Local boosters frequently argue that the Olympics will produce a wave — a veritable tsunami — of economic benefits. The reality, as the Economist says, is that “prudent city governments should avoid the contests at all costs.” This does not really capture it. Prudent city governments should run screaming from any proposals to host the Olympics, and napalm the spot where the proposals were found, just to be safe.
Megan McArdle, “The Olympics Don’t Have to Be a Disaster”, Bloomberg News, 2016-08-10.
August 30, 2016
August 23, 2016
July 26, 2016
November 19, 2014
Vice‘s Brian Blickenstaff smashes Badminton as “the world’s most corrupt sport”:
Late last week, it emerged that Lee Chong Wei, the world’s top badminton player, failed a drug test. A niche sport in the United States, badminton has been part of the Olympics since 1992 and enjoys huge popularity in Asia. Lee is the sport’s Novak Djokovic, a truly dominant force over the past several years. He’s the best player Malaysia, one of the world’s most badminton-mad countries, has ever produced. A two-time Olympic silver-medal winner, Lee is, or was, a favorite for gold in Rio de Janeiro; he faces a two year ban and could miss the Olympics entirely.
But Lee’s drug test isn’t notable simply because sports fans can’t look away when a giant teeters and falls; it’s notable because the incident is one of many scandals to hit badminton over the past year. On current form, badminton might be the world’s most corrupt sport.
In June, during the Japan Open, two Danish players were approached and offered north of 2,500 Euros to fix matches. The alleged fixer was Malaysian. The two players, Kim Astrup Sorenson and Hans Kristian Vittinghus, both reported the incident to authorities. 2,500 Euros might not be a lot of money, but the implications are huge. Vittinghus is the world’s 10th ranked singles player. If people are trying to flip a top-ten athlete, what’s happening lower down the pyramid?
I can attest that I’ve never been offered a bribe to throw a badminton game. Perhaps that’s because I’m not good enough to convincingly throw a game … unlike the Chinese Olympic players in 2012. Oh, wait … they weren’t convincing either.
February 17, 2014
Every time somebody suggests that Toronto be seriously involved in an Olympic bid, I become a big supporter of the other competing cities. Toronto is dysfunctional enough without adding the cost, disruption, and anti-democratic central planning aspects of hosting the Olympic games. In Samizdata, Michael Jennings looks at the shenanigans going on both in Sochi with the current Winter Games and in future venues:
The 2018 Winter Olympics are in Pyeongchang county in South Korea. Assuming that North Korea does not collapse or try to start a war between now and then, this will be straightforward, as these things go. A vast amount of money has been spent building new world class ski resorts at Alpensia and Yongpyong. These have largely been built already. They were built in anticipation of Pyeongchang winning the Winter Olympics. Pyeongchang also made unsuccessful bids for the games of 2006 and 2010, and has therefore been building for some time. There are already large financial black holes from the construction of these venues, but one cost overruns will be anywhere near as bad as have come from the highly corrupt race to get things built on time that took place prior to Sochi. Plus there have been and will be time for lots of test events to get the venues right. Of course, there are still highly expensive new highways and railways to be built, and a lot of indoor venues to be built for the ice events in the coastal city of Gangneung. As national pride is at stake, South Korean taxpayers will undoubtedly suffer painfully, but South Korea is a rich industrial democracy with competent people in charge. These games will likely go smoothly, but they will cost a lot — just not as much as Sochi.
The venue for the 2022 Winter Olympics has not yet been decided, but the IOC announced last year there were six final bidders: Stockholm (Åre), Sweden; Oslo, Norway; Krakow, Poland (Zakopane, Poland and Jasná, Slovakia); Almaty, Kazakhstan; Lviv, Ukraine; and Beijing (Zhangjiakou), China. [It has always been the case that the indoor ice events would be held in a city and the outdoor snow events in a mountain resort. In recent times the need for the city to be close to the resort has been relaxed somewhat, and I have listed the mountain resort(s) in brackets if it is a long way away from the official host city].
Sweden has already withdrawn their bid, and Norway appears to be close to doing so. The reason: they are seeing the immense expense and horrible shenanigans going on in Sochi. A little secret of the Olympics is that many of the the same people run it every time — the host city largely just picks up the bill. Once the event has ridiculous expenses and large amounts of outright corruption attached to it, this all comes with it to the next venue. Receiving kickbacks on construction projects becomes what it is all about.
Relatively uncorrupt places like Norway and Sweden look at this, and find that they want nothing to do with it. As great centres of winter sport, they have many of the right facilities already, meaning less scope for construction industry kickbacks. This means that for some of the IOC the fact that a country is already prepared for the Games is actually a negative rather than a positive.
Anyway, though, the point is that the two countries best able to host the games end up not being serious candidates.
As for the others: Poland and Slovakia would run the games just fine, but a fair bit of infrastructure and facilities would need to be built. Krakow is a lovely city. Zakopane is a lovely resort, and the Tata mountains are a suitable place for the games, even if the best downhill resorts are on the Slovakian side rather than the Polish side. (Some of the infrastructure construction would not be too counterproductive: Poland built lots of new roads, railways stations and airport terminals before the Euro 2012 soccer tournament, most of which were needed anyway and were part of Poland’s long term post-communist infrastructure modernisation). The Olympic games are not what money should be spent on in the present economic circumstances, though, and one also hopes that the richer countries of the EU are past paying for the Olympics to be held in the poorer countries of the EU (see Athens 2004). But with the EU, who knows?
February 13, 2014
Mick Hume isn’t a big fan of the Winter Olympics, and suggests that they revert back to their original name:
The six nations to have won medals at every winter games are, unsurprisingly, Austria, Canada, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the US. (Of the other snowy powers, Germany might be on the list but was banned from competing immediately after the Second World War; the Soviet Union did not enter until the 1956 winter games, where it won more medals than any other state.)
This snow-job badly skews the assessment of sporting prowess. Thus Jamaica, the undisputed king of world sprinting, remains a Cool Runnings joke at Sochi. Africa, the new powerhouse of global athletics, is barely there; an American-based student has just become the first Winter Olympics entrant from Zimbabwe, where it has not snowed since before he was born.
Before the International Olympic Committee decided to claim winter sports for itself, the major festival of sporting events on snow and ice, also held every four years, was called the Nordic Games. That might still seem a more fitting name for it today.
There’s also the quite fair comment that unlike the original Olympic events, too many of the Winter events are, for lack of a better word, effete sports for rich folks:
The Winter Olympics have little such universal appeal. Most events are arcane, technical affairs of which we know little and understand less, the commentators talking a foreign language – hog line, backside rodeo, bossing that melon – even when apparently speaking English. The competitors often seem a self-defined cliquish elite not only in the best sporting sense, but also in not-so-admirable cultural terms. Whatever they might think, however, to be the quickest of a closed shop of posh blokes swanning about the slopes in garish Euro-trash garb is hardly on a par with Usain Bolt’s Olympic title of the Fastest Man on Earth.
No doubt the accusation of dull, sectional, technical cliquishness could also be levelled at a good few fringe events in the summer games, from sailing to dressage – but then they shouldn’t be Olympic sports, either.
Many of these events look more like ‘games’ in the childish sense than world-class sport. For instance, speeding down an icy slope on a tea tray, either head-first (‘skeleton’) or feet-first (‘luge’), would be many a reckless youth’s idea of fun. Several of the new events introduced at Sochi have made matters worse, giving out Olympic gold medals for messing around doing smartarse tricks in the snow. The reaction to Jenny Jones winning the UK’s first-ever medal on snow in one such event, the ‘slopestyle’, rather captured the puerile atmosphere, with all three BBC commentators squealing like Blue Peter presenters on speed (‘This feels like I’ve got slugs in my knickers!’) before all bursting into tears when Jones got bronze. As Britain’s top TV columnist Ally Ross observed in the Sun, ‘Snowboarding is, and always will be, just young people twatting about’.
