Sir Bob Jones
Commentary on issues of the day from the property tycoon, author and former politician

Bob Jones: Cut sports extravaganzas down to realistic size

Laborers work at the main stadium for the 2014 Asian Games during a press preview in Incheon, South Korea. Photo / AP
Laborers work at the main stadium for the 2014 Asian Games during a press preview in Incheon, South Korea. Photo / AP

Vietnam recently advised the Olympic Council of Asia, which administers the 45-nation Asian Games, that for cost reasons it cannot host the 2019 Games. Could this be a forerunner occurrence regarding grand scale sporting events? I say that despite Pakistan and South Korea having also forfeited hosting rights in the past for the same reason, each time Bangkok taking over.

The Asian Games are scarcely reported here, but next to the Olympics they're the world's second-biggest sporting tournament, larger than the Football World Cup because of their 35 different events.

Other major tournaments include the Pan African Games and Commonwealth Games, although excepting the participants, no one cares any longer about the latter. The Commonwealth is an anachronism comprising mostly highly uncommon, conspicuously unwealthy nations. We've hosted three Empire/Commonwealth Games in the past but there'd be a ratepayer revolt if any New Zealand city put their hand up for them today.

Staging these events is viewed as prestigious and justified by grossly exaggerating the ensuing financial bonanza from visitors. We saw that with the Rugby World Cup. Auckland hotels and restaurants took a beating as regular visitors stayed away, evidenced by my Wellington manager being charged $55 at his almost empty hotel in lieu of the normal $250 when he visited our Auckland office.

So too with Sydney and the 2000 Olympics. My Sydney manager phoned and said it seemed like a neutron bomb had fallen on the affluent eastern suburbs given the absence of people and cars. Why? The residents had fled out of town.

This, it seems, is common. In 1982 I visited Calgary to see a specialist book dealer for an esoteric topic I was researching. We arrived at the hotel then promptly cancelled on encountering in the lobby and streets, crowds of fat, middle-aged, shoe salesmen types, wearing cowboy outfits and pulling toy six-shooters on one another then shouting "bang". Regrettably my visit had coincided with the Calgary Stampede. We were then outrageously defamed by the hotel receptionist suggesting if we stayed, we would get into the spirit of it.

After completing my purchases the bookseller said, "I'm out of here now to join my family on holiday," which he claimed huge numbers of embarrassed residents did when the stampede was on. Who can blame them?

All of this has been confirmed by analysts showing the ongoing tourism benefits claims for such events are always false, business travellers and tourists staying away during them.

In recent months Brazil's poor have rioted over the massive stadia expenditure for the forthcoming Football World Cup. They're spending US$200 million on one in Manaus, an Amazonian hellhole with its soaring temperatures and humidity. Of the 12 new and upgraded stadia budgeted to cost circa US$18 billion, analysts assert at least four and possibly eight will prove white elephants with no permanent use. The Brazilian Government commissioned studies claiming long-term economic benefits but these have been ridiculed by economists.

A principal problem is host nations trying to outdo their predecessors in grandeur. The numbers for the Olympics tell the story. The Barcelona Games cost US$850 million, Atlanta $1.6 billion, Sydney $5.6 billion, Athens $15 billion, Beijing $44 billion then a reversal in London down to $11 billion, the city already having a range of good facilities.

Once it was clear the year-long disaster-forecasting stories for the Winter Olympics in Sochi were unjustified, the Western media slammed the cost, reporting this as $51 billion. An American professor, Joseph Campbell, debunked that figure as absurdly exaggerated. In fairness, where a legacy of useful buildings remain, their cost should be deducted. The Sochi expenditure, for example, was to give the city a year-round tourist industry, it being a popular summer destination.

But Auckland's current poser of what to do with the Cloud is reflected in Athens, a city half Auckland's size now littered with unused Olympics-created buildings. That $15 billion outlay would have been a significant contributor to Greece's current troubles. And on a smaller scale, look at Dunedin's financial troubles stemming from its overly ambitious stadium.

It's ironic to recall our Government's Winter Olympics-hosting feasibility inquiry I chaired back in the late 1980s. We did our homework and concluded that based in Queenstown it was doable in practical and cost terms, but that was when Sochi-like extravaganzas were not the norm.

It's overdue for a back-to-basics trimming of the Olympics, particularly the summer Games, cluttered as they are with far too many low-interest events. These can still have their "worlds", the likes of Azerbaijan being big on hosting international minority sports tournaments. As it is, there's now only a dozen nations with the financial wherewithal capable of putting their hand up, and of them, maybe only half willing to do so for fear of a justified public backlash, as we have seen in Brazil.

- NZ Herald

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