Friday, August 21, 2015

3 comments "Slate" Has a Terrible Idea on How to Determine Which Country Will Host the Olympics

"Slate" generally has some sort of bizarre (or bad) ideas on their site. Whether it's calling Americans "hypocrites" because nobody likes the Spurs, asking why LeBron has to be so serious, or taking on the evil of youth sports, those who contribute to the site tend to take semi-bizarre stances. I guess it's supposed to be considered "out of the box" thinking that is shown in some of the articles on the site. So a "Slate" writer thinks that cities should be forced to host the Olympics. Yeah, it's an interesting point of view. That's for sure. Logistically I can't see how this makes sense, but of course sometimes I wonder if some of these "Slate" ideas are truly serious. Many times the articles are written in a manner like, "I know this is a terrible idea, so don't take it seriously, unless you think it's a good idea because this is a serious idea we have come up with, in which case this is really a serious idea." The idea of forcing a city to host the Olympics seems to fall into this category as well. Even the cities that host the Olympics can barely afford it, so why is forcing a city to host even close to a good idea? The writer does acknowledge an Olympics held in a poor country would result in terrible facilities, but that sounds like a ton of fun for the athletes who work their entire life to represent their country, doesn't it?

On Monday, the U.S. Olympic Committee announced that Boston was dropping its bid to host the 2024 Olympics following a series of protests, significant public opposition, and a loss of support from the city’s mayor.

So Boston was saying they DO or DO NOT want to host the Olympics? I wish they would be clearer about their stance. 

On Tuesday, the International Olympic Committee told other U.S. cities that might be similarly skeptical of hosting the event that the organization would not take “we don’t want your horrifically costly and burdensome boondoggle of a sporting event in our town” for an answer.

Someone has to step up and take the place of FIFA as the villainous international sports committee. The IOC has been working hard for years to achieve this goal and it's their time. 

But even before Boston was selected and then got itself unselected, both New York City and Philadelphia abandoned bids to be the U.S. candidate for the 2024 Olympics. The 2022 games, meanwhile, were beset by similar abandonments from Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, and Germany.

It's not fair to characterize the Swiss as abandoning the Olympics. They simply said they were neutral on the idea of hosting them. 

For plenty of democratized countries, though, the prospect of hosting the Olympics can seem more like a curse—akin to smallpox, wildfires, and an extra-dimensional Chitauri invasion—than an honor.

I'm terrible with grammar and run-on sentences. So I am not criticizing, just noting this sentence should probably read "For plenty of democratized countries though, the prospect..."

That's how it should read, right? The commas around "though" feel weird when read aloud. But yes, no one wants to host the Olympics. The easy decision would be for the IOC to put a cap on how much can be spent on the Olympics or (gasp) cut costs by getting rid of the supremely boring Opening and Closing Ceremonies. It's like a parade, but somehow more boring. Watching people walk and wave just doesn't appeal to me, yet it takes four hours and costs God knows how much for these ceremonies. Cap how much can be spent and give the option of reducing the spectacle of the Opening and Closing ceremonies or getting rid of them entirely.

The IOC requires each host city to agree to cover excess costs or revenue shortfalls in case the games end up overspending. And practically every Olympic Games overspends. “The average cost overrun from the summer Olympics since 1976 is 252 percent, after controlling for inflation,” writes economist Andrew Zimbalist

Make it a hard cap. I know these countries like to show off (more on that later in this post, because the spectacle the host country likes to show off is why this lottery idea won't work), but don't allow countries to go over a certain cost. 

And yet somebody has to host the Olympics. Right?

Not really. If no country hosts the Olympics then there will be no Olympics. 

There are rational solutions to this problem. They involve reforming the IOC, reining in costs by using existing facilities rather than always building new ones, and changing the bidding process so that it no longer hinges on the discreet transfer of large bags of money.

FIFA, there's a new villain in town.

But the Olympics are not a rational event, and so maybe a farcical solution is in order: The IOC should host a Shirley Jackson–style “lottery” to determine which nation will host the Olympics. Every single nation that wants to have an Olympic team has to enter.

If you aren't familiar with "The Lottery" then basically it's a story where a small town draws names to see who will be stoned to death in order to ensure a good harvest. The author of this article, somewhat surprisingly given the fact his entire idea is a bad one, does not suggest any type of stoning to determine which country hosts the Olympics. Well, he does suggest stoning an IOC member, but that can be forgiven. 

If you participate in the Olympics, you have to participate in the lottery. If your name comes up, you’re stuck with hosting the games.

What could go wrong? Well, countries would opt-out of participating in the Olympics for fear they would have to host. This idea also doesn't give smaller countries any incentive to participate in the Olympics since they will only be sending a few Olympians in a few sports, so it doesn't make sense to take a chance on hosting the Olympics so 8-10 people can participate. So yeah, if the idea is to ensure small-to-medium sized countries don't participate in the Olympics then this idea is for you. 

Once that’s finished, we’ll proceed to the main event, which, like all good things, involves thousands of ping-pong balls and a gigantic air lottery machine. Every nation starts off with 25 ping-pong balls.

Why not 10 ping-pong balls? Why not 5 ping-pong balls? Why not 1 ping-pong ball? Why not 100 ping-pong balls? Who the fuck knows? This idea has all the makings of the author deciding "I just read 'The Lottery' again and have to get a column posted in the next hour so here's all I have." 

After calculating the average world GDP, we’ll add or subtract balls for each nation based on how far a nation falls above or below that average, 

(Bengoodfella falls asleep)

Not only is this idea dumb, but it's also needlessly complicated.

so that the United States would end up with far more balls than, like, Tonga. Then we pull the balls in and run the lottery.

As the NBA Draft shows, even teams with significantly more ping-pong balls in the lottery don't necessarily have the best chance of winning (in this case, losing) the lottery. 

Aside from the very simple egging-and-lottery structure, there will be a few other key points.

Nations can buy extra balls. There are some countries out there that still really, really want to host the Olympics, God bless ’em. 

But, but...if there were countries out there that still want to really, really host the Olympics then why even have this lottery? Just award the Olympics to the country that wants to host the Olympics. Isn't this lottery being suggested under the idea that no countries want to host the Olympics, to where the IOC would have to force a country to host? So if there are countries who will buy extra ping-pong balls because they want to host the Olympics so badly then what's even the purpose of this lottery? The fact nations will want extra balls contradicts the reason for the lottery, which is no countries want to host the Olympics. 

These countries can spend $5 million per ball to increase their chances, up to 40 extra balls; the money will go directly toward the cost of the Olympics, whoever gets awarded them, as a kind of tax on wealthy autocrats that really want the games.

Up to 40 balls. Because spending $200 million on additional chances to host the Olympics is reasonable, while spending $205 million on additional chances to host would be excessive. And again, if a country is willing to spend $200 million for the opportunity to host the Olympics then there is no need for a lottery. Even if the country that so badly wants to host isn't big enough to host, there is a chance the lottery would award the Olympics to this country (or an even smaller country) anyway. 

Nations can sell their balls to other nations. Same as before, $5 million a ball, with the money being split between the selling nation and the cost of the games themselves. Here’s the catch: A nation can’t do this for two lotteries in a row, and if a nation chooses this option, the next time around it will automatically be given as many balls as the nation with the highest GDP.

The author is apparently under the assumption the more complicated he makes the idea then the better that idea will appear to be. This is not true. Basically, nations that don't want to host the Olympics will be selling balls to nations that do want to host the Olympics. Again, why not just award the Olympics to the nation that wants to host? 

No nation can host twice in a row. If you’re unlucky enough to get picked for 2024, then you’re out of the running for 2028.

What happens if a warm-weather country is chosen to host the Winter Games? If it is truly incapable of hosting, then it’ll be levied a financial penalty and assigned to host the next Summer Games instead.

Right, because that warm-weather country will be able to financially afford to be able to host the next Summer Games if the financial penalty is severe. Also, this country would simply not be a part of the next Summer Games. What to do then? What if Jamaica gets the Winter Olympics, is awarded the Summer Olympics and then decides not to send a team? The IOC can't get an army together and invade Jamaica and force them to host the Summer Olympics.

This will probably lead most warm-weather countries to withdraw from the Winter Games entirely rather than risk winning the lottery—

Which apparently is the goal. It seems the goal of this lottery idea is to get fewer countries to participate in both the Summer and Winter Olympics. I think that's the brilliance behind it. The Olympics are a good chance for each country in the world to be represented and compete against each other in a show of national pride. This lottery idea decides that's stupid and would rather exclude countries from hosting the Olympics by setting up a situation where only the wealthiest countries can participate because only wealthy countries can afford to host the Olympics.

It also allows for the hilarious possibility that if a country like Mexico gets chosen to host the Winter Games, rather than pay the penalty it’ll just say, “Screw it, we’ve got mountains and snow machines, we’ll give it a go.”

Olympic games that would have terrible facilities and the athletes wouldn't enjoy participating in their chosen event? This would be hilarious! Why doesn't the NBA just play on ice for a year and the NHL can play on a basketball court? It would be HILARIOUS!

Nothing says, "Olympic spirit" like poor conditions and shitty facilities. Really, the best way to honor and celebrate the Olympians who have spent their lives perfecting their craft and finally get a chance to show their skills to the world would be to make a mockery of all they have worked for. 

Obviously, this system is set up so that the countries that can afford to host the Olympics are most likely to actually get them. But it also leaves open the hilarious possibility that a country that does not want the Olympics and cannot really afford to host them will nevertheless be forced to do so.

It would bankrupt countries. More hilarity would ensue! I'm sure the entire country of Greece is in stitches right now at the idea of their bankruptcy. It's so much fun! 

But the point isn’t to bankrupt poor countries.

Except, you know, that's what it will do. Forcing countries to either choose between participating and potentially having to host the Olympics, or sitting out the Olympics entirely ruins the entire point of the Olympic competition. When the author has noted expenses for the Olympics often extend beyond the given budget and not every country can afford to host the Olympics, then the intent ends up being bankrupting or excluding poor countries.

If, say, Dominica somehow ends up with the Summer Olympics, well, then, it’ll just be a Dominica-sized Olympics.

Except, you know, these countries don't want to be seen as a laughingstock so they will spend tons of money on facilities they can't afford in order to not make their country seem like a shit hole. Even wealthy countries spend too much money trying to host the Olympics, so I don't believe Dominica would actually host a small Olympics because that's all they can afford. It's a matter of national pride (and future tourism revenue) to make it look like your country isn't a shit hole.

All you really need to host an Olympics is a gym, a track, a pool, and a field. 

Plus facilities to house the athletes, enough room for the thousands of fans that want to attend to be comfortable, and facilities for these thousands of fans to stay at while watching the Olympics. So other than needing a gym, track, pool, field and the infrastructure to house, transport and feed thousands of people in a small area, not much else would be needed.

I assume that every country, no matter how poor, has at least one gym, track, pool, and field.

And that's all you really need to host the Olympics, right? One pool, one gym, one field and one track. Sure, they need to all be Olympic-sized and the country also has to have enough seating for everyone, plus housing and food, but one gym, track, pool and field is basically all that's needed. 

Because this new system removes the various crooked bidding processes that lead to the overpromising and underbudgeting of facilities, winning cities will feel far less compelled to build extravagant and unnecessary white elephant stadiums, pay for infrastructure that they might not really need or be able to afford, and generally kowtow to the IOC in a way that damages its residents.

I disagree with this. The lottery won't stop countries that are forced to host the Olympics from making extravagant stadiums and paying for infrastructure improvements that country may not need. No country wants to be known as the country that hosted the shitty Olympics. The Olympics by definition require most countries to build infrastructure they may not need, since most countries won't ever have so many different athletic events happening at the same time, with so many spectators attending these events in such a small area ever again.

Right now, various national idiosyncrasies notwithstanding, every Olympics is pretty much the same as every other Olympics, with the same top-tier facilities and stadia and such. If we assign the Olympics via lottery, we will probably end up alternating between lavish games and homemade ones, and this would be a great way of keeping in touch with the games’ amateur origins.

The idea the Olympic athletes would participate in events that take place in sub-par facilities is a terrible idea. It's spitting in the face of Olympians who have worked their entire life only to be told, "Here run on this dirt track and try not to trip over the rocks!" 

I am absolutely sure that this system has lots of problems. But so does the existing system!

Well, then the new system of using a lottery to determine which country hosts the Olympics should be adopted, simply for the hilarity of it all. Replacing one system that has problems with a different system that also has problems is not a solution. 

If it’s a choice between two flawed systems, I think the world should always go with the one that is funnier, 

Because the Olympics are supposed to be funny, you dipshit? The Olympics aren't supposed to be funny and it's not funny to send athletes out to compete in shitty facilities. 

that results in a better deal for the local populace, 

Like bankruptcy or countries simply choosing not to participate. 

and that involves a ceremonial egging. Am I wrong?

Yes. This idea is terrible. The lottery idea is probably the worst idea ever conceived to fix the issues that have plagued determining which country will be hosting the Olympics. If there are countries that really, really want to host, then those countries will bid under the current (non-perfect) system and try to be awarded the games. Simply because no United States city wants to host the Olympics doesn't mean this is true for cities throughout the world. 


Snarf said...

This is seriously one of the worst ideas I have ever seen...

Robert said...

Are you absolutely sure this wasn't actually ghost written by Bill Simmons? The only thing it's missing is a "who says no to this idea?" line to hit nearly every one of his usual lines/tropes.

JT said...

I'm not familiar with Slate, but how in god's name did this farce of an article get past their editors. Or do they not have editors?