- Several Olympics of the last two decades have faced questions over vote-buying, including the upcoming 2020 Games.
- In the past two decades, both the overt and hidden costs to host the games have ballooned, with host cities picking up the tab.
- Although corruption allegations appear to be consistent, with the increasing costs, in the last couple of years, many cities and countries have pulled out of bids for the games.
Authors Note: During the research for this piece about the Olympics, I found more information than I couldn’t fit into the video. I wanted to share some of those details with you, so what follows below is a more detailed version of the video we have produced! Thanks for watching.
What It Takes To Host The Olympics
The Olympic host city is determined by a multi-year bid process that involves significant planning from the prospective host city. International Olympic Committee (IOC) members visit the potential cities and evaluate the plans and visions of the cities. In the case of the 2024 Olympics candidature process, the IOC required a total fee of $250,000. The planning phase alone typically accounts for tens of millions of dollars in expenditures from host cities. Chicago spent around $100 million in a failed bid for 2012, and Tokyo spent upwards of $150 million in their failed 2016 bid, according to Transparency International.
The bid process most recently changed in December 2014, governing bids for the 2020 Olympics and onwards. The IOC claims their new process is designed for cities to create a Games that “fits their sporting, economic, social and environmental long-term planning needs” while also “reducing costs for bidding…and providing a significant financial contribution from the IOC.”
That process lasts about two years in total, with cities sometimes dropping out of the bid at one of the three stages of the process. Stage one encompasses mostly planning and the vision for the Games, while Stages two and three focus more on the concrete: legal considerations, venue funding, how the Games interact with government, and of course, delivering the Games. The IOC Candidature page states, “Olympic Agenda 2020 has highlighted the need for a shift in the candidature process in order to accommodate different solutions to meet Games needs within different cities’ contexts. To enable this the IOC has placed even further emphasis on sustainability and legacy.”
The History of Olympic Corruption
The reality is that the newest policies do little to address what appears to be continued vote-buying in the Olympic bid process – vote-buying that was perhaps most prominently exposed in 1998 over the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. After multiple investigations, including one chaired by a former U.S. Senator, what was exposed was an extensive vote-buying scheme where roughly $1.2 million of cash, scholarships, jobs, medical treatment, shopping sprees, and other expenses made their way into IOC delegates’ hands from the Salt Lake City Olympic Committee. In total, 10 IOC members either resigned or were forced out, and several indictments were levied against bid committee members.
In the midst of the investigations into Salt Lake City, Japan’s 1998 Nagano Games came under question. According to Japanese media, the bid committee for the 1998 Nagano Olympics spent an average of $22,000 on 62 visiting IOC members, but the records were conveniently destroyed. Richard Pound, head of one of the independent investigations and former vice-president of the IOC, claimed, to the credit of the IOC, that it neither fostered nor encouraged corruption in its delegates.
Even though the IOC allegedly didn’t encourage corruption, they still responded to the scandal by instituting significant reforms that include a still-extant Ethics Commission and a special commission to write a new Code of Ethics. Part of the IOC’s reforms included prohibiting from visiting potential host cities. Andrew Zimbalist, Professor of Economics at Smith College and author of several books on the Olympic games, told Rogue Rocket that the bid process for the 2002 Olympics had great potential for bribing IOC members, especially when visiting cities.
“The potential host cities had open game to lavish all sorts of extravagant entertainment on these people, in some cases to give them cash bribes, in other cases to give the children of the members of the IOC free college tuition, in other cases to take them to massage parlors, qua prostitution venues,” Zimbalist explained.
An investigation of the 2000 Sydney Olympics found that two IOC members received paid trips to European sports events. In 2000, the New York Times reported that “About 30 of the I.O.C.’s 114 delegates have been linked to improprieties in bidding processes for those Games.”
In 2004, the BBC’s Panorama team aired an investigative report detailing their efforts to pose as local consultancy firm interested in helping bring the Olympics to London in 2012. The team connected with representatives who claimed they knew how to bribe certain IOC members – some members were susceptible to gifts, while others “just believe in sport.” One IOC member, Ivan Slavkov, met with the Panorama team and was eventually suspended for it. Slavkov claimed that he was posing as a double-agent, actually there to catch the vote-buyers, telling the BBC, “Whatever I could say during the meeting was intended to trap the ‘corruptors’.”
