The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics postponed. The Islamic Solidarity Games postponed. World Beach Games postponed.
Australians are petitioning for their country’s bid for 2032 Olympics to be dropped. The Queensland Government has in fact placed its bid to host the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games – headlined by Brisbane – on hold because of the coronavirus crisis
Canadians are questioning the rationale in bids to host future Winter Olympics. The coronavirus crisis and postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics have also led to renewed debate in Paris, the city set to host the following edition of the Summer Games. Several elected officials have said the French capital should “rethink” preparations, while one councillor has renewed calls for a referendum on whether or not Paris should host the Games in 2024.
Many of the multi-sports Games, end up losing money. The Rio Olympics, with a USD2 billion deficit, was a financial disaster like most Olympiads. Governments spend millