The London Olympics will be held from 27 July to 12 August 2012, with the usual propaganda about the gains the Olympics bring to the hosting country. Usually such assertions do not consider the full costs of the games, including building the infrastructure and venue. The UK taxpayer is footing a large part of the bill.
As usual, I will not be watching. To me the Olympic movement represents corruption and excess and I would not be disappointed if the costs of London proved so overwhelming that future bids became more realistic or even if the Olympics were to be substantially downsized. The Olympics has moved well away from the objectives of Pierre de Coubertin, which was to encourage physical exercise by showing what amateurs could achieve in competition. Increasingly the games have become elitist and provide no connection with the average person.
It is also a convenient fiction that competitors are representing their country rather than themselves. It is the competitor that receives the glory, recognition and often profit. Spectators might enjoy the spectacle; this is reflected in the cost of tickets and the substantial amounts paid by television stations to the Olympic movement.
For various reasons, the Australian taxpayer provides significant subsidies to athletes and to the Australian Olympic Committee. Yet the taxpayer never get a return on that investment.
If a student goes to an Australian university, he or she will usually receive a subsidy through the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) for undergraduates, which is a contingent loan repayable when the student’s taxable income rises above a certain level (about $45,000 now). The HECS scheme (now HECS-HELP and FEE-HELP) recognises that a student internalises the benefits of tertiary education, while there is a public subsidy component for the positive externalities of such education.
Yet a similar scheme does not apply to elite athletes, where the costs are considerably greater than any university place and where, arguably, the benefits are more fully internalised by the athlete. This is a distortion, and Australian athletes should be required to repay some of the costs of their training when they have sufficient financial resources.
Let us return the Olympics to Ancient Olympia, where they were held from 776 BC to 394 AD. That is where the true Olympic spirit lies. Surely the Greek Government could run the competition each four years, as its ancestors did, with less corruption than the present Olympic movement? This could be Greece’s future: tourism and games. Why not bring back the four panhellenic games: the Pythian Games at Delphi, the Nemean Games at Nemea, the Isthmian Games at Corinth and the Olympic Games at Olympia? A series of four relatively small games held each two years in Greece would be a fantastic addition to Greece’s tourist potential and help protect and discover its rich ancient history. The events would be limited to those held in the ancient games.
Even the families of Olympic athletes seem to think that taxpayer should pay for their tickets and flights to London. Outrageous! Stephanie Rice who has gorged on the public teat for more than six years and has made hundreds of thousands of dollars in sponsorship deals, thinks they are essential to her performance: buy them a ticket then Stephanie!