Despite the fact that less IOC members visit host cities today, Zimbalist told Rogue Rocket that “it doesn’t really do anything to stop vote buying or backstage dealing among members of the IOC.”
Carlos Nuzman, President of Brazil’s Olympic Committee was ensnared in a vote-buying scandal in 2017. The IOC suspended Nuzman for allegedly coordinating a two million dollar payment to an influential Senegalese athlete, Lamine Diack, to secure votes from delegates of African nations. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were found in Nuzman’s home. In Japan, Takeda Tsunekazu, the head of the Japanese Olympic Committee, is facing allegations that he also coordinated with Diack to buy votes through a separate channel – and perhaps most tellingly, for the same amount of $2 million. Takeda announced that he will resign this summer.
The Costs & Benefits of The Olympics
Yet even with the consistent peppering of vote-buying allegations plaguing the IOC, there is little question that the Games are perhaps the greatest stage for athletes, countries, movements, and ideas. What price can you put on the triumph of the U.S. Ice Hockey team over the perceived “Soviet Menace” in the 1980 Olympics? Is a bought vote outweighed by the symbolic gesture of Cathy Freeman, a member of Australia’s subjugated native population, lighting the Olympic torch in her own country’s Olympics?
The IOC seems highly attuned to the idea that the Olympics promote something intangibly more, highlighting the nebulous term “legacy” in promoting how past games have lived through to today. In fact, the Olympic YouTube channel has an entire series of videos dedicated to legacy, frequently using rhetoric like “touching millions of people” in the case of Beijing in 2008. Sometimes developmental achievements are highlighted, like when the IOC describes Barcelona in 1992 as an example for the Games “to transform [a city’s] urban landscape, strengthen its position on the world map, and create broader social and environmental benefits.” The IOC’s website and promotional materials for hosting the Games are littered with such lofty ideas.
The IOC website also spotlights more distinct economic stats from specific games: The Sydney games are estimated to have boosted GDP by around $5 billion, created more than 100,000 new jobs, and boosted tourism. The 2016 Rio Games, perhaps most known for their now-abandoned venues and stagnant water reportedly boosted foreign tourism by about 4.8 percent the year of the Olympics.
However, there is more than ample evidence that suggests the Olympics are exceptionally costly for the cities and countries that host them. Costs have grown enormously in the last decade, with no profit benefit for the host cities and countries’ governments. The 2004 games in Greece cost around $11 billion, and has even been credited with pushing Greece into a spiral of financial instability. The 2018 Pyeongchang games cost about $13 billion dollars, and one stadium will reportedly have been used just four times before being demolished. Authoritarian governments have been even more willing to pay top dollar for the exercise in theater that the Games have become: 2008 in Beijing cost roughly $40 billion with only about $3.6 billion in revenue; 2014 in Sochi, Russia cost about $50 billion, with a recurring maintenance bill of nearly $1 billion per year for taxpayers.
When speaking with Professor Zimbalist, he explained that part of the reason for this explosion of cost is how the Games have changed. “They were supposed to be athletic events, they were never supposed to be construction events.” The Games have “become very focused on this false notion of promoting economic development, of promoting infrastructure development, and paying attention to construction profits.” The IOC did not respond to our request for an interview.
Besides the monetary cost of the Olympics, the production of the Games has engendered less visible costs like displacement and ecological damage. “In most urban environments where land is scarce, and millions of people are living in the areas, people have to be moved,” Zimbalist said. For Beijing, Rio, and 1996 in Atlanta, thousands, and in some cases, millions were pushed out of their homes to make way for facilities. Producing the Sochi games amounted to declining biodiversity. The 2018 Pyeongchang games destroyed a forest of around 58,000 trees and displaced a village for a ski course.
But amidst the enormous costs that the Olympics have spawned, the 1984 Los Angeles games stands out as a trend-breaker. While those games took place before the more recent trend of increasing costs, they were the only to generate a budget surplus. The reasons are multiple: it was a privately funded games that benefited from the expertise of Peter Ueberroth, a business and marketing executive who would become MLB’s commissioner in 1984; a plethora of infrastructure already existed to support the Games, including hospitality and athletic stadiums; and Los Angeles received financial concessions from the IOC since interest in hosting the Games had been waning leading up to the bid for the 1984 games.
