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Push to Bring Olympics to DC Pure Folly

On September 4th The Washington Post reported that 17 local political and business heavy-hitters have formed a group to actively push for the U.S. Olympic Committee to select our city later this winter from a short list of four finalist cities to submit a bid to the International body for hosting the 2014 summer games. The other finalist cities are Boston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

Hooray?

Chairing the group is former George Washington University board chairman Russ Ramsey and at his side as vice chairman is the Washington Capitals and Wizards teams owner Ted Leonsis. Adding political heft to the group is former Mayor Anthony L. Williams and adding a bit of panache is celebrity chef and restaurant owner José Andrés. For the complete list, check it out at www.dc2024.org/#our-team (you will need to right-click on each thumbnail photo to see each person’s bio).

During his interview with the Post, Ramsey was in full booster mode, exclaiming, “Washington is not just the nation’s capital but really an unbelievably international city —- 184 languages [spoken], 176 embassies [and] over 20 percent of the region is foreign-born now.” Seemingly, he sees these statistics as enhancing his message quoted by the Post that “[p]art of the excitement for us is the idea of using [the] theme of unity to really highlight how sports and the Olympic Games have been a unifier around the globe for many decades. .  .  . Bringing the world to the nation’s capital, which clearly, like many other places in the world right now, seems to be fairly divisive, can actually be a catalyst to think about fostering greater unity.” Of course, not to be too cynical about all this puffery, how he can know that what is “right now” will be the same a decade hence.

By now we assume our readers will have no doubt that we are not at all enthusiastic about the idea of subjecting ourselves and fellow residents to the kind of disruptions and massive economic outlays such an undertaking will inevitably result.

Oh, they will say this time it won’t be like what other cities experienced. Baloney –- especially since everything that ever gets undertaken here always ends up with an ultimate burden on city finances thanks to massive cost overruns and tax giveaways.

Unquestionably, Ramsey would dispute our contention; just read the following from the Post’s article:

“Unlike other cities that have had to start virtually from scratch to host an Olympics, metropolitan Washington, according to Ramsey, has more sporting venues within a compact area than any city in the United States. An Olympic stadium and adjoining athletes’ village, plus a natatorium for swimming and diving and a velodrome for cycling are the only facilities that would need to be built from scratch.”

Wow, all we will need to build is a few new architecturally “cutting-edge” –- and know that “cutting-edge” is the expected standard now –- sports venues, not to say anything about a huge Olympic Village complex –- presumably in the city (but where?). Furthermore, since there is serious talk about replacing RFK Stadium with a new one in the very near future, we would expect that by 2024 it would be deemed obsolete and need to be yet again replaced.

According to Smith College Professor Andrew Zimbalist, whose specialty is the study of the financial impact of major sporting events, in a recent article published by Yahoo Finance, he noted that past experience shows that hosting the Olympics does not generally promote economic development: “At the end of the day, the main benefit to be had seems to be a feel-good experience that the people in the host city or the host country have. . . . But that’s a fleeting experience, not something that endures.”

On the other hand, as reported in the same Yahoo Finance article, Greek economist Theodore Krintas, referring to the Athens games, stated that “[t]he Olympics were very important in increasing the brand awareness . . . of Greece.” The same rationale was also bandied about in connection with the Atlanta games several years ago; but for Atlanta that was undoubtedly a credible rationale since its “brand” was virtually unknown outside of the U.S. –- and probably not particularly known even in the U.S. But the same can hardly be said for our city; after all, we are the “capital of the free world”! Even Ramsey’s quote about Washington being “an unbelievably international city” pretty much confirms that he can’t make the Atlanta pitch to help sell us on why it will be to our benefit to spend ourselves into the proverbial “poor house.” We were there not so long ago; let’s not set our sights on a return.