at $3 billion, holding an Olympics is still unconscionable.
The Olympics is perhaps the sole event on the world stage that showcases the great qualities of the human spirit, inspiring both young and old. Day after day, we witness the product of determination, hard work, dedication and teamwork. The character, charm and sportsmanship of the athletes in Sochi is a compelling example. The Olympics also brings together people from disparate and sometimes hostile nations, encouraging understanding and promoting prospects for peace.
And finally, for the host country, the Olympics is not about commerce: It is about service - serving the people of the world. I personally attest that the Olympics is the experience of a lifetime for everyone who touches it.
To guarantee that the athletes remain the focus of the Games, and that the Olympics endures for generations to come, it is time to limit the excess.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney was the 2012 Republican nominee for president. He led the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics.
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