However, opponents of the upcoming 2028 Los Angeles Olympics believe there are plenty of reasons to reject the Games. Steve Ducey, an Organizer for NOlympics LA told Rogue Rocket that “displacement and gentrification” in Los Angeles communities, the “militarization of our police force” and the “diversion of public resources” are front of mind. “We see time as one of the most valuable resources that our city officials have. And how much time are they spending trying to welcome the world for 2028 when they could be spending that time addressing the things that are problems in the city right now.” Los Angeles suffers from a notoriously sticky homeless crisis that Cody Snell from our team examined earlier this year, highlighting that nearly 50,000 people were homeless in 2018. LA 2028 did not respond to our request for an interview.
Despite the costs that have become increasingly obvious in recent years, vote-buying scandals have not ceased to plague the Games. It is almost a wonder that a two-week celebration of sport that brings cities to a screeching halt could still be sought after.
Growing Disinterest in Hosting The Olympics
As these costs have become more evident to prospective host cities, protests and referendums have erupted in opposition to potential host cities’ bids for the Games. Hamburg, Boston, Innsbruck, Rome, Norway, and Calgary have all rejected the Olympics in varying capacities over the last couple years. Thus, a move away from the Olympics was born – and not for the first time. “There was a trend away several decades ago. In 1978, countries and cities were not interested in bidding,” on the back of disasters like the Munich Massacre at the 1972 games, Zimbalist explained.
The IOC is “at the precipice of having basically destroyed the interest around the world in hosting the Games because of what a heavy burden it has been in a financial way, in an environmental way, and in a social way,” Zimbalist told Rogue Rocket. Perhaps the IOC is awaiting another savior in Los Angeles for the 2028 games. But the IOC will have to grind through the scandal of the Tokyo Olympics, another fight with pollution in Beijing in 2022, a potentially underprepared Paris in 2024, and an as-of-yet unknown contender for 2026, before getting to their poster child – Los Angeles.
Thousands Protest in Russia Demanding Release of Putin Foe Alexei Navalny
- Russia faced some of the largest protests it has seen in recent years after thousands took to the streets Saturday demanding the government release opposition figure Alexei Navalny.
- Russian authorities declared the protests illegal and detained more than 3,500 people from more than 100 cities, including Navalny’s wife.
- The government also released a statement addressing Navalny by name for the first time, attempting to discredit claims he has made, including the idea that President Vladimir Putin has a billion-dollar villa on the Black Sea coast.
Largest Russian Protests in Recent History
Russia experienced some of its largest protests in years Saturday after opposition figure Alexei Navalny called for demonstrations to be held following his arrest.
Supporters demanded Navalny’s release but also called for an end to perceived rampant corruption in the Russian state.
Tens of thousands took to the streets and clashed with police in more than 100 cities, with independent monitors claiming that 3,500 people were detained by police. Among those detained was Yulia Navalnaya, Navalny’s wife, who was targeted by authorities during the protests. She is reported to have been released by Russian media agencies such as TASS.
Despite Russian authorities declaring the protests illegal and warning of repercussions for those who attend, the protests managed to reach a wide range of people. According to the New York Times, over ⅓ of protesters in Moscow said they had never protested before.
Despite the movements current popularity, it may be difficult to turn the popular, anti-Putin movement into something more.The protesters span a broad range of the political spectrum, from far-left communist and anarchist groups to nationalists and libertarians, meaning that while they dislike Putin and the corruption in the Russian government, they agree on little else.
Changing the Message
The protests unveiled a new shift in how Russian authorities deal with Navalny. In the past, authorities and state-backed media never mentioned him by name in order to downplay him; however, that changed this weekend.
Newscasters aired multiple programs to discredit him and paint him as a tool of the West, while Putin denied Navalny’s claims that he has a secret, billion-dollar villa on the coast of the Black Sea. Based on his salary of $133,000 a year, Putin would only be able to afford a single home in Russia. However, there is speculation that due to corruption and embezzling, Putin is likely the actual richest person alive.
Regarding Navalny himself, he’s still in jail pending court proceedings on Feb. 2. If those go poorly for Navalny, he could be in prison until the mid-2020s, but he is more concerned about his immediate future.