However, this suggestion would eliminate one of the all-time evergreen sporting jokes “… and 4.2 from the Russian judge”:
As for the events decided by judges’ marks, there is a good case for arguing that no such subjective carry-on should ever be considered as a serious sporting contest. Even one of the greatest sports, boxing, can be demeaned by the idiosyncrasies and idiocies of judges. Sporting tragedy becomes farce when judges award Olympic medals for dancing on ice or doing tricks in the snow, almost reducing the ‘greatest show on earth’ to the level of reality TV (‘Strictly Come Sochi?’). Britain may still go on about Torvill and Dean’s gold as ‘our’ finest Winter Olympic hour, but if ice dancing is a real Olympic sport it is hard to argue with those who want the ballroom version included in the summer games.
Personally, I haven’t watched any of the Olympic coverage this time around. Elizabeth’s god-daughter played hockey for Canada in three previous Olympic games, but she retired from competition last year … so there’s not the same level of personal interest now.
April 29, 2013
My favorite example of handling the loyal audience/new audience divide badly is when NBC decided they wanted to get more women to watch the Olympics, and thus large swaths of their prime-time Olympics coverage were devoted to documentary-style features about the hardships that the athletes had overcome — a seemingly endless cavalcade of relatives with cancer, or car accidents, or brutal injuries, or their dogs getting sick, or the Starbucks barista getting their drink order wrong — suddenly, every athlete’s life was like a country-western song. And the usual audience for the Olympics asked, with greater levels of irritation, “Hey, weren’t we supposed to be watching some actual athletic competitions? Wasn’t some skier supposed to be falling down a mountain by now?”
Jim Geraghty, “Spreading Our Ideas in the Era of Drug-Dealer Journalism”, National Review, 2013-04-29
March 23, 2013
It might seem a little odd for me to post an item about a hockey player retiring — given the overall lack of hockey coverage you might find on the blog — but we actually have a connection here: Cherie is Elizabeth’s god-daughter.
One of Scarborough’s most decorated Olympians is set to call it a career.
Cherie Piper, an Albert Campbell Collegiate grad who helped Canada win three Olympic gold medals in women’s hockey, announced her retirement from competitive hockey prior to the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) regular season finale which her longtime club team, the Brampton Thunder, won 7-0 over the Toronto Furies.
[. . .]
Her tally for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics was 10 points (five goals, five assists) in five games — fifth on the team.
At the 2006 Turin Olympics, her seven goals and eights assists was good enough for second place amongst all point-getters and tied for tops for goals.
She is in the top-10 all-time scorers for the Canadian women’s team.
Photo by Julie Jacobson
February 2, 2013
January 29, 2013
Just when you think the depths of idiocy have been fully plumbed, there’s the International Olympic Committee to prove you wrong:
Via the IPKat we learn that the IOC has already locked down next year in preparation for the Winter Olympics. No, seriously. A trademark on the number “2014,” which non-coincidentally happens to be a (lesser) Olympic year, has been granted by the UK’s Intellectual Property Office.
The IPKat’s attention has been drawn to Community Trade Mark E3307444. The mark in question consists of the number “2014”, which no-one would ever imagine to be the appellation by which next year might just be known. Applied for in 2003 and registered in 2005, this mark is owned by none other than the Comité International Olympique of Château de Vidy, Lausanne.
So, with the kind of efficiency you only find in the most brutal of trademark bullies, the IOC has trademarked a number many people were planning to use starting next January, nine years in advance. And the IOC isn’t leaving anything to chance. It has staked a claim on all 45 of the possible registration classes, including (but good god, certainly not limited to) chemicals, pharmaceuticals, metals/alloys, machines, tools, scientific equipment, surgical instruments, lighting, heating, vehicles, firearms, musical instruments, furniture, ropes, tarps, string, textiles, toys, coffee, fresh fruits and vegetables, beer, other alcoholic beverages, tobacco, insurance, conferences and seminars, design and development of computer programs, restaurant services, asbestos and security.
