In view of a dwindling number of countries willing to host the Olympic Games, German sports economist and gold medalist Wolfgang Maennig urges the IOC to lower its standards and give host nations more financial support.
Deutsche Welle: When the IOC chooses countries to host future Olympic Games, will it have to cut back on some of its requirements?
Wolfgang Maennig: Absolutely. That's the IOC's main task for the future: making requirements more flexible, for instance allowing stadiums that don't necessarily meet current Olympic standards. I'm not talking about the length of swimming lanes, there's not much you can do about that. It's about the number of spectators and also about safety standards - all IOC demands are based on Swiss and German standards, and that's just not how the rest of the world wants to build. They will have to be more flexible. The price is that perhaps, the Games will have to make do with 8,000 spectators in Olympic swimming events. Of course, some people will be very disappointed.
Is it true that countries fund the Olympic Games with money earmarked for public expenditure?
Yes, of course. A state can only spend every euro in its budget once.
In particular today, where many nations have a compulsory debt limit - as in Europe - or a de-facto debt limit via financial markets that are simply no longer prepared to give more loans. It's evident that a state must think long and hard about the funds it allocates to the Olympics, and where it's having to cut corners. That's what happened in Hamburg [in a 2015 referendum, citizens stopped Hamburg's bid for the 2024 Olympic Games, at least partly for financial reasons, the ed.], and it's always been embellished.
Why doesn't the IOC shoulder more of the costs of the Olympic Games?
The IOC finances more than half of the organizational costs. When the cities put in their bid, they know how much the IOC will pay. The rules and regulations also contain this one charming phrase, namely, that there's room for flexibility in case of unforeseen problems. That's currently the case in Rio. The IOC does it, and so does the world's football association, FIFA. At the same time, both the IOC and FIFA make sure the host country guarantees it will absorb any losses. For image reasons, IOC and FIFA events must always end in the black.
But the organizational costs are far lower than the necessary investment into infrastructure…
That's true. New ports, airports, streets, subway lines and Olympic villages produce the Olympic Games' enormous costs. These infrastructure projects usually have little to do with the Games - for the most part, they were urgently needed anyway. The Olympics provide a reason to finance them at an earlier date, or perhaps more easily. The IOC doesn't want to participate in these measures. As an athlete, I fully understand.
On the other hand, if the committee wants to make sure that enough cities from democratic countries bid to host the Games, it will have to be more flexible. Clearly, opinion polls end up being anti-Olympics. The Hamburg referendum wasn't an exception, it's the rule.
At the moment, we just can't reach the public. The people fail to see why so much should be shelled out for the Olympics. So the Olympic family as well as FIFA might have to say that they'll finance a stadium, and the infrastructure, too. Presumably, that's where this is headed.
So it would make sense for the IOC to increase its payments to the local organization committees?
That's the idea. Currently, the states can only finance temporary building measures with the organization committee's budget. That means it's possible to build an Olympic stadium with a temporary capacity of up to 80,000 spectators and then shrink it back to 20,000 spectators. But financing an Olympic stadium that never has more than a capacity of seating 20,000 isn't possible. The example shows how skewed the system is. We've reached a point where you could feasibly ask whether it wouldn't make sense for the IOC to say: "We'll finance the Olympic stadium for 20,000 people that you need, it's our gift to the host nation." I believe that should be possible.
Perhaps after Rio…
Yes, that's what will happen. The IOC realizes that it isn't getting enough bids from democratic states. Rome might be dropping out for the bid for 2024. The IOC will have to come up with some way to change the concept so that a majority of the population is in favor of the Games in at least three or four cities. When Rio got the Games, the population was thrilled. A referendum would have been a good idea back then - the politicians would have won. But the population can be wrong, too.
Wolfgang Maennig, 56, has worked as an expert for the Olympic bids of Berlin 2000, Leipzig 2012, Munich 2018 and the Athletics World Cup Berlin 2009. He was part of West Germany's gold medal-winning rowing team of eight plus a coxswain at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, and was president ofthe German Rowing Federation from 1995 to 2001. Maennig is professor of economics at the Department of Economics at Hamburg University, and will participate in the 8th International Sport Business Symposium on August 18 in Rio.