Opinion: Overpriced and irrelevant | Opinion | DW | 30.12.2016
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Opinion: Overpriced and irrelevant

It is getting harder and harder to find cities willing to host huge sporting events. That's because it is becoming increasingly difficult to sell an enlightened public on the value of doing so, writes Tobias Oelmaier.

Is this the way it used to be for you too? Weeks and months before a European championship, a World Cup, or an Olympic Games you would start to get excited about it. You'd assess your country's medal hopes, you would study the athletes, and collect stickers for your albums. You'd learn all you could about the country that was hosting the event.

And now? A European championship goes ahead in France - despite the threat of terrorism, despite the crisis surrounding FIFA, and despite the fact that most couldn't care less.

The Rio Olympics are held despite domestic political problems, despite scandals surrounding the IAAF, despite a report on state sponsored doping that was released shortly before the Games opened. And despite the fact that everybody knew that Brazil actually couldn't afford to host another huge sporting event.

Excitement? Non-existent. The sporting heroes have long since descended from Mount Olympus. There are hardly any characters any more, most of them are no more than high-performance robots. The functionaries are money-grubbing political egomaniacs, who are obsessed with power. The host sites are often unsuitable and forced, take Sochi in 2014 as and example. The competitions are uninteresting because there is always a feeling that something else is going on behind the scenes. The question always is: Will the list of winners remain valid in two, three, four, or eight years? Or will the winners have tested positive in doping retests?

Oelmaier Tobias Kommentarbild App

DW editor Tobias Oelmaier

Anyway, how much high-performance sport should a society pay for? On the one hand, in Germany, swimming pools are closing, the streets are falling and budgets for police services and teachers are being cut. On the  other, athletes are being trained unable to actually compete either because the competition are cheating or they themselves used performance-enhancing drugs in order to get to the top. They put their own health at risk in doing so, because it has long been clear that high-performance sports and physical inviolability hardly go hand-in-hand.

The exclusive domain of totalitarians

It is hard to sell the high cost of such controversial events to an enlightened public. Within a matter of months, Hamburg, Boston and Rome either withdrew their bids to host the Summer Olympics, or they scrapped their plans to submit them. The next Winter Games won't be held in St. Moritz, Oslo or Garmisch, but in Pyeongchang, South Korea. There are only two cities interested in hosting the 2022 Winter Games, Almaty, in totalitarian-governed Kazakhstan and the "winter-sports" paradise that is Beijing in totalitarian-governed China.

For the Summer Games, a few somewhat attractive prospective hosts have been found.  After the 2020 Games in Tokyo, cities such as Los Angeles, Budapest and Paris are aiming to host the 2024 Summer Olympics - at least for now.

The same thing applies to football, with Russia and Qatar to host the next two World Cups. It's hard to imagine two hosts with less flair than that. Here too you have totalitarian leaders who do not care at all about human rights. And in light of the state doping system in Russia, it's clear they care nothing about sporting fairness either. On top of that, due to its climate, even in the winter time, Qatar is no place to be playing football. So how does FIFA respond to this? They propose expanding the World Cup, with more teams, more games and more stadiums.

Who can afford it?

Two, at most three countries come to mind when you think about who might be able to host a European championship. There is France, but as mentioned above, they just did so and the tournament was hardly greeted with enthusiasm by the general public. Then there are Spain and Italy, but they both have financial problems. England could do so, but for now, they already have enough on their plate with Brexit. Not to worry, Euro 2020, which will mark the 60th anniversary of the first edition of the tournament, will be a pan-European affair.

But what comes after that - in 2024? The hosting rights for that tournament are yet to be awarded. An increasingly totalitarian state has got wind of the opportunity: Turkey would be willing…

Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark have made noise about a joint bid. This may make sense from a financial point of view, but would people identify with such an event?

That leaves the German football association (DFB), which has said it intends to apply for it. Germany and football are a good fit. So we thought - at least until now. But what is it that we have since learned about how Germany won the right to host the 2006 World Cup? Corruption and a lack of transparency are to be found here too, and in the middle of it all is the once-shining light of German football, "Kaiser" Franz Beckenbauer. Things will never be more beautiful than they were 10 years ago, and Germany will never be more successful than they were at the World Cup in Brazil anyway.

It all makes you feel like telling the head of the DFB to leave it be - so we can go back to leafing through sticker albums full of football players from the 1970s.


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