The Free Press, Mankato, MN

June 12, 2014

Our View: Mega sports events misuse resources

Why It Matters: The World Cup begins today in Brazil, where there is rising discontent with the expense of the giant soccer tournament.

The Mankato Free Press

---- — The World Cup — an every-four-years soccer fest that rivals the Olympics in international popularity — opens today in Brazil.

Such global sporting events as the Olympics and World Cup offer an appealing source of national unity and pride, a sort of war-without-bullets. But the pride for the host nation can come at a painful economic price, as Brazil is learning.

It isn't just that much of the infrastructure it needed to hold the World Cup is barely finished, if finished at all. It's that so much of it had to be built from scratch — and figures to be of little use after the three-week tournament is over.

Brazil's price tag for the tournament is put at more than $14 billion. And it is to hold the 2016 Summer Olympics, with its own huge set of athletic facilities demands, as well.

That's a lot of resources being poured into stadiums, arenas and tracks — and being diverted from more practical needs, of which there is no shortage in Brazil. The past year has been marked by protests and riots as Brazilians perceive more immediate needs being neglected in favor of mega sports.

To be sure, not all the infrastructure created for such events is wasted. Some of it, particularly in the transportation field — highways, commuter rail, airports — figures to have economic value for years to come.

But the athletic facilities, particularly in developing economies that literally cannot afford a professional sports culture, are another matter.

The stadiums built in Athens for the 2004 Olympics are crumbling; the Games' expense were part of Greece's crushing debt issues that came to a head five years later and continue to trouble not only Greece but the entire Eurobloc. China spent some $40 billion to prepare for the 2008 Olympics; now most of those facilities are overgrown, unused, neglected.

It similarly seems unlikely that Brazil will have a use for 12 world-class soccer stadiums, seven of them new, not to mention the array of arenas needed for the 2016 Olympics.

Even in the United States, there is a growing realization that the Olympics aren't a great economic investment. New York City and Philadelphia recently abandoned their plans to seek the 2024 Games, although there are still several U.S. cities still in the hunt.

There is occasional chatter about establishing a permanent location for the Olympics. That is unlikely as long as cities and nations see such events as their ticket to global prominence.

It's an expensive mirage.