- 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.
Leaked Documents and Photos Give Unprecedented Glimpse Inside Xinjiang’s Detention Camps
The so-called vocational schools, which China claims Uyghurs enter willingly as students, oversee their detainees with watchtowers armed with machine guns and sniper rifles, as well as guards instructed to shoot to kill anyone trying to escape.
Detained for Growing a Beard
The BBC and a consortium of investigative journalists have authenticated and published a massive trove of leaked documents and photographs exposing the Chinese government’s persecution of Uyghur Muslims in unprecedented detail.
According to the outlet, an anonymous source hacked several police computer servers in the northwestern Xinjiang province, then sent what has been dubbed the Xinjiang police files to the scholar Dr. Adrian Zenz, who gave them to reporters.
Among the files are more than 5,000 police photographs of Uyghurs taken between January and July 2018, with accompanying data indicating at least 2,884 of them were detained.
Some of the photos show guards standing nearby with batons.
The youngest Uyghur photographed was 15 at the time of their detention, and the oldest was 73.
One document is a list titled “Relatives of the Detained,” which contains thousands of people placed under suspicion for guilt by association with certain family members. It includes a woman whose son authorities claimed had “strong religious leanings” because he didn’t smoke or drink alcohol. He was jailed for ten years on terrorism charges.
The files also include 452 spreadsheets with information on more than a quarter of a million Uyghurs, some of whom were detained retroactively for offenses committed years or even decades ago.
One man was jailed for ten years in 2017 because he “studied Islamic scripture with his grandmother” for a few days in 2010.
Authorities targeted hundreds more for their mobile phone use, like listening to “illegal lectures” or downloading encrypted apps. Others were punished for not using their phones enough, with “phone has run out of credit” listed as evidence they were trying to evade digital surveillance.
One man’s offense was “growing a beard under the influence of religious extremism.”
The Most Militarized Schools in the World
The files include documents outlining conditions inside Xinjiang’s detention camps, or so-called “Vocational Skills Education and Training Centers.”
Armed guards occupy every part of the facilities, with machine guns and sniper rifles stationed on watchtowers. Police protocols instruct guards to shoot to kill any so-called “students” trying to escape if they fail to stop after a warning shot.
Any apprehended escapees are to be taken away for interrogation while camp management focuses on “stabilizing other students’ thoughts and emotions.”
The BBC used the documents to reconstruct one of the camps, which data shows holds over 3,700 detainees guarded by 366 police officers who oversee them during lessons.
If a “student” must be transferred to another facility, the protocols say, police should blindfold them, handcuff them and shackle their feet.
Dr. Zenz published a peer-reviewed paper on the Xinjiang police files, in which he found that more than 12% of Uyghur adults were detained over 2017 and 2018.
“Scholars have argued that political paranoia is a common feature of atrocity crimes,” he wrote. “Here, it is suggested that the pre-emptive internment of large numbers of ordinary citizens can be explained as a devolution into political paranoia that promotes exaggerated threat perceptions.”
See what others are saying: (BBC) (Newsweek) (The Guardian)
Biden Vows to Defend Taiwan if Attacked by China
Some praised the remarks for clarifying U.S. foreign policy, while others feared they could escalate tensions with China.
Biden’s Remarks Create Confusion
During a Monday press conference in Tokyo, U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States would intervene to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.
The remark caught many off guard because it contradicted decades of traditional U.S. foreign policy toward China.
A reporter said, “You didn’t want to get involved in the Ukraine conflict militarily for obvious reasons. Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?”
“Yes,” Biden answered. “That’s a commitment we made. We are not — look, here’s the situation. We agree with a One China policy. We signed onto it and all the attendant agreements made from there.”
“But the idea that it can be taken by force — just taken by force — is just not appropriate,” he continued. “It will dislocate the entire region and be another action similar to what happened in Ukraine.”
Beijing considers the Taiwanese island to be a breakaway province, but Taiwan, officially the Republic of China, has claimed to represent the real historical lineage of China.
Since 1972, the U.S. has officially recognized only one China, with its capital in Beijing. However, Washington maintains extensive informal diplomatic ties with Taipei and provides military assistance through weapons and training.
Successive U.S. presidents have also committed to a policy of “strategic ambiguity,” refusing to promise or rule out a direct military intervention in case China attacks Taiwan.
The strategy is meant to deter China while avoiding a hard commitment to any action.
Biden Sparks Controversy
The White House quickly sent a statement to reporters appearing to walk back Biden’s remark.
“As the president said, our policy has not changed,” the statement said. “He reiterated our One China Policy and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. He also reiterated our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself.”
Monday was not the first time Biden made similar remarks regarding China and Taiwan.
Last August, he promised that “we would respond” if there was an attack against a fellow member of NATO and then added, “same with Japan, same with South Korea, same with Taiwan.”
In October, he again told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that the U.S. would defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack, prompting the White House to hurriedly walk back his statement.
Monday’s remark was received with support as well as criticism.
“Strategic ambiguity is over. Strategic clarity is here,” Tweeted Matthew Kroenig, professor of government at Georgetown University. “This is the third time Biden has said this. Good. China should welcome this. Washington is helping Beijing to not miscalculate.”
“It is truly dangerous for the president to keep misstating U.S. policy toward Taiwan,” historian Stephen Wertheim wrote in a tweet. “How many more times will this happen?”
“The West’s robust response to Russian aggression in Ukraine could serve to deter China from invading Taiwan, but Biden’s statement risks undoing the potential benefit and instead helping to bring about a Taiwan conflict,” he added. “Self-injurious and entirely unforced.”
Biden also unveiled the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), a trade agreement signed by the U.S. and 12 Asian nations.
The agreement appeared to many like another move to cut off China from regional trade pacts and supply chains in Washington’s strategic competition with Beijing.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (The South China Morning Post)
Russia Takes Over 900 Azovstal Fighters Prisoner as Mariupol Surrenders
Ukraine said the soldiers successfully completed their mission, but the fall of Mariupol represents a strategic win for Putin.
Azovstal Waves the White Flag
Russia’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday that it had captured 959 Ukrainians from the Azovstal steelworks, where besieged soldiers have maintained the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol for weeks.
A ministry spokesperson said in a statement that 51 were being treated for injuries, and the rest were sent to a former prison colony in the town of Olenivka in a Russian-controlled area of Donetsk.
The defense ministry released videos of what it claimed were Ukrainian fighters receiving care at a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk. In one, a soldier tells the camera he is being treated “normally” and that he is not being psychologically pressured, though it is unclear whether he is speaking freely.
It was unclear if any Ukrainians remained in Azovstal, but Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk, said in a statement Wednesday that the “commanders of the highest level” were still hiding in the plant.
Previously, estimates put the number of soldiers inside Azovstal around 1,000.
Ukraine officially gave up Mariupol on Monday, when the first Azovstal fighters began surrendering.
Reuters filmed dozens of wounded Ukrainians being driven away in buses marked with the Russian pro-war “Z” symbol.
Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said in a Tuesday statement that the Ukrainian prisoners would be swapped in an exchange for captured Russians. But numerous Russian officials have signaled that the Ukrainian soldiers should be tried.
Mariupol Falls into Russian Hands
After nearly three months of bombardment that left Mariupol in ruins, Russia’s combat mission in the city has ended.
The sprawling complex of underground tunnels, caverns, and bunkers beneath Azovstal provided a defensible position for the Ukrainians there, and they came to represent the country’s resolve in the face of Russian aggression for many spectators.
Earlier this month, women, children, and the elderly were evacuated from the plant.
The definitive capture of Mariupol, a strategic port city, is a loss for Ukraine and a boon for Russia, which can now establish a land bridge between Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian separatists. The development could also free up Russian troops around Mariupol to advance on the East, while additional reinforcements near Kharkiv descend from the north, potentially cutting off Ukrainian forces from the rest of the country.
The Ukrainian military has framed events in Mariupol as at least a partial success, arguing that the defenders of Azovstal completed their mission by tying down Russian troops and resources in the city and giving Ukrainians elsewhere more breathing room.
It claimed that doing so prevented Russia from rapidly capturing the city of Zaporizhzhia further to the west.