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The Capitalist Games: Can Money and Sporting events mix?

Samuel Russell takes a look into the shady business of deciding sporting venues.

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Photo credit: JL08
Photo credit: JL08

International sporting events have come a long way since their creation; indeed it is unlikely
that the golden arches that the ancient Greek athletes ran through happened to house a burger-
selling 'restaurant'. Recently their commercialisation and cost have left many complaining that they are no longer a sporting spectacle but a temple to capitalism.

The debacle that has defined recent international sporting events began with the 'white elephant' (or not so white as the case may be) that was the Sochi Winter Olympics. These were held in a resort which was better known for its palm trees and sunny weather rather than its pristine slopes. Russia lavished millions on this event and the result was barely finished hotels, hoarded snow and spying on journalists. More importantly the Olympics became political again as Britain and the US threatened to withdraw their athletes over the invasion of Ukraine. More importantly, Russia's continuation of the sporting 'arm's race', which was began by China, has meant that out of the original 6 contenders for the 2022 Winter Games only 4 remain, of which one is Ukraine and the other is Norway which is likely to vote 'no' in a referendum on it.

Next came the decision to host both the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil. Both of these were controversial and, it appears, rightly so. The World Cup, which began on the 12th has been riddled with complaints and complications. A multitude of workers have lost their lives whilst working on the stadiums, thousands of Brazilians have participated in the protests against what they see as a needless waste of money and airport staff have ordered a strike which begins as the World Cup does. The Olympics fare little better. The monitoring committee have described Rio as the city furthest behind its deadlines. The sailing events are due to be held in one of the most polluted bays in the world, a promise to clean it up has been reneged upon.

Finally there was the furore that arose over the last round of World Cup decisions. The 2018 Cup was awarded to Russia, a country famed for its racism and hooliganism, and the 2022 Cup went to Qatar. Both were surprising but the Qatar decision was laughable. Qatar has no footballing history, poor infrastructure and few stadiums. Furthermore the temperature during summer peaks at 50 degrees. The first thought of many, one which is proving correct, was that the oil rich state had 'incentivised' people to vote for it.

Modern sport requires investment, advertising and attention. Sponsorship and investment from newly-rich countries help to achieve this. With the right safeguards everyone wins. The athletes are paid more and can access better facilities, the host city receives new investment and the viewers can enjoy a better spectacle. Markets, it is thought, make people better off. The key, though, is to ensure that they are regulated and distortions, like corruption, are removed. Thus hopefully the consensus that FIFA needs to be reformed, just like the IOC was, will lead to change.

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