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Asia’s Olympic Dreams May Not Come True

At the close of July, Beijing won its bid for selection as the host city for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, becoming the first city to be awarded both the Summer and Winter Olympics. It didn’t have much competition for that title.

Considering the winter iteration is often seen as the little brother to the summer celebration, it was even more of a challenge for the International Olympic Committee to find any takers at all. And since Beijing isn’t exactly considered a winter destination nor is it particularly renowned for adhering to satisfactory human rights standards, it makes sense that most are reluctant to praise the selection process or the outcome.

Given the sheer cost of putting on a major international sporting event and the extravagance associated with the Games, it’s largely considered a burden and inconvenience for most cities to take on. We’re seeing that clearly as many cities have been withdrawing their Olympic bids, Boston being the most recent to do so last month.

According to Forbes, “For some cities and countries, the Olympics have marked the transition to being a world player: Tokyo (1964), Seoul (1988), Beijing (2008) are commonly cited.” In that tradition, Asian countries are doing the opposite of their Western counterparts, and instead of balking at the prospect of hosting the international event, they have made aggressive moves to host the three consecutive Olympic Games following next summer’s Rio 2016: Pyeongchang 2018, Tokyo 2020, and now Beijing 2022.

And yet, what may have once proven successful, is not a guarantee in this current climate. Especially because for these cities, it’s less about the sake of the competition so much as it is about gaining economic and political clout.

That ambition doesn’t seem to be worth it.

Lately, there have been more failures than outright successes when it comes to Olympic Games. We’ve witnessed Russia as it faltered under the weight of the pressure and controversy and despite the $38.93 billion price tag, the government’s intent to turn the isolated Sochi into a tourist hub did not come to fruitionEven London wasn’t a resounding triumph.

And there isn’t much to prove that that trend won’t continue.

There were significant concerns whether Pyeongchang would be able to host the 2018 Games as late as January of this year, but organizers have gone forward in the construction of venues and securing sponsorship deals

Tokyo isn’t the world power it once was and costs are skyrocketing already for a country that is unlikely to see the desired boost in its economy.

When the politics and the expenses overshadow the Olympic spirit, at what point do we consider a change? Recently, there have been suggestions to abolish the notion of a single host city altogether.

To get to that point, we might have to first answer some other questions: Can a country actually gain status from hosting an Olympics? If so, do the benefits outweigh the tremendous associated costs?

Bloomberg View‘s William Pesek makes a compelling argument that they won’t. While Binyamin Appelbaum of The New York Times found that it might be in the eye of the beholder.

The allure of hosting an Olympic event can be tempting, but it’s important to see the big picture. Yes, it’s a glorious two weeks and a great showcase for nationalism and celebrating the ingenuity and the tenacity of the human spirit. But when the athletes and the spotlight are gone, the magic cure-all that was hoped for could turn out to have been a very expensive bandaid to a wound that required a lot more treatment.

There’s a lot at stake for these Asian countries, and we may well be closer to finding out if it was worth the trouble once the flame is extinguished in Beijing.


Rose Kim is a first generation Korean-American from Michigan.  A graduate of New York University’s Stern School of Business, Rose majored in Marketing and Information Systems while pursuing a minor in Urban Design and Architecture. Recently, Rose completed a term with AmeriCorps NCCC FEMA Corps.  

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