- 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.
Ebola Outbreak in Congo Declared Global Health Emergency
- The World Health Organization declared the recent Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
- Since the outbreak began in August 2018, over 1,600 people have died.
- WHO does not see Ebola as a current global threat, but wants to draw international attention to the outbreak to increase global engagement.
- This is the worst outbreak of the disease since the one between 2014-2016, which killed over 11,000 people.
The World Health Organization declared the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on Wednesday.
The outbreak began in August 2018 and has killed over 1,600 people, with over 2,500 confirmed cases. It is considered the worst outbreak since the one that began in 2014 and ended in 2016, which killed over 11,000 people.
On Monday, the outbreak escalated when the city of Goma, which sits on the border of Rwanda, saw its first confirmed case. Goma is home to nearly 2 million people and has an international airport. This put pressure on the WHO to evaluate the situation.
“It is time for the world to take notice and redouble our efforts,” WHO’s Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.
“We need to work together in solidarity with the DRC to end this outbreak and build a better health system. Extraordinary work has been done for almost a year under the most difficult circumstances. We all owe it to these responders — coming from not just WHO but also government, partners and communities — to shoulder more of the burden.”
By declaring it an emergency of international concern, the WHO is hoping to draw worldwide attention to the outbreak so that global efforts can help to stop it.
The WHO also released recommendations for the DRC to follow during this emergency. This includes strengthening at-risk populations, conducting cross-border screenings and screenings at main internal roads, and using optimal vaccine strategies, among other practices.
They also listed recommendations for neighboring countries, which includes working urgently with partners to improve their preparedness, and mapping population movements and sociological patterns that can predict the risk of disease spread.
As of now, the WHO is not concerned about a global outbreak.
“Risk remains very high at national and regional levels but still low at global level,” their statement continued.
Because the risk is not yet global, the organization wants to emphasize that countries should not restrict trade and other business with the DRC. In fact, they believe that if countries do so, the outbreak would only worsen.
“No country should close its borders or place any restrictions on travel and trade,” their statement encourages. “Such measures are usually implemented out of fear and have no basis in science. They push the movement of people and goods to informal border crossings that are not monitored, thus increasing the chances of the spread of disease,” WHO’s statement reads.
Setbacks in Treatment
The DRC has faced many challenges while dealing with this outbreak. Earlier this week, Dr. Tedros spoke about how attacks on Ebola responders have made things difficult. Since January there have been almost 200 attacks resulting in seven deaths.
“We are dealing with one of the world’s most dangerous viruses in one of the world’s most dangerous areas,” he said in a statement. “Every attack sets us back. Every attack makes it more difficult to trace contacts, vaccinate and perform safe burials. Every attack gives Ebola an opportunity to spread.”
According to a New York Times report, some of this violence comes from mourners who are upset with responders after losing loved ones to the disease. One person who works in burials told the Times that mourners have threatened to throw workers into open graves. The report also said that in once instance, a mourner brandished a hand grenade, resulting in everyone scattering and a 3-year-old Ebola victim not being buried.
Mourners are not the only ones believed to be behind the violence, however, the DRC is still looking into who else is participating in attacks and why.
The WHO has also criticized for being slow to respond to the outbreak. This was their fourth meeting discussing whether or not to declare an international emergency of this kind. Many believe they should have declared it at one of their earlier meetings.
Still, progress has been made in treating the outbreak. Right now there is no complete cure for Ebola, however, research published earlier this month showed that two experimental treatments were found to be effective.
Vaccines have also been effective during this outbreak. According to the WHO, over 161,000 people in the DRC have been vaccinated and over 10,000 people in three surrounding countries have been vaccinated as well.
See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (The Atlantic) (USA Today)
Amnesty International Condemns LGBTI Discrimination in South Korea Military
- A report by Amnesty International outlines the discrimination and abuse that gay men serving in South Korea’s military experience.
- Article 92-6 in South Korea’s Military Criminal Act criminalizes sex between two men in the military.
- Amnesty International says that this law opens the door for gay soldiers to be mistreated, which has included verbal taunting and sexual assault.
- Soldiers who spoke to Amnesty International said their experiences have been humiliating, have taken a toll on their mental health, and have even led to some attempting suicide.
