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  • Are the Olympics Worth the Trouble, Cost? - Olympic Forum Debate


    (ATR) - Vancouver 2010 president John Furlong and “No Boston Olympics” co-founder Chris Dempsey disagree when it comes to the pros and cons of a city hosting the Olympic Games.

    Panelists handle the question of whether the Olympics are a plus for cities. (ATR)
    The two men expressed differing views at a session titled “Hosting the Olympic Games: City Perspectives" at the inaugural Olympism in Action Forum.

    Also contributing to the lively discussion were London 2012 chief executive Paul Deighton, Beijing 2022 vice-president Shu’an Yang and Rio 2016 head of engagement and education Mariana Behr.

    Despite his regular criticism of the Olympic Games, Dempsey was invited to participate at the forum by the IOC.

    “I was pretty surprised – three of us started “No Boston Olympics” in a living room in 2013 and to advance here where I get to speak directly to someone like Thomas Bach, who was sitting in the front row of that talk, is unexpected and appreciated,” Dempsey tells Around the Rings.

    “While the IOC should be applauded for having the conversation, I’m still not seeing the reforms that will lead to long-term change,” he added.

    Dempsey calls the Olympics a “movable circus” and insists that the IOC only acts as an auctioneer, moving the Games from one city to the next, ultimately leaving cities with the financial burden.

    “I’m not convinced that a three-week event is a good way to set a neighborhood or city up for long-term success,” Dempsey said. “Fundamentally, the auction process that the IOC conducts consistently leads to bad outcomes for host cities.”

    Furlong counters that the Olympic Games can do wonders for a city. He said that Vancouver bidding for and hosting the 2010 Winter Games inspired and benefited not just the city and its citizens, but all of Canada.

    “The Games completely changed our country,” Furlong said. “They made us believe in things we didn’t believe in before, they united us and they made us love our country more.”

    Vancouver was the last city to win a referendum on the Olympics, doing so in the 11th hour. The referendum passed with a two-thirds majority
    Chris Dempsey speaks to Brian Pinelli(ATR)
    prior to the city winning its bid for the Winter Olympics in 2003.

    “I think the people of Vancouver actually believed in the Olympics and in what we were doing,” Furlong recollects. “They also felt that the city of Vancouver was contributing to the country.

    “We wanted this to be a Canadian moment and Vancouver understood its place.”

    Dempsey – who contributed to derailing the Boston 2024 bid, opening the door for Los Angeles – believes that no city should justify the massive expenses associated with hosting an Olympics.

    Furlong said Canada delivered on all of its promises to the IOC and did so operating with a modest venue budget of $580 million dollars.

    Despite his strident opposition to the terms under which cities host the Games, Dempsey admits that he has never attended an Olympic event.

    “I’m sure it would be great, but I go back to the World Series analogy,” the Boston native said. “The Red Sox winning was a special event, but it doesn’t mean taxpayers should spend money to buy a new pitcher for the Sox.”

    Furlong said the invaluable emotion and joy associated with hosting the Olympics cannot be measured in monetary value. Winning ice hockey gold over the United States on the final day of the Games didn’t hurt Vancouver either.

    “It was the ultimate closure after all the adversity that we had,” Furlong said. “I think every Canadian will say today that he got a stick on that puck.”

    John Furlong, Vancouver 2010 CEO (ATR)
    Dempsey counters: “We think Boston hosts the best marathon in the world and it creates all sorts of civic pride.

    “All of that can happen in a city without having to build major venues or without having multi-billion dollar expenditures,” he adds.

    “I’m not saying that cities shouldn’t have some of those incalculable moments, the question is, are the Olympics the best way to do that.”

    Wide-ranging dialogue amongst some 1,500 attendees, including IOC members, NOC and IF representatives, athletes, politicians, members of civil society, youth and critics of the IOC, like Dempsey, is the objective of the inaugural two-day meeting in Buenos Aires. The forum concludes on Saturday ahead of the opening of the Youth Olympic Games.

    Written and reported in Buenos Aires by Brian Pinelli. Photography by Hironori Hashimoto.
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