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Celebrating the olympic spirit

ECONOMICSTDAY-1By the time you’re reading this article, the XXXI Olympiad in Rio will have already begun, providing an opportunity for us to reminisce about previous Games and how the opening ceremony in Rio compares to that of London 2012, Beijing 2008 etc.

I’ve always loved these Games which have demonstrated the strength of human endeavour to dedicate, in some instances, a lifetime to achieve Olympic glory. Olympians represent a very small proportion of the global population and I can only imagine the sense of pride felt by athletes and their families when they met the qualifying marks and were selected to represent their country.

Of that, an even smaller proportion wins a medal and, as you might imagine, an even smaller number actually hears their national anthem play on the podium. The emotions often displayed reveal the sense of pride and achievement that only the Olympics seem to elicit and to which the global audience relates.

Beyond the national pride of the athletes and the amazing fireworks, hosting these events requires a substantial amount of government funding along with the participation of thousands of private citizens as volunteers to make the multiple events run smoothly.

On the surface, it appears to be less expensive to host the Winter version compared to the Summer version, because the former relies more on natural resources with little requirement for major infrastructural development and the associated costs.

Television revenues are much higher for the Summer Games because of worldwide viewership. However, host cities seldom benefit from those revenues. Host cities benefit, though, from the global exposure that only the Olympics can provide but it comes at a significant cost.

Research has shown, though, that the debt overhang is often tremendous. Depending on the existing level of infrastructure, hosting often leaves cities struggling to pay off debts and balance budgets for at least 25 years after the Games are concluded.

Questions always arise as to why national governments and cities spend billions of dollars to host such a spectacle when there is still a significant amount of social development left to be accomplished.  I am yet to hear a good enough answer that appears reasonable.

However, there is an overwhelming sense of national pride, misguided perhaps, that tends to be the underlying driving force behind the decision making. Brazil hosted the FIFA World Cup in 2014 and Rio is hosting this year’s Olympics. With the significant amount of investment required to satisfy the organizers of these events, there has justifiably been serious questions about whether the monies have been spent in the right way.

We had the same questions for our governments in the lead up to the Cricket World Cup in 2007. The events themselves always prove to be successfully managed despite all of the pre-event hysteria that accompanies global games.

For us in Barbados and perhaps the Caribbean, we haven’t yet come to grips with the fact that we ought to host the Cricket World Cup 2 or 3 more times in the next 30 years in order to make up for the significant investment we made leading up to 2007.

Unlike the Olympics, the West Indies can host several more of these events without the need for more infrastructural investments.

I am looking forward to watching the Games of XXXI Olympiad as I expect Mr Bolt to retain his sprint titles provided he can remain fit. I will, of course, cheer our Barbadian athletes but, as you know, the unapologetic regionalist in me cannot but feel a sense of complete pride at the prospect that a Jamaican boy from Trelawny will have the opportunity to prove without doubt that he is the greatest sprinter of all time.

Mr Bolt’s story could be that of any of us in the Caribbean where taking full advantage of your talent manifests itself in personal, national and regional glory. I watched him run at Crystal Palace Stadium in London in 2009 and what a sight it was to behold.

Given that we have a facility named after him in Barbados, I would love for Barbadians to see him run on that track before he retires from competition next year.

I want to wish all our athletes competing in the Olympics every success as they seek to go for the Gold in Rio.
I believe very strongly they have in Mr Bolt all the inspiration they could ever need for wanting to achieve Olympic greatness.

He is a star beyond compare and for me is the perfect embodiment of the Olympic Spirit.

Ryan Straughn is an UWI Cave Hill and Central Bank of Barbados trained economist.
Email: straughn.ryan

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