The Olympics, a Comfortable Pond Away
A storied history for the Games, just not a feel-good one
My neighborhood should be relatively quiet for the next few weeks, although I'd be surprised if Mayor Michael Bloomberg cares any more.
Seven years ago, he and his deputy mayor at the time, Dan Doctoroff, were determined to get the Olympics to New York City by building a stadium in my backyard-well, a few blocks from me, actually. Knowing what long shots these things can be, I didn't have too many NIMBY concerns.
I also wasn't thinking too much about the Olympics' history of hypocrisy, corruption and worse (we'll get back to that).
The Olympics were on my mind because some of the Lower Manhattan leaders I was covering then were worried that the administration seemed more focused on the Hudson Yards stadium site than on rebuilding Downtown after 9/11.
It was clear City Hall was more interested in a stadium than the Olympics. For one, the city pushed Hudson Yards as the be-all to the Olympic gods, when there was a suitable alternative in Flushing where Citi Field now sits. For another, Doctoroff told me and undoubtedly many others that the Olympics are the spark that gets cities to do the big projects that they should be doing anyway.
I wonder. With the Olympics about to start in London, it doesn't look like the city is happy with the $17 billion public investment. Perhaps the bribes that Olympic powers used to collect from cities were not worth the money. Reuters surveyed 27 economists-all but four said the Olympics would not bring a lasting economic boost to a city mired in Europe's doldrums.
A column by John Lanchester in a Bloomberg-owned publication, Businessweek, noted that subway commuters are being warned about 30-minute waits to board London's Tube. He also wrote that Londoners are grumbling so much that pop stars were warned at a BBC concert not to play to the crowd with negative comments about the Olympics.
The stars would have hardly scratched the surface of the problems. At its best, the Games bring together the world's greatest athletes to compete in many different sports at the same time. If the International Olympic Committee could stick to that simple, remarkable thing, it would be fine, but instead it bills the competition as some great effort to achieve international harmony-a task it has failed at miserably and repeatedly.
Hitler used the '32 Olympics as an effective Nazi propaganda tool. Forty years later, the games returned to Germany and 11 Israeli athletes and coaches were killed by terrorists. IOC President Avery Brundage did not mention the athletes at the memorial service, and the Olympics has never done a permanent memorial.
But the Olympics has not only not been "good for the Jews" as the saying goes. Tommie Smith and John Carlos were stripped of their medals in 1968 because they acted politically when they raised their hands to symbolize black power, even though German athletes had been allowed to do the Nazi salute.
The 2008 Beijing Olympics does not appear to have helped the cause of human rights in China, as proponents argued it would. For this year, the Olympics has tried to solve a problem that doesn't exist-male athletes pretending to be women-by imposing a humiliating sex test based on questionable science on some women athletes.
With all of that said, London still may play host to some exciting moments with inspiring stories of individual athletes So let the Games begin-over there.
Josh Rogers, contributing editor at Manhattan Media, is a lifelong New Yorker.
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