In a video to supporters prior to the protests, he made it clear that he has no intention of committing suicide. That statement was likely made due to the fact that many Russian dissidents seem to die via suicide, with much speculation about whether or not that was actually the case.
See what others are saying: (New York Times) (Business Insider) (Associated Press)
Some Flyers Are Forging Old COVID-19 Tests To Travel
- As a number of countries and airlines impose rules requiring negative COVID tests up to 72 before flights, more and more people have been forging old tests to make them look new.
- In a recent report from Vice’s Motherboard, two anonymous men detailed how they forged documents to avoid having to pay for new ones.
- “Fun fact, the document was in French whereas they were in Sweden the day it was supposedly made, but [airport officials] didn’t see a problem in that,” one man told Motherboard.
Forging Old COVID-19 Tests
Many countries are now requiring flyers to present negative COVID-19 tests no more than 72 hours before they board planes; however, some people are reportedly forging their test results to get around the restrictions.
According to Vice’s Motherboard, one anonymous individual used Photoshop to change the date of several of his friends’ older coronavirus tests.
“Fun fact, the document was in French whereas they were in Sweden the day it was supposedly made, but [airport officials] didn’t see a problem in that,” the man told the outlet.
Another person told Motherboard that he had changed the date of an old test result using Microsoft Paint in order to travel to Southern Europe for vacation.
Situations like this in Europe are not completely new.
“We needed a COVID-19 test for a family member and I spoke to one travel agent and he said, ‘Get it done and even if it comes out positive we will provide a negative one for you for £50’,” one person told The Sun in October.
While those people seemingly got away with potential forgery crimes, others haven’t.
Last week, it was reported that 45 people were caught trying to enter Croatia with fake COVID tests. Notably, they could each face up to three years in prison for forging documents.
Earlier this month, a 17-year-old Dutch girl was also caught with a forged COVID test while trying to escape quarantine in Switzerland.
Why Are People Forging Documents?
Part of the reason people are forging old COVID-19 tests may be to keep from being barred if a new test comes back positive; however, there also appears to be at least one other major reason: money.
Right now, tests in most European countries are free, but that’s not the case for people trying to go on vacation.
In fact, people traveling for leisure have been warned not to use free COVID-19 testing services to meet flight demands. Instead, they are required to pay out of pocket to have their test sent to a private company.
See what others are saying: (Motherboard) (The Independent) (TravelPulse)
Russia Orders Social Media Sites To Block Calls for Navalny Protests
- Shortly after his arrest on Sunday, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny called for protests to take place on Jan. 23 and was met with a wave of support online.
- In response, the government ordered tech giants like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, and Russian-centric VK to “block all publications with calls to demonstrate on the 23rd.”
- TikTok has already deleted 38% of posts with such calls while VK and YouTube have deleted 50%, and Instagram has removed 17%.
Navalny Calls for Protests
Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny’s return to Russia and subsequent arrest earlier this week has set off a chain of events in the country.
Since his arrest, Navalny has called for protests to occur on Jan. 23. Now, Russian authorities are taking precautions and arresting his allies in an effort to slow down the momentum of the looming demonstrations. Among their many demands are that Navalny be released.
Throughout the week, thousands of posts shared by younger Russians have raged across social media asking that people partake in the protests. The reach of those posts, however, have been curtailed by the government.
Social media tech giants like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, and the Russian-centric VK were ordered by the Russian government to “block all publications with calls to demonstrate on the 23rd.”
Roskomnadzor, the Russian communications watchdog, later stated, “Internet sites will be brought to administrative responsibility in connection with the dissemination of information prohibited by law and aimed at attracting minors to participate in unauthorized mass public events.”
“Participation in such events is in violation of the established procedure, including in a pandemic, and carries risks of harm to life and health,” it added.
Censorship Payoff Unknown
For many of the sites, which are often seen as a way to promote free speech in regimes that are far more restrictive, the order puts them in an awkward position. Still, many have already complied, at least to some extend.
According to Roskomnadzor, Tiktok has deleted 38% of videos calling for minors to attend the protests. VK and YouTube have both deleted 50% of similar posts, while Instagram has removed 17% of posts that violate the regulations.
It’s unclear to what extent this censorship will have on stopping Russians from attending tomorrow’s protests; however, some of the nation’s largest protests in modern history have been organized by Navalny.