- 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.
2,700 Tonnes of Ammonium Nitrate Stash Linked to Beirut Explosion
- Tuesday’s massive explosion in Beirut has left at least 135 dead and 5,000 injured.
- The tragedy is suspected to have been caused by a detonation of more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate that was improperly stored in a warehouse.
- Officials at the port are currently set to be placed under house arrest pending an investigation into the cause of the explosion. Records show officials knew that the nitrate was there and that it was dangerous but still did nothing for years.
- The damage is severe, with 300,000 people being displaced and damage potentially costing $5 billion.
What We Know
Lebanese officials are looking for answers after a massive explosion in Beirut killed at least 135 people and injured 5,000 on Tuesday.
“There are no words to describe the catastrophe,” President Michel Aoun said of the tragedy.
Lebanon’s Interior Minister told a local television station that right now, it appears that the blast was caused by the detonation of more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate. The ammonium nitrate, which is used in fertilizer and bombs, had been seized from a cargo ship and was being improperly stored in a warehouse. Records show that officials knew the nitrate was being stored there and was dangerous but failed to act.
Current reports indicate that a fire at a nearby warehouse may have ignited the nitrate, but the cause of the fire is unknown. An investigation into the explosion is still underway.
“As head of the government, I will not relax until we find the responsible party for what happened, hold it accountable and apply the most serious punishments against it,” Prime Minister Hassan Diab said in a statement.
Sources told Aljazeera that the country’s cabinet is going to place port officials under house arrest pending the investigation. It is unclear how many officials this will involve or what their roles at the port were.
The State of Lebanon
The damage the blast has caused is catastrophic, leaving an estimated 300,000 people displaced. The governor of Beirut estimates that the country could be facing between $3-5 billion dollars in damage.
The explosion was strong enough to be felt in Cyprus, which is around 150 miles away from Beirut. Several hospitals were also damaged to the point that they could not take in new patients. Many of those hospitals were already treating COVID-19 patients as the country is dealing with a spike in cases.
Just last week, the country reimposed coronavirus lockdowns because of a case surge. Hospitals are already struggling to handle the pandemic and lack personal protective equipment and other tools to combat it. The new influx of injured people from the explosion is now putting hospitals at capacity.
This comes at a time of dire economic hardship for Lebanon as well. The country currently has an unemployment rate of 33% and 45% of the country living below the poverty line, according to Business Insider. Tensions with the government and leadership are already high because of this.
“Many blame the ruling elite who have dominated politics for years and amassed their own wealth while failing to carry out the sweeping reforms necessary to solve the country’s problems,” BBC News explained. “People have to deal with daily power cuts, a lack of safe drinking water and limited public healthcare.”
Recovery efforts are underway. The Lebanon Red Cross has set up first-aid stations to help people with non-critical injuries and has sent in ambulances and Emergency Medical Technicians.
Countries across the globe are also pitching in. French president Emmanuel Macron will be going to Lebanon himself, while hise country is sending medical equipment, rescue teams, and other aid. The President of the European Council also said that the EU is ready to help however they can..
Israel, Jordan, Russia and Egypt are among the many other countries that have pledged or already sent assistance. President Donald Trump also said that United States is ready to help and called the explosion a “terrible attack.” However, at this time, officials have not called this an attack.
Celebrities are also getting involved in recovery efforts. Singer Dua Lipa has been sharing donation links and news articles on Instagram and is encouraging her followers to help however they can.
“Please if you are able and healthy to donate blood please do!!!” she wrote. “Beirut needs your help. There are people in critical conditions!”
Pop star Ariana Grande also tweeted out several links for donations and sent her condolences to the country.
Likewise, model Bella Hadid shared information about the blast and encouraged people to donate money or blood if possible.
See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Reuters) (Aljazeera)
Four Students Arrested, 12 Protest Leaders Barred from Elections in Hong Kong National Security Law Crackdown
- Four Hong Kong student activists were arrested Wednesday for “secession” over a social media post.
- Notably, this is the first police crackdown outside of street protests since implementation of China’s national security law on June 30.
- Hours later, the Hong Kong government barred 12 pro-democracy leaders from running in upcoming elections—including four incumbents.
- Despite the national security law supposedly not being retroactive, several of those candidates were barred over concerns stemming from their past actions.
Four Students Arrested for “Secession”
China began enacting harsh crackdowns under its new national security law on Wednesday, beginning with the arrests of four student activists who are being accused of inciting “secession” after making a post on social media.
That news was shortly followed by the announcement that 12 pro-democracy candidates seeking seats within the city’s legislature, the Legislative Council, have been barred from upcoming elections in September.
Reportedly, the students who were arrested range from ages 16 to 21. Notably, outside of street protests, these are the first arrests that have been enacted using the national security law since it went into effect on June 30.
As far as specifically why they were arrested, in a press conference last night, Senior Superintendent Steve Li Kwai-wah said that all four students are believed to be part of an online group that pledged to fight for Hong Kong independence.
Li went on to say they “posted about the establishment of a new party” that would promote pro-independence ideals “using any means possible” in an attempt to build a “Republic of Hong Kong.”
“We have to enforce the laws even if the crimes are committed on the internet,” he added. “Don’t think you can escape from the responsibility in cyberspace and commit crimes.”
According to Li, police also seized their computers, phones, and other documents.
While police declined to say what group the students were a part of or even give their names, pro-independence group StudentLocalism said on Facebook that one of the people who was arrested is Tony Chung, the group’s former leader.
Chung disbanded the group’s operations in Hong Kong pretty much immediately after Beijing passed this national security law for the city; however, it’s still been active on social media, and activists are reportedly working overseas.
All four of the students who were arrested appear to also have ties to another organization, the Initiative Independence Party. Their activity with that group might actually be why they were arrested.
Police have already executed ten arrests during street protests under the new national security law. Of those, they’ve charged one person.
As far as whether these students will be charged, according to a police source who spoke with the South China Morning Post, police will likely seek legal advice from the Hong Kong Department of Justice. From there, they will decide whether those suspects will ultimately be charged or released on bail.
Activists Speak Out On Student Arrests
Despite it long being expected that China would eventually target online dissent, criticism of this move was still potent.
“That four young people could potentially face life imprisonment on the basis of some social media posts lays bare the draconian nature of the national security law,” Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific Regional Director Nicholas Bequelin said in a statement.
The idea that anybody can now be jailed for expressing their political opinion on Facebook or Instagram will send a chill throughout Hong Kong society,” he added. “No one should be arrested solely for expressing an opinion that is contrary to that of the government.”
On Twitter, prominent activist Nathan Law, who fled the city earlier this month, said, “So students are arrested because of a SOCIAL MEDIA POST. Bloody hell. How vulnerable a country is to be afraid of a post by a group of teenagers.”
The arrests have also resulted in condemnation from the Human Rights Watch. The group’s China Director described them as a “gross misuse of this draconian law (which make) clear that the aim is to silence dissent, not protect national security.”
That director, Sophie Richardson, also said the arrests “raise chilling concerns of a broader crackdown on political parties” as September’s legislative elections approach.
12 Candidates Barred From Elections
Ironically enough, Richardson’s concern came true just hours later when the Hong Kong government announced that 12 pro-democracy candidates running for seats in LegCo have now been disqualified from doing so.
For its part, the government argued that those candidates can’t stand for candidacy because
their political positions would be at odds with the basic law of Hong Kong. For example, they have advocated for democratic reforms and have objected to the national security legislation.
Those candidates include Joshua Wong and Gwyneth Ho, who were both front-runners in an unofficial democratic primary held earlier this month. Notably, that list also includes four incumbents.
LegCo contains 42 pro-Beijing lawmakers scattered across 70 total seats. Citizens themselves are only allowed to directly elect representatives in 35 seats while the other half is indirectly elected through interest groups. Hong Kong is also led by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who is backed by Beijing and has been frequently criticized as being a “puppet” for the mainland.
Unsurprisingly, Beijing has said it supports these disqualifications. The Hong Kong government has also since said that more disqualifications could follow.
Three pro-democracy lawmakers—Alvin Yeung, Dennis Kwock, and Kenneth Leung—were told they were barred from re-election because of previous calls for the United States to impose sanctions on those responsible for rights abuses in Hong Kong.
As Yeung and Kwok pointed out, those pushes mainly happened in August and September—months before the national security law went into effect. The national security law, on paper, indicates that it cannot be applied retroactively.
Still, election officials have argued that candidates’ past actions and remarks reflect their true intentions, meaning they can still be barred from running.
International Outrage to Barring Candidates
Wong was also barred in a similar fashion. That decision was made even though he disbanded his pro-democracy party, Demosisto, hours before the national security law went into effect. On Monday, he also pledged to no longer lobby for foreign sanctions against Hong Kong.
Nonetheless, the Hong Kong government has cited previous statements made directly by him and his party as a reason for barring him.
“Beijing has staged the largest-ever assault on the city’s remaining free election,” Wong said on Twitter.
“In the letter of government, they have nearly screened all my posts, co-eds, interviews and statements for cooking up excuses for disqualification. Under the surveillance of secret police, I have been trailed by unknown agents, let alone the growing risk of being assault[ed].”
“However, after a whole year of resistance, Hongkongers will not surrender.”
Internationally, the qualifications have also received condemnation from a number of lawmakers in different countries.
In the U.S., Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) called the disqualifications “outrageous,” saying this move shows “the Chinese Communist Party’s determination to remake the city in its image.”
