Do the Olympics hurt more people than it benefits?

Alex Michael Binoy
Thursday, 22 July 2021

Since the turn of the 20th century, the Olympics arena has been the center stage for various scandals and controversies.

Well, it is happening! With new Covid19 cases on the rise and a fourth wave still conspicuous, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Japan's government stand firm on their decision to continue with the most 'prestigious' sporting event in history. Although whether one should put 'prestigious' and 'olympics' together in the same sentence is debatable.

Since the turn of the 20th century, the Olympics arena has been the center stage of various scandals and controversies. Nations buying votes for a bid to host the games, sexual abuse scandals, political stand by athletes, the ever-tenacious issue of doping- you got enough content here if you are a fan of the crime genre.

The Tokyo 2020 is no different. There are enough reports on the corruption behind Tokyo securing the host status for the 2020 Olympics. This is alongside concerns of the safety of the baseball and softball venues in Fukushima, which witnessed a nuclear accident just a decade ago. And shall we remind ourselves about the ongoing pandemic which has encompassed Japan in a fourth wave of cases? There has been a 70% increase in the daily number of new confirmed Covid19 cases in the last 10 days. IOC President Thomas Bach's promise of a "safe and secure" Olympics hasn't resonated with the public well either. A nationwide survey conducted in May showed that 83% of the residents who polled wanted the games to be postponed or completely scrapped.

Recently, Bach proclaimed that “no sports events, neither in Japan or in the world, have had such strict anti-Covid protocols like these Olympic Games." But even though a lot of protocols have been put in place- like spectators being prevented from watching from the stands and daily testing of participants- experts say that it is not enough to prevent a surge in cases. “It’s a perfect opening scene for a thrilling movie where everyone gets sick with Delta all over the world, and they trace it to the Olympics,” says Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California to the Scientific American. “The Olympics are not only just a local potential super spreading event in a poorly vaccinated country but [could perhaps become] a global super spreading event.”

In what should pose as a warning to the organisers, three athletes, two of whom are staying at the Olympic Village, have already tested positive in Tokyo, along with five 'games concerned personnel', one contractor, and a journalist, taking the tally to 10 cases detected in a single day.

Modern Olympics has been marketed to us with stories of patriotism and perseverance. Most people tune into their television to support their country during the games. For those few days every four years, everyone in a nation comes together to applaud and cheer for the athlete who got their nation's emblem on their chest. It might be stitched to every Indian's brain the feeling of seeing India's first individual gold Olympic medal around Abhinav Bindra's neck in Beijing 2008 while the Indian national anthem played on the television echoed across the room.

But this doesn't necessarily mean that the same emotions apply to the organisers who want to keep the Olympics running. Critics of the Olympics have said that IOC priorities television viewership over athletes. Jules Boykoff, a professor of political science at Pacific University in Oregon and author of four books on the Olympic Games, has repeatedly criticised the IOC for placing commercial interests above the safety of athletes.

What once stood as a model for development and increased economical activity has started losing its charm. Fewer cities bid to host the games now due to not being able to cover the expensive, logistical demands of hosting the games. If they do cross that first barrier, then comes the city's residents, who know too well the impact the games had on the residents of previous host cities.

In 1999 UN-Habitat noted that approximately 720,000 people were displaced to ‘beautify’ those parts of Seoul which would receive media attention.160 Poor neighbourhoods were often disproportionately prone to these evictions. In Beijing, at least 1.25 million people are estimated to have been displaced as part of the massive urban development drive associated with the upcoming Olympics (with displacements of another 250,000 people still expected before the Games), and thousands are being pushed into poverty as a result. Olympic Games are also likely to affect the housing market forces and make affordable rental housing a remote dream for the less well-off. In Barcelona, some commentators claim new house prices rose by 250percent between the 1986 announcement of the election of Barcelona as Host City and the actual event in 1992.161 In Sydney, real estate speculation led to the eviction of long-term tenants throughout the greater city, and the number of homeless nearly tripled over a five year period.162 The Olympic Games may accelerate gentrification of working class or immigrant neighbourhoods, and are thus likely to disproportionately affect the vulnerable and marginalised within society.163 The Olympic Games can also be used as a pretext for removing ethnic minorities such as the Roma in Athens, or communities of migrant workers such as in Beijing.                   

-Extract from Fair Play for Housing Rights: Mega-Events, Olympic Games and Housing Rights


Since 1960, the Olympics has without fail managed to overrun its budget, at an average of 172%. Tokyo 2020, with all the postponing of dates due to the pandemic, is not going to show a different story. In fact, the pandemic has put more financial burden on Japan's capital city. When Tokyo won the bidding back in 2013, the total cost was estimated to be $7.3 billion. This shot up to $12.6 billion when the budget was calculated in 2019. In December 2020, during an online conference, organisers said the Olympics will cost $15.4 billion to stage. How much of this money will come from the public budget is still not clear.

Even after taking into consideration all of these, it is highly doubtful that the Olympics will be decommissioned anytime soon. For athletes across the globe, the Olympics still acts as an arena to showcase a talent they trained their whole life for. But if the Olympics Committee does not bring some reforms to their ways, it will be the common man at the host cities who will get hurt behind the grandeur of the games.

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