An article in the Toronto Star yesterday discussed the possibility of the "first binational Olympics." This is both a wonderful and a terrible idea.
It is a terrible idea because it is a terrible idea for any modern city to host the Olympics. The price tag alone should cause the mayor of any city to run screaming. According to the Guardian the London Olympics cost more than 11 billion British pounds (roughly $17 billion Canadian). Toronto's entire operating budged for 2012 was $9.4 billion and even with Buffalo's participation, the cost is too high and the conventional wisdom that the games pay for themselves is debatable at best.
It is a terrible idea for Toronto in particular for a variety of reasons. Toronto, generally, is difficult to navigate, crowded and has no room to expand roads and thoroughfares. The G20 though should serve as an example of why the Olympics in Toronto is a bad idea. The G20, after all, was a very small event compared to the Olympics. The Olympics, the costs associated with them and the negative impacts on the host city's poor always bring out protesters and the people of Toronto like to protest. The protests would obviously be countered by notoriously heavy handed Olympic security.
If nothing else came out of the G20, we learned that the Toronto Police, along with their counterparts in the Ontario Provincial Police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are completely unprepared to handle large international events. At least they were unprepared to do so in a way that respects public safety and civil rights. If security for the Olympics is extra heavy handed and tries to do things like enforce the rights of Olympic sponsors, Toronto could look more like a war zone than an Olympic host city before the games are over.
If anyone on the International Olympic Committee is reading this, please don't even bother to read Toronto's application.
I did say though that the idea of a "binational Olympics" was both a wonderful and a terrible idea.
Although not much of a sports fan, or of the games as they stand, I have great respect for the Olympians themselves. The Olympic Games, ideally, are supposed to be about the world coming together, to promote peace and understanding. They are supposed to be about young people, who have trained their entire lives, pitting their skills against the best athletes in the world. All of that though is being lost behind a cloud of multi-billion dollar budgets, Draconian sponsorship rules, inadequate media coverage and police state security.
It seems to me that the best way to put the focus back where it belongs is to break up the Olympics. This isn't ancient Greece. We have airplanes and telecommunications now. Break up the location of the games themselves, break up the sponsorship deals and break up the media coverage.
Allow cities to bid on specific events that they already have facilities for. Allow sponsors and media companies to bid on specific events as well. This would reduce the cost, the impact on the cities themselves and the need for the military to be involved in security.
With events in different locations, everyone in the world should be able to see at least some events live in a time zone that matches their own. With different media companies covering different events, nearly everything should be available to the people who want to watch and with companies sponsoring specific events rather than the Olympics as a whole, sponsors would take a back seat to the athletes again.
All of this would reduce the income of the Olympics but it would also dramatically lower the costs. It would make the Olympics a truly international event rather than a local one being watched by the world. The Olympics Games would take place all over the world, simultaneously. The focus would be on dozens of international cities rather than one and the games would once again be about the world coming together and about athletes pushing themselves to be the best in the world.
Maybe one day Toronto, along with Buffalo can host Olympic hockey or speed skating. Maybe Toronto can host Olympic baseball or basketball, while Las Vegas hosts boxing, Athens hosts track and field, and Moscow hosts swimming. The key, I think, is to stop trying to make modern cities fit the Olympics and make the Olympics fit the modern world.