IN THE history book about the Olympics there aren’t only stories of extraordinary achievements, discipline, high-flying ideals of togetherness, internationalism and progress. Stories of incredible waste of public funding, megalomania and publicity gimmicks for political leaders are also a key chapter, depending on where, when and by whom the games are organised.
The $50 billion bill that the Sochi games are about to submit to Russians is more than a financial hit. It also affects international perception because of the homophobic discourse which rightly hit a raw nerve with those who had a different understanding about the Olympic ideals, and gives a preview of the 2014 chapter of this book.
Here in Slovakia it seems leaders are still sticking to the ambition of writing its own chapter, by co-organising the 2022 games, with Krakow in Poland serving as the official host city. Prime Minister Robert Fico described the project as an idea with “a significant international and societal impact”, leaving the pundits who argue that it is unrealistic to expect income from tourism to outweigh the sums that will have to be invested, rather unconvinced.
Meanwhile, experts from the Slovak Ministry of Finance offered an argument on February 4 to Olympic-sceptics: the Olympic Games bring happiness rather than bucks. The Financial Policy Institute said that two of its employees used their free time to look at the impact of previous Olympic Games on the economies of countries and the subjectively perceived happiness of their citizens. They concluded that should Slovakia host part of the games, then Slovaks would outpace even Spaniards in their life happiness, according to a paid PR release published by the SITA newswire.
Well, the finding is not that surprising given the fact that ancient Rome long ago used sports to entertain and distract the masses. This is why it is quite crucial that the public takes a rather closer look not only at the political discourse around the games but also the costs and the list of people who are actually going to materially benefit from the games, and not only indulge in the feelings of happiness.
So how hefty would the bill of Slovakia’s “happiness” be? The preparation and hosting of the alpine skiing disciplines at the slopes in Jasná, in the Low Tatras, during the hypothetical 2022 Olympics would cost Slovakia about €177 million, with €169 million of the total going to investment spending that should be covered from the state budget, according to Education Ministry spokesman Michal Kaliňák.
Perhaps the Education Ministry could think up a much better way of investing €177 million into the happiness of Slovaks by making the country’s teachers, whose financial and societal status has been declining over the past decades, a little happier.
Meanwhile, a 500-respondent poll suggests that in the region which would be directly involved in hosting the high-profile event, 79 percent of the citizens agree that some of the events should be held in Liptov, in north-central Slovakia.
But the road from a hypothetical agreement to actual preparedness of Slovakia, which still lacks its own distinctive brand and somehow got stuck with the story of a young nation rising up from communist ashes, seems long and rocky.
Slovakia’s bid opens many questions that are unlikely to be answered by the time the Winter Olympics bid is decided upon. Is the state able to ensure transparency at all stages of Olympics-related development? Will the country refrain from sending out signals of intolerance towards all the diversity that the spirit of the games should actually support? Will politicians refrain from using the games as their mega-publicity gimmick to somehow divert attention from the multiple crises occurring close to home? Can Slovakia actually afford to make people happier in this way?
Some would say 2022 is still far away, but it is crucial that the decisions and commitments, even if only hypothetical, are made responsibly, with extreme care and consideration for the future.
Politicians should not rule the country as though they are part of a four-year political spending binge, not caring much about what comes once dusk arrives and the morning shows the reality in much sharper contours – or when the Olympic torch moves on.
24. Feb 2014 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová