It’s decided: Paris will host the 2024 Olympic Games. But this adventure is borne more by politics than sport, and we could be forgiven for asking if it is really necessary. And just how much will this mass entertainment cost the taxpayer?
Paris has beaten Los Angeles in the race to host the 2024 Olympic Games. But where are the joyous Parisians celebrating in the streets? Nowhere to be seen. Only the official figures directly involved — such as President Macron, the mayor of Paris, and the sports club directors — see this as a victory for France. Exactly what type of victory remains to be seen. Above all, the French are wondering how much the Games are going to cost them. And they’re right. Every country to have hosted the Games over the last 30 years has found itself laden with ruined buildings and long-term debts. Greece is the most pertinent example to date. The country drove itself into debt to host the Games, and the former Olympic buildings are now dilapidated. This is how the Greek crisis began.
The main objective of the Olympic Games is to glorify the host nation as part of a political strategy. Tokyo welcomed the Games in 1964 to demonstrate that Japan had become a pacifistic country by rebuilding bridges with the old world 20 years after the war. South Korea followed suit in 1988 to position itself as a great nation on the global stage. Moscow’s 1980 Olympics vaunted the city as the capital of a universal empire, and Beijing proved the world had to reckon with China in 2008. London hosted the Games in 2012 to remind international players that the British Empire still held a certain sway, while Rio 2016 showed that Brazil was no longer a third-world country.
So what are Paris’ motivations? Many of them come down to a certain national vanity. The event’s promotors are quick to remind people that the Olympics were reinvented by a Frenchman, Pierre de Coubertin, and above all that France is still a leading economic, cultural and sporting power. Despite being told the financial benefits will be legion for the French, is anyone actually convinced? The taxpayer will inevitably have to pay a hefty check.
The only, rare Olympic Games that didn’t cost the taxpayer a cent were those that were privately managed. And this has only happened in the United States; in Atlanta in 1996, in Salt Lake City in 2002, and most probably in Los Angeles in 2028. The U.S. organizers take the contemporary Olympic Games to their logical conclusion: As competitive sports have become a form of mass entertainment in which all amateurism is excluded, the management of such events may as well be handed over to entertainment and media professionals. The Los Angeles Games will be a business, managed like a business, which explains the total indifference of L.A. inhabitants to their city being chosen as host.
I have no doubt that the good sports in Paris will celebrate the Olympic Games in 2024. But after the festivities, they will wonder how to pay for it. This is how Louis XIV built the Château de Versailles — with no fixed budget, nor financial constraints. However, the king was then forced to melt down the solid silver furniture to pay for it. It is quite astounding the extent to which the long history of nations — because it repeats itself — is brimming with lessons.