Olympics lose lustre as potential hosts ditch Games dream

The external covering at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium, which opens to the public only on weekends, is falling off just six months after the Rio Games. The Brazilian organisers, like many others before them, had promised there would be no white elepha
The external covering at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium, which opens to the public only on weekends, is falling off just six months after the Rio Games. The Brazilian organisers, like many others before them, had promised there would be no white elephants after the crowds and athletes went home.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • From Athens to Sochi and on to Rio, stadiums and arenas in varying stages of decay are symbols of the crisis facing the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Budapest's decision on Wednesday to withdraw its bid for the 2024 Summer Games leaves just two cities and both former hosts - Los Angeles and Paris - competing to play host to sport's biggest event.

The decision by the Hungarian capital came after thousands signed a petition urging the local authorities not to pursue what would be a multi-billion-dollar project.

Perhaps mindful of the wastelands that now mark sites of previous Games, local politicians and bid leaders met and backed down.

Just six months after Rio's US$20 billion (S$28.1 billion) Games ended, several of the expensively built venues are struggling to find new occupants.

Some, including the swimming venue where Michael Phelps won his record 28th medal, are already falling into disrepair.

Hosting the Olympics is a "question that affects every taxpayer" and therefore should be subject to a referendum, Andras Fekete-Gyor, president of Hungary's Momentum, the group that collected enough signatures to force a plebiscite, told RTL television on Tuesday.

Hungarian officials decided to withdraw from the race before a referendum could be held.

The IOC has pointed out the transformational changes that its events can bring to cities, usually citing the impact on 1992 host Barcelona, which regenerated its waterfront.

But it should also claim ownership of the failures it leaves in its wake, said Tim Crow, chief executive officer of London-based sports sponsorship agency Synergy, whose clients have included several Olympic sponsors.

"When legacy works through big infrastructure projects, they want to claim all the credit but when critics say they cost the taxpayer billions they say, 'that's not our budget'," he said.

IOC president Thomas Bach has been aware of the problems since assuming office in 2013.

He pushed through the so-called Agenda 2020, an attempt to tackle mounting costs and a lack of interest among the world's youth. But that has not stopped the two most recent bids for the Winter and Summer Games ending with just two cities in the final race.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 25, 2017, with the headline 'Olympics lose lustre as potential hosts ditch Games dream'. Print Edition | Subscribe