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Decision-Making in Hosting the Olympic Games

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Decision-Making in Hosting the Olympic Games

Culture is who we are, who we say we are, and who we desire to be.  It can simultaneously give us identity and push us to become better in some way.  It gives us a reference on how to relate to others both inside and outside of our culture.

In ancient Greece, the city of Athens had a very deeply rooted culture that prized philosophy, the human form, and achievement.  Much has changed since then.  Advances in science have made the impossible possible time and time again.  Men can fly higher than Mount Olympus, move faster than the Hermes, and both create and destroy on scales unimaginable at the time.  Yet in modern Greece there remains a timeless link between the cultures of the past and present.  One thing that surprised me during the trip was the extent to which culture, and its effects, factor into the decisions of a committee, government, and country.    

When were a decision-maker in an organizing committee that spent $11 billion, $9 billion of which is attributed to taxpayers (Bloomberg), the positive reasons for that investment are expected to be at least as long as the bill.  And while our meetings with the decision-makers in that Olympic games were short, one thing was clear—the Greek culture, which stressed pride in their history, was the easiest reason for hosting the games, and at such great financial cost, that the leaders we spoke with could come up with.

The view of the Acropolis from the top of our Athens hotel was majestic, especially with the sun still rising above the horizon and the smell of scrambled eggs and cured meats wafting from the kitchen of the hotel’s restaurant.  To the Athens Olympic committee it would seem that all of Greece was captivated by a similar feeling from the time they won the 2004 Olympic bid until the European Union debt collectors began knocking on their door.  

“You should’ve seen the smiles on everyone’s faces.  Almost overnight the entire country was more polite, more friendly” the committee member said as he tried to paint a picture of the feeling that held the entire country captive.  There is no reason to doubt this.  The question really is, how did this feeling effect the decision-making of the Athens Olympic committee and Greek politicians?  Did this empower them to push the legislation that would create a games that would be as great for the country after as it was before, or would it lead to short-sightedness and drunken planning?

When we asked about the legacy of the 2004 Olympics we heard about the lack of time—due to government gridlock the committee wound up with only three years to plan instead of 7—which led to sharing about the benefits of the new metro system and upgraded airport; benefits I didn’t need anyone else to advertise because I had experienced them myself.  However, even though the metro system saves countless hours for many Athenian commuters and reduces large amounts of pollution, the cost of the metro as well as the airport upgrades were in addition to the $11 billion spent directly on the games (Bloomberg).  

If the infrastructure developments are the lasting gifts from the games, As Fred H. Merrill Professor of Economics Paul Oyer said, “Why didn’t Greece invest in those alone instead of paying an additional $11 billion for the games?”  One counterargument is that the games may have provided a vehicle for needed investment as everyone from the street corner to the corner office got swept up in Olympic fever.  But again, $11 billion is a high price to pay to get government support for a new rail line.

“What a pleasure it is to have you join us,” the London Olympic committee member said,  “and look, you’ve brought the California sun with you as well!”  It took the group a few seconds to understand what he meant as the sun was actually still covered by clouds.  It turns out he said sun because there were few enough clouds in front of the sun where one could just make out the outlines of shadows it cast on the ground.  

The scenery in London was opposite that of Athens.  Sunny skies were replaced with cloudy ones and orange trees with leafless birches.  The presentation by the London Olympic committee was opposite the Athens one as well.  Little talk of national pride, little talk of the historical significance of the games to London and the UK, instead we were told that the committee and city viewed the games as an opportunity to revitalize the most depressed and dilapidated part of town—East London.  

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