Amnesty International Releases Report
Amnesty International is calling on South Korea to appeal its law that bans same-sex relationships between men in the military after their report shows that soldiers experience abuse, assault, and humiliation as a result of it.
In a report published Thursday titled “Serving in Silence: LGBTI People in South Korea’s Military,” Amnesty International speaks to several soldiers from South Korea’s military who detail personal experiences with discrimination.
According to Article 92-6 of the South Korea Military Criminal Act, sexual relations between two men in the military, either on or off duty, fall under the “indecent acts” clause. This can be punishable by up to two years in prison.
While it is still illegal for same-sex couples to marry and adopt in South Korea, homosexuality is not criminalized for all citizens. This article only applies to those serving in the military.
Amnesty International says that by having this law, South Korea is opening the door to discrimination.
“Criminalization creates an environment where discrimination is tolerated, and even encouraged,” the report says.
“Homophobic and transphobic individuals can view this law as tacit permission to target LGBTI people inside and outside the military,” it continues.
The report also said that the first step to ending this discrimination is removing the article.
“Decriminalization does not solve the entire issue, but it is a crucial first step towards respecting, protecting and fulfilling the human rights of LGBTI people,” the report states.
Charges Made Under Article 92-6
People have been charged under this article in the past. In 2017, authorities actively looked to identify soldiers who they believed were engaging in sexual acts with other men. They ended up charging over 20 soldiers as a result.
One man who was charged in this, who the report identifies as “Yeo-jun Kim” told Amnesty International that investigators asked him personal questions throughout the process.
“The investigators barraged me with outrageous questions, questions about what sex positions I used and where did I ejaculate,” he said.
He also said that they looked through his phone and asked him to identify other LGBTI people.
“The authorities came to me like peeping Toms,” he added. “They should have maintained confidentiality. I have lost faith and trust in people.”
Soldiers Face Abuse
In addition charges, gay soldiers are often subject to physical and verbal abuse.
The report outlines the story of one soldier they identify as “U” who served around a decade ago.
“One night, I saw a soldier being sexually abused,” U told Amnesty International. “When he got angry, the person abusing him who was his senior started to beat him fiercely and forced him to drink from the toilet bowl. A few days later, the abused soldier made up his mind to report the incident and approached me for my help.”
When the superior learned about the possible report, he threatened to beat U.
“I was then subjected to physical violence and humiliation for three hours,” U continued. “Which included being forced to have oral and anal sex with the original victim while the senior soldier made taunting remarks, such as: ‘Don’t you want to have sex with a woman-like man?’”
U added that this assault and humiliation drove him, and three others who experienced similar situations, to attempt suicide, which resulted in them being taken to a psychiatric hospital. Three of them were dishonorably discharged, while U was taken back to his squad and labeled as a “soldier of interest.”
Toll on Mental Health
Many soldiers say that the harassment and assault they are subject to takes a mental toll on them, resulting in many going to military health facilities. The report says that the facilities often have poor conditions, cramped spaces, and soldiers often question the qualifications of those working there.
One soldier, identified as “Jeram” was regularly groped and assaulted. He was labeled as a soldier of interest when his unit learned he was gay. He told Amnesty International that he ended up in one of these facilities.
The hospital deemed him “rebellious” after he did not comply with some of their requests, resulting in him losing the right to make phone calls or walk out in fresh air once a week.
“The hospital tried to diagnose me as ‘unfit for service’ with staff members even instructing me how to act mentally incompetent so that I could get discharged,” Jeram said. “I refused to be labelled in this way. I felt I had lived my life well prior to the military and knew that I was not the source of the problem. This whole experience led me to attempt suicide because I lost the will to live.”
He then said that one panelist, who he did not think was a licensed medical professional, told him during one of his reviews, “You are so disobedient. Even if I shoot you here, it will simply get covered up as a suspicious death and that will be it. Then, the compensation your family would receive will be even lower than for a military dog.”
Amnesty International’s report is the latest in international organizations fighting for rights for gay soldiers in South Korea. In March, Human Rights Watch submitted an amicus brief urging the country to repeal Article 92-6.
“Article 92-6 violates the rights of LGBT persons in two distinct ways,” the brief said. “First, it violates the substance of fundamental rights. Second, it discriminates against service members based on their sexual orientation. The criminalization per se of consensual adult same-sex conduct is a violation of the right to privacy under international law.”
See what others are saying: (Reuters) (CNN) (New York Times)
Sudan Military and Opposition Reach Power-Sharing Deal
- Sudanese opposition and military leaders agreed Friday to set up a joint military-civilian council that will rotate power between the two groups until elections are held in three years.
- The agreement comes after weeks of stalled negotiations between a coalition of opposition groups and the Transitional Military Council that came to power after President Omar al-Bashir was overthrown by a military coup in April.
- Mediators stepped up negotiation efforts earlier this week after tens of thousands of demonstrators staged the largest protest since the violence on June 3.
- Thousands of people took to the streets to celebrate the agreement as leaders on both sides expressed optimism, but others called for continued protests over concerns that the military will not hold up its end of the deal.
Sudan’s military and opposition leaders reached an agreement to share power until elections can be held, mediators announced Friday.
The deal comes after weeks of stalled negotiations between civilian opposition leaders and the ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC), which took power after Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir was ousted in a military coup in April.
Al-Bashir’s removal followed months of protests dating back to December 2018. Those protests continued after the TMC installed itself, with demonstrators demanding that the military rulers hand over power to a civilian-led government.
The new power-sharing deal will establish a joint military-civilian sovereign council that will govern Sudan until elections are held in three years.
Military and civilian leaders will rotate control of the council, with the military leading the council for the first 21 months, and the civilians leading the council for the remaining 18 months.
The council will be composed of five members of the military, five civilians, and an 11th seat that will be agreed on by both sides. The agreement also stipulates the appointment of a cabinet of ministers and the formation of a legislative council.
Leaders on both sides expressed optimism about the agreement.
“This agreement opens the way for the formation of the institutions of the transitional authority,” said Omar al-Degair, a leader of the opposition coalition who negotiated with the military. “And we hope that this is the beginning of a new era.”
“This agreement is comprehensive and does not exclude anyone,” said General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, deputy head of the TMC.
Opposition leaders and the TMC also agreed to launch an independent investigation into the violence that began in early June, after a military crackdown on protesters left mass casualties.
On June 3, paramilitary forces attacked a long-standing protest camp outside military headquarters that had been the site of ongoing demonstrations against military rule since al-Bashir was toppled.
Opposition medics said that more than 100 people were killed in the violence, while the government has said the death toll was 62.
General Dagalo, known as Hemeti, leads the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces that protest leaders have accused of perpetrating the crackdown.
Following the attack, the TMC said they would no longer negotiate with the protestors, and called for snap elections. They later went back on that decision and said they wanted negotiations, but were rebuked by the protest leaders, who refused to negotiate with them after the attack.
They later went back on that decision and said they wanted negotiations, but were rebuked by the protest leaders, who refused to negotiate with them after the attack.
However, the African Union and leaders in neighboring Ethiopia stepped in to lead mediation between the two.
Those efforts ramped up earlier this week, after tens of thousands of demonstrators filled the streets of Sudanese cities, marking the biggest protests since the June 3 crackdown. Seven more were killed in Sunday’s protests, and more than 100 were injured.
Skeptical Hope for the Future
Thousands of people took to the streets of the Sudanese capital Khartoum to celebrate the agreement.
However, many protestors called for continued demonstrations to put pressure on the military to follow through with the deal.
“We would like to see many more guarantees from the TMC because they’ve made many promises on handing over power only to backtrack later on,” a protester named Mohamed Ismail told Al Jazeera.
Another protester named Lena al-Sheikh told BBC that the demonstrators “definitely wanted much more” from the deal, and added that many are a “little bit” skeptical regarding the details.
“The military council has shown that […] there was brutality against protesters,” she said. “People died, people were hurt and we were thinking maybe this is never going to happen, maybe we are never going to reach an agreement.”
Other experts say the deal falls short of opposition demands for a fully-civilian led council. Sudan-based journalist Yousra Elbagir pointed out in a tweet that many people in Sudan do not know the details of the deal, because of the ongoing internet blackout in the country.
The internet has been shut off for a month now in Sudan, as military leaders have attempted to suppress communications and public gatherings.
Others, however, expressed excitement and optimism for the future.
“We have won a victory against injustice,” a protestor named Shihab Salah told Reuters. “Our goal is to achieve freedom and justice and to find jobs for young people. Civilian rule and democracy are the future of Sudan.”