He then called on the Trump administration to “push back and hold officials accountable.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also urged Hong Kong to move forward with its Sept. 6 election as planned. That comes after concerns that the government may delay the election for one year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Pro-democracy supporters, however, have accused the pro-Beijing lawmakers of trying to stifle an election that could yield a first-ever majority for pro-democracy lawmakers.
On Thursday, the Hong Kong government responded to criticism, saying, “There is no question of any political censorship, restriction of the freedom of speech, or deprivation of the right to stand for elections as alleged by some members of the community.”
See what others are saying: (Aljazeera) (South China Morning Post) (The New York Times)
Global Coronavirus Cases Hit 16 Million as Recovered Countries See New Spikes
- Global coronavirus cases hit 16 million on Sunday, with new cases continuing to pop up all around the world.
- The U.S. leads with the highest amount of coronavirus cases by far with over 4.2 million— nearly a quarter of all cases worldwide.
- While the cases continue to increase in hard-hit countries like the U.S., Brazil, and India, other countries in Asia and Europe that had previously curbed the virus are now seeing new spikes.
- On Monday, China reported its highest new cases since April, and Australia recorded its highest new cases ever. In Spain, cases have more than tripled since the country ended its lockdown, prompting concerns about a second wave in Europe.
The global number of reported coronavirus cases officially hit 16 million on Sunday, adding another one million in the course of just four days.
The number of coronavirus cases in the world is now nearly twice the population of New York City. Even then, the actual number is expected to be much higher because of a lack of testing, unreported cases, and concerns that some countries are downplaying or underreporting numbers.
Countries all over the world are seeing alarming spikes, but the U.S. still leads in the highest cases and deaths. Right now, the U.S. accounts for nearly one-quarter of all reported cases with than 4.2 million, meaning that roughly one out of every four coronavirus cases are in the U.S.
The U.S. has also reported nearly 147,000 deaths, making up roughly one out of every five coronavirus-related deaths in the world.
Last week, the U.S. reported over 1,000 coronavirus-related deaths a day for four days straight, marking the highest death counts since late May. According to the New York Times, deaths are increasing in 25 states and Puerto Rico. Cases are increasing in 32 states, Puerto Rico, and D.C.
Last week, California officially overtook New York and became the state with the highest number of confirmed cases, reporting over 452,000 total cases as of Monday. Over the weekend, Florida also surpassed New York as the state with the second-highest case count.
On Monday, John Hopkins reported 423,855 cases in Florida, which is notable because even though Florida’s count is still less than California’s, California has nearly double the population of Florida.
Spikes in Other Countries
The U.S. is not the only country that has been seeing increases in coronavirus cases.
Brazil, which has the second-highest number of cases with over 2.4 million, has also been experiencing spikes. According to reports, Saturday marked the fourth day in a row that Brazil reported more than 50,000 new cases, breaking its previous weekly record with 321,623 new cases.
On Sunday, India, which has the third-biggest case count, reportedly recorded its highest single day of confirmed cases so far with more than 50,000, pushing up the country’s total to over 1.4 million.
However, in addition to the countries that have already been experiencing swells over the last few weeks, countries that had previously curbed the virus are also beginning to see new spikes.
On Monday, China recorded its highest number of new cases since April with 61. According to reports, almost all of the cases are centralized in the northwestern region, though there have been regional clusters.
In response, some regional authorities have declared “wartime mode” lockdown measures to combat the virus.
Hong Kong, which had largely controlled transmission, has also recently imposed its toughest coronavirus restrictions yet as spikes continue. The city has reportedly recorded over 1,000 infections since the beginning of the month, which accounts for nearly half of the total recorded cases total since the virus first arrived there in late January.
Other Asian countries that had previously curbed the virus are also seeing spikes as well, like South Korea, which reported a four-month high on Saturday with 113 new cases— many of which were imported.
Over the weekend, North Korea also locked down a city near its border with South Korea after officials reportedly found someone who may have been infected with the virus. If true, the individual would mark North Korea’s first confirmed reported case.
However, it is not just Asian countries that had previously cut transmission and are now seeing increases. Australia, which still has strict lockdown measures and other restrictions in parts of the country, had its deadliest day on Sunday with ten fatalities. On Monday, the country broke its previous record for the highest number of daily cases of at least 549.
In Europe, Spain’s caseload has reportedly tripled in the weeks since the country rolled back restrictions, prompting the United Kingdom to respond Saturday by placing restrictions on travelers from Spain, requiring them to self-isolate for 14 days.
However, Spain’s leaders have insisted it is not experiencing a second wave and that it is still safe to visit. Still, the undeniable spikes have brought concerns over a European second wave.
Those concerns will also likely raise new questions about travel within Europe, where many countries have reopened their economies and are encouraging tourists despite the fact that many tourist-heavy countries like Spain, as well as France and Germany, are now seeing new spikes.