July 04, 2016

All good things come to an end

Once upon a time the World's Fair was a huge deal. In the 1930's it was held in NYC and it was a real event. I remember when I was a kid it was held in Seattle, and we visited and that was a big deal, too. They built the Space Needle for it and installed the monorail in downtown, which is still running, 50 years later.

But these days they aren't really very important; I don't even know where the last couple were held, indeed if they were held recently at all. The Vancouver world's fair was rather lackluster but I think it was Nashville that started the death spiral.

Now I think that the Olympics are going to face the same fate, and this year is the beginnning of the end. All reports are that the games in Rio de Janeiro are going to be a disaster. It's supposed to take place in August and some of the facilities aren't complete yet. The drinking water there is contaminated and the area around the site is crime-ridden. The area of ocean where all the yachting events are supposed to take place is contaminated with unprocessed sewage.

And there's the Zika virus and the mosquitos that carry it. Plus the Russian track team isn't being permitted to attend because of a drugging scandal. And the laboratory which was supposed to do all the drug tests can't because its equipment doesn't work and its people have been bribed. Or something like that.

Meanwhile, the City of Rio is broke and may not be able to provide the services (like police) that are required.

So this game will be a disaster. But will it begin the downturn, like Nashville did for the World's Fairs?

UPDATE: Sorry, Knoxville, not Nashville!

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in Weird World at 09:58 PM | Comments (18) | Add Comment
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1 Another reason I think we're looking at the beginning of the end is that putting on a game is getting absurdly expensive. The Sochi winter games cost something like $56 billion, for example. It looks like a fair amount of that was because of corruption but even without that it's a preposterous amount of money.

And the site selection process was revealed a long time ago as being thoroughly corrupt, involving a lot of bribery. Myself, I can't figure out why any city would want to have anything to do with this, and one way it might end is that for some year no one comes forward with a bid.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at July 04, 2016 10:55 PM (+rSRq)

2 The Sydney Olympics went off with barely a blip.  Despite being more than three times the size of the Sochi Winter Olympics, they cost about, hmm, $7 billion in today's money.  We (being the state of New South Wales, which ultimately footed the bill) lost money overall, but less than what we currently run as an annual budget surplus.

One proposal I saw that makes a lot of sense is for the Summer Olympics to be permanently hosted in Athens and for the competing nations to contribute to the cost.  Probably never happen because it would drastically reduce the opportunity for graft.

If you want to get really depressed, look at what's going on with Qatar's preparation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.  (That's soccer, for countries that play real football.)  They're spending the equivalent of their annual GDP on it.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at July 05, 2016 12:53 AM (PiXy!)

3 Functionally, the Summer Olympics can only be held in about 7-10 cities in the World.  They already have the infrastructure and capacity to deal with the event.  Even the upcoming Tokyo Olympics (2020 Summer Games) is looking to be a bit of a stretch for the Japanese.
They're much like monument building: if they're cheap, it's not a problem; if they're expensive, it's a huge disaster.    Which is why you need locations that already have nearly all of the facilities and don't need to build new ones.   This limits your options to: LA, NYC, London, Paris, Berlin and some collection of a few other major capitals.    Otherwise, you're looking at wasted capital expenses in the billions.
The downfall of the Olympics, though, I believe was the 2004 Games in Athens.  That actually is what blew up the Greek government budget trying to cover the costs, which would eventually set off their financial crisis.  Small countries simply can't afford the outlays, and most of the recent countries have viewed the Olympics as a way to show-off.  Thus China's monster expenses for the 2008 games.

Posted by: sqa at July 05, 2016 05:08 AM (Zcnzi)

4 Boston recently tried to bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics.  The bid itself was almost as much of a debacle as the Rio games will be.  Bostonians (really Bay Staters in general) rejected the idea, mostly because they didn't believe the rose-colored ROI promises.  Fortunately the idea was killed before tons of public money was sunk into the project, and it was mostly the people who stood to gain the most left holding the bag.
And let's not get into why Boston would be hosting the Summer Olympics instead of the Winter one.... 

Posted by: StargazerA5 at July 05, 2016 07:51 AM (5YSpE)

5 One of the proposed soccer venues for the Tokyo Olympics is in Sapporo, over 500 miles away. That will probably be easier to reach than the venues in Odaiba. (apparently the soccer venues won't be finalized until after the Rio disaster finishes; everything else is set, including moving the cycling events out to Izu)

If I go to Japan in 2020, it will either be Kyoto in the spring (avoiding all the last-minute infrastructure work) or Tokyo in the fall (after all the cleanup is done). I don't want to be anywhere near Olympic crowds.


Posted by: J Greely at July 05, 2016 08:52 AM (ZlYZd)

6 I went to 1980 Olympics and it was pretty fun, all things considered. A dozen of teams participated under Olympic flag, that being the time of Cold War. We're getting back to that.

In general though, is anyone interested anymore? I think I may muster a modicum of interest in women's beach volleyball, now that women's tennis is what it has become. But I won't go out of my way to watch. If it were a DOTA2 match, that would be different.

Posted by: Pete Zaitcev at July 05, 2016 08:58 AM (XOPVE)


...most of the recent countries have viewed the Olympics as a way to show-off.  Thus China's monster expenses for the 2008 games.

That is exactly it - most countries bidding for the Olympics these days want it as their international 'debutante coming out party'.  For that matter, you could say a lot of the past ones have been the same way, like 1964 Tokyo, 1968 Mexico City and 1988 Seoul (Which shocked the North Koreans when Seoul's bid actually won.).  Economics have damn little to do with it anymore - the Olympics that had good management (1984 Los Angeles, for example.) are the rarity.  That is why Brazil went for 2016, and that is why Turkey was aiming for the Olympics as well.

What is becoming clear is that the bids that are winning are coming from countries lacking the economic foundations to support extravagance like the Olympics.  South Korea could afford to the 1988 Olympics back then (Now would be a different matter.) - not even the most optimistic person would have thought Greece could afford the 2004 Olympics under the best circumstances.

Posted by: cxt217 at July 05, 2016 03:34 PM (BlSya)


That was why Nashville was the beginning of the end of the World Fairs. Before that, a city would host the World Fair as a way of bringing attention to the city, a "coming out party" as you say.

Nashville saw the fair as a way of making money. They hoped it would bring in more money (tourism, and so on) than they spent putting it on. As a result, they cut things to the bone; there weren't all that many exhibits and most of those were lackluster.

Brazil probably intended the Rio Olympics to be a "coming out" party, but when they made the bid, they didn't expect the world to go into recession, and now they simply don't have the money to make it work.

And the Zika virus scare certainly didn't help any.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at July 05, 2016 04:28 PM (+rSRq)

9 Nashville?  Knoxville, perhaps.

Posted by: Mark A. Flacy at July 05, 2016 05:33 PM (ATlQg)

10 Speaking of World's Fairs, I had considered going to the 2005 one for my first trip to Japan, but the scheduling didn't work out. Looking it up, they apparently made a decent profit on it, and the park they built still gets traffic.

Wikipedia on the Knoxville fair links to an AP story saying that it turned a $57 profit, but that Knoxville was left with $46 million in debt (paid off in 2007). The 2010 Shanghai Expo was reportedly a huge success, but the three billion dollars the city invested wasn't counted against the revenue, and they're apparently still spending money to get the site renovated into a business district.

As for the upcoming Expos in Kazakhstan and Dubai, I don't see them drawing big Western crowds, although I imagine they'll get Asian tourists.


Posted by: J Greely at July 05, 2016 06:33 PM (ZlYZd)

11 You're right; it was Knoxville, not Nashville.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at July 05, 2016 06:35 PM (+rSRq)

12 CNN: Rio police tell tourists they won't be able to protect them

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at July 05, 2016 06:40 PM (+rSRq)

13 I grew up in Tennessee, so the difference between K-town and Nashville was easy to see. (Of course, one has Instapundit and the other doesn't...)

I have absolutely no doubt that I would fail any similar test between two relatively large cities in Washington state or any other place in which I have not lived.

Posted by: Mark A. Flacy at July 05, 2016 07:51 PM (ATlQg)

14 The Brazilian prostitutes are now holding an Olympic sales on their services.  The much promised 2014 World Cup boom fizzled and they're still looking for that fabled sexed up sport tourists.  Brazil is currently in the running for the worse run Olympic, with competition with Sochi 2014, Athens 2004, Montreal 1976 (where they were paying for that overly ambitious retractable dome stadium until 2006).
I just can't wait to see how NBC Sports spins this in their broadcast, not that I ever watch the Olympics anyway.

Posted by: BigFire at July 06, 2016 02:39 PM (O7l6D)

15 I figure there will be at least three more Summer Games on schedule. Beyond that I am dubious. Oddly, the Winter Games might do better, because they are less expensive to put on.

Posted by: Boviate at July 06, 2016 07:45 PM (XRvFv)

16 There's a significant risk that could kill it all off. The American broadcast networks pay a grotesquely large amount of money for the broadcast rights each time. If, however, the ratings collapse then the networks won't be willing to ante up as much cash, and that will completely change the entire economic picture, and could begin a downward spiral.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at July 06, 2016 08:13 PM (+rSRq)

17 Maybe CCTV (Central China Television - i.e. the TV propaganda arm of the PRC government.) can step in with funding.  If the Olympics coverage is going to provide the viewers with Communist propaganda, they should have a (notionally) Communist government pay for it.

Posted by: cxt217 at July 06, 2016 08:18 PM (KlK5I)

18 I wonder if splitting them so there'd be an event every two years instead of four hurt?  I know they feel a lot more mundane now.

Posted by: RickC at July 08, 2016 09:21 PM (l0khk)

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