A Chilly Future for the Winter Olympics

Alison Zimmerman

Starting Feb. 8, hundreds of athletes from around the world will lace up their skates and strap on their skis to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. Yet, even several weeks before the opening ceremony, the road to this Olympics has been rocky. The games are set to take place in PyeongChang, South Korea, placing the Olympics on the hot seat to settle some dicey issues of diplomacy with North Korea. Prior, the uncovering of Russia’s doping in the 2014 Sochi Olympics has led to the International Olympic Committee’s decision to ban some of the most formidable forces on the ice from competing under the Russian flag. This forces Russian athletes to compete as independent entities rather than representatives of their country (and it’s about time the IOC made some effort to stop the cheating). Still, problems facing these Olympics stretch beyond diplomatic tiffs and scandals. In conjunction with the increasingly unreasonable cost of hosting and ticket sales far undershooting projections, this Winter Olympic Games is simply not worth the trouble.
Geography considered, it’s no wonder the PyeongChang Games are a hard sell, even for the most devout fans. The 35,000 seat stadium constructed for the opening and closing ceremonies lies just 60 miles south of the North Korean border, conjuring uneasiness among those wary of North Korea’s militaristic volatility. Even locally, the Olympics have failed to generate excitement, leaving ticket sales 45 percent short of projections in December.
But the shortcomings of the anticipated PyeongChang Olympics may not prove unique to the landmine location. The cost of the games, a mere $448,000 at the first modern Olympics held in Athens, Greece in 1896, has skyrocketed to an astronomical $51 billion for the Sochi Games in 2012. In response, four countries have dropped their bids to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, leaving only Beijing and Almaty on the table — both cities in countries with abysmal human rights records. It seems that the only countries willing to fork over billions on the Olympics are those less-than-democratic states hoping to make a political statement much to the discontent of the IOC. Norway, the last democratic nation in the running, dropped its bid in October due to a lack of domestic political support and dissatisfaction with the IOC. And who could blame them? Who would want to become beholden to the IOC, with its lavish hospitality demands and historically shady dealings with scandals among athletes?
Is the Winter Olympics worth the diplomatic and financial headaches? All things considered, probably not. The games are wrought with scandal, political clashes and a seemingly unceasing trend of excess. The Olympics are meant to bring forth global unity and sportsmanship, yet it seems that finance and corruption have drowned out the spirit of the Games. Sure, it would be sad to see the Winter Olympics end, but given the circumstances, why bother keep them around?

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.

A version of this appeared in the Monday, January 22 print edition. Email Alison at azimmerman@nyunews.com.

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