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Olympics' return on investment sorely lacking.

Byline: Sriram Kh For The Register-Guard

The official Olympics motto is "Faster, Higher, Stronger." To which we should have added a long time ago another qualifier - "Costlier."

Brazil's expenses to host the Summer Olympics, which began Friday, are estimated to be more than $12 billion. This will be on top of the $15 billion that was spent to host the soccer World Cup in 2014. As we watch the sporting events from the comfort of our homes, we do need to wonder whether spending such large amounts is worth it for Brazil - or any host country.

Typically, investments in Olympics are tremendous money losers. The games in Los Angeles (in 1984) and Seoul (in 1988) were the exceptions. The 2004 Olympics in Greece was such a financial disaster that it practically bankrupted the government and, along with the Great Recession, nearly brought down the euro itself. The last games in London in 2012 cost about $15 billion, and most reports conclude that the economic returns are dubious.

The architecturally interesting Bird's Nest stadium that was built for the Beijing meet in 2008 by itself cost nearly half a billion dollars. It now requires more than $11 million a year for maintenance alone, even as it sits empty most of the time.

A few years ago, when visiting Montreal, I was shocked to see the condition of the stadium that hosted the Olympics back in 1976. No wonder the locals refer to that as the "Big Owe" for the financial disaster that the stadium and the Olympics were.

At least Rome's Colosseum, which is nearly 2,000 years old, draws people from around the world and generates a whole lot of money through tourism.

Above and beyond the issue of returns on investment, we need to think about the opportunity costs - money spent on a stadium and other facilities means less for everything else. Where else could that money have been invested, and would that have better served the people?

Brazil is in the vicious grip of one of its worst recessions; unemployment has increased to 11 percent. The host country is not expected to climb out of its terrible stagflation until 2017. Meanwhile, there is the pandemic threat of the Zika virus. Had Brazil not been tied down with the huge costs associated with the World Cup and the Olympics, it would then have had more money that was - and is - needed to fight this public health crisis. Perhaps the crisis could have been tackled in its early stages itself, and its global spread could have been contained.

Of course, the host countries and their governments ought to have known better than to compete for the Olympics. But the Olympics is merely one of the many sporting events that is built on a myth that mass entertainment is an economic investment with huge returns.

Here in the United States, multi-million-dollar sport stadiums are rarely built with private money alone; taxpayers bear the brunt of the cost. And that by itself is a statement on the profitability of such ventures. After all, if there is money to be made, then private investors would pounce on those opportunities faster than Usain Bolt's 100 meter dash.

In the NFL alone, for instance, more than $12 billion of taxpayer money has been used to subsidize stadiums whose owners are billionaires and where the players earn in the millions. If it were really profitable, the billionaires and millionaires would have made those investments themselves.

It does not seem like the awesome spectacle of Olympic athletes has made us physically fit, either. An overwhelming majority of us are merely couch potatoes enjoying the entertainment and yelling out our nationalistic pride. If current health trends continue, projections are that by 2030 more than half of the American population will be obese. Of course, weight is not a case of American exceptionalism. Even Brazil, contrary to its image of fit and well-tanned bodies on the fabled beaches, is very much a part of the worrisome global trend, with half of its population considered to be overweight.

At the very least, we could use the Olympics as an expensive visual reminder, every four years, to redirect our time and money in ways that can make us active in our own lives. We can ditch our flat screens - both large and handheld - for at least a few minutes every day and pretend that we, too, are Olympians, as we walk, run or swim.

If we get off the couch and start moving, then the gazillions that we spend to subsidize sports might be worth something.

Sriram Kh of Eugene (AmDrKhe@gmail.com) teaches at Western Oregon University in Monmouth.
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Title Annotation:Local News
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Geographic Code:3BRAZ
Date:Aug 7, 2016
Words:779
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