Beijing being awarded the 2022 winter games marks, if not the end of the Olympics, the beginning of the end.
While the handing of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar was a gesture of enormous cynicism, giving China the Winter Olympics was one of deep resignation. No one else wanted them.
Sure, Almaty bid for them, but there was no chance that the International Olympic Committee, the fattest of the fat cats, was going to hand their jewel to a nation with more yurts than 5-star hotel rooms.
(I would have loved to have seen the games in Almaty, and though we’d have to hold our noses and look past Kazakstan’s deplorable human rights record, let’s face it, we’ve gotten pretty used to it.)
The IOC’s problem is the cities most suited for the Olympics – the big, rich metropolis in the U.S and Europe with all the best stadia and restaurants – want little to do with them. Boston – as sports-besotted a city as exists – turned its back on the chance to bid for the 2024 games, after polls showed the citizenry had no interest. When people have a say, the Olympics are unwanted. So they’re going to places where the people have no say.
Meanwhile, the spectacle of the games has lost its luster. Once upon a time, the Olympics gave us a glimpse of the remote and exotic. Sapporo! Sarajevo! Lillehammer! But now travel is cheap, and people are bored. Every inch of the globe has been scrutinized by Trip Advisor and documented by Instagram. The picturesque has lost its appeal.
If Beijing, a city 100 miles from the mountains, a city with no snow, a city that just held the summer games, can host the Winter Olympics, why can’t it host every Olympics? It has the money, it has the facilities and it has the hunger for whatever legitimacy the games still bestow. Why shouldn’t the Olympics stay where they’re wanted? Maybe they’ll become like Wimbledon and The Masters – a sports fixture rooted in one spot. More likely, they’ll just fade in relevance as the world loses interest. Even China will realize it’s not worth the money.
I hope not. I’m still a sucker for the Olympics. I love the pageantry, the silly rituals of torch lighting and the nations all marching into the stadium in their quasi-native garb. I still think there’s some value to having the world united and paying attention to something that’s not war or famine. But I think I’m an outlier.
In 1904, the Olympics were held in St. Louis, trading on the popularity of the World’s Fair held in that city. World’s Fairs used to be a big deal, a showcase of people and goods from around the globe. Now they barely register (hands up if you know where this year’s Expo is being held). Sadly, it’s not too hard to see the Olympics following them into oblivion.