Anything and everything possibly covered by a registered trademark has been nailed down by the Committee, making it very possible that anyone using the number “2014” in the year 2014 might find themselves dealing with the IOC’s trademark cops.
January 18, 2013
At sp!ked, Tim Black reviews Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong, by David Walsh:
And so, in the aftermath of his Oprah-atic confession, bound to neither sate the critics nor elate the devout, the infernal humiliation of one-time cyclist Lance Armstrong continues.
The kicking and pelting began in earnest in August last year, when the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) stripped Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles following his failure to challenge their numerous doping charges. The USADA then followed that up in October with a voluminous, damning report, complete with gruesome testimonies from Armstrong’s one-time confidantes and teammates. By this point, even the International Cycling Union (UCI), which had long sided with Armstrong, had given up the defence to join in the lynching. ‘Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling’, exclaimed UCI president Pat McQuaid. ‘Lance Armstrong deserves to be forgotten in cycling.’
As sporting officialdom condemned, large swathes of the media spat. Gossipy stories of Armstrong’s bullying, his lying, his alleged sociopathology were published without nuance; op-eds assassinating Armstrong’s character, inflating his wrongs to Biblical proportions, were rushed off without perspective. On a man once lionised by millions, whose fame had for years been wrapped yellow around the wrists of those who admired him, open season had been declared. All the hunt lacked was a sighting of the quarry himself. And then this week, that finally happened — in the interview with Oprah Winfrey. Caught and unavoidably contrite, Armstrong acted out the role of the doping sportsman. Yes, he was saying, I am everything that the Dopefinder Generals say I am: I am that witch.
December 11, 2012
Cam Cole explains why Christine Sinclair deserves all the accolades that are being awarded:
So what was it about Sinclair that allowed her to win the Lou Marsh on Monday, having led the Canadian women’s soccer team to a mere bronze medal?
Well, one thing the 29-year-old striker from Burnaby did — has done for years, but did most profoundly at the London Olympics — was lead a women’s sport to a place, in her country, above the men’s equivalent.
It’s no coincidence that she is the first soccer player in the 76-year history of the award to win the Lou Marsh.
[. . .]
Fortunately, in Canada, our standards are not so narrow. We don’t consider it much of a negative for a captain of our national squad — who is superior in every other way, who is unselfish and rises to the occasion and doesn’t roll around on the turf as if felled by sniper fire every time she is touched by an opponent — to express our national rage when her team, our team, has just been jobbed.
Overwhelmingly, Canadians were glad Sinclair went off on the referee, with the able assistance of her even more combustible teammate, Melissa Tancredi.
Overwhelmingly, after an incident that in normal circumstances might have been a national embarrassment, the country rallied around Sinclair, and her fellow Olympians chose her to carry Canada’s flag in the closing ceremony.
After a bronze medal? Yup.
August 14, 2012
Brendan O’Neill says that the London Olympics were far more politicized than the Beijing games in 2008:
From the flurry of fanboy commentary that followed Danny Boyle’s am-dram opening ceremony to the insistence that the Games represented the coming to fruition of the post-Diana dream of a new, less stuffy Britain, the urge to politicise the Games has been intense. That the political classes have sought so shamelessly to usher in ‘another kind of Britain’ on the back of the Games speaks volumes about their desperate need for a new national narrative, and their disillusionment with the democratic route to social overhaul.
Normally we frown upon elites that heap their political obsessions on to mass sporting events. We think of Hitler turning the Berlin Games into an advert for Aryan superiority (a vision shot down by Jesse Owens) or of the Beijing opening ceremony’s thousands of fantastically coordinated drummers and boastful history lesson, described by one British hack last week as ‘crypto-fascist’. And yet, Britain’s ostensibly liberal observers thought nothing of turning 2012 into an advert for their own allegedly superior way of life and thinking.
The tone was set by Labour MP and historian Tristram Hunt, who described Boyle’s opening ceremony as the ‘march past’ — that is, victory parade — of his side in the Culture Wars. The ceremony was proof, said Hunt, that ‘the left took victory in the Culture Wars’, and moreover that a New Britain was being born: if the Queen’s Jubilee celebrated a ‘staid and nostalgic national identity’, this ceremony ‘offered an attractively contradictory, complicated, and above all creative conception of these Isles of Wonder’.
There has since been a concerted effort to turn the ‘bonkers’ opening ceremony into a new national narrative. Somewhat defensively, the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland insists that it is ‘not just Guardian types’ who are exalting in the new political vision provided by both the ceremony and the multicultural message of the Games that followed — the whole nation is, apparently, recognising that ‘we have glimpsed another kind of Britain’, and that we should ‘love the country we have become — informal, mixed, quirky — rather than the one we used to be… reactionary’.
August 9, 2012
Now that we’ve all had a bit of time to calm down about the awful officiating in the Canada vs USA women’s soccer game, Cam Cole explains why FIFA should penalize the Canadian team for their intemperate comments:
On a magnificently warm, sunny Wednesday at the pristine playing fields of Warwick University, all was forgiven if not forgotten by the Canadian women.
Word spread quickly that FIFA, the sports governing body, had determined that its investigation into the bitter post-game remarks by the losing side needed more time and … well, had basically decided to bury the whole thing and maybe one day suspend the star of Canada’s team, Burnaby’s Christine Sinclair, at some future date — like for a couple of friendlies she hadn’t planned to play anyway.
To say coach John Herdman was relieved to have his best player available for Thursday’s bronze medal match against France — to say nothing of the thunder to Sinclair’s lightning, the equally vocal Melissa Tancredi — is a considerable understatement.
[. . .]
And let’s face it, the Canadians were out of order by almost any sport’s standards in the volume and toxicity of their remarks about the Norwegian referee.
If they had merely said she was blind as a platypus and ought to be carrying a white cane and have a guide dog to help her navigate the field, they’d have been well within the bounds of fair comment.
It was when Sinclair accused Pedersen of having decided the result before the first ball was kicked, and when Tancredi suggested that the referee slept in Team USA jammies, that matters crossed the line from acceptable criticism to slander.
Ineptitude is one thing, bias quite another.
So FIFA took matters under advisement, and launched the kind of thorough investigation that Claude Rains launched when Humphrey Bogart shot the German general at the end of Casablanca.
Of course, I must point out that Cole is absolutely wrong here: it was Major Strasser who was shot, not a German general.
August 3, 2012
Scott Page and Simon Wilkie contend that the real responsibility for four badminton pairs being tossed out of the London Olympics should fall on the tournament organizers, not the players or their coaches:
Why though did teams try to lose? And specifically, why four teams? The answer lies in the organization of the Olympic tournament and provides an illustration of the importance of a field of economics known as mechanism design.
Here’s how the Olympics set up the tournament. In the “round robin” phase, the 16 teams were divided into four pools, each team playing all three other teams in its pool. The top two finishers in each pool would then advance to a playoff.
After pool play, the tournament becomes single elimination (also known as “win or go home,” with the lone exception that the semi-final losers would compete for the bronze medal). This single elimination portion would pit the winner of one pool against the runner-up in another pool. The winners and runners up were matched up in such a way that no two teams from the same pool would play in the first round.
The best teams advance, and by coming in first in your division, you play a runner up from another pool — an expected weaker team in the knockout round of eight. Not only does this make sense, it’s a tried and tested institution that has stood the test of time, from little league to the FIFA World Cup.
They offer some alternatives to the existing tournament format that might work better. On the players themselves, I see the point that Page and Wilkie are making, but I still agree with the BWF decision to sanction the players. For that matter, I’d support my local badminton club in this kind of decision in a local tournament. To have gotten away with what these teams attempted to do, they’d at least have to pretend to be seriously playing. I’ve seen better acting by seven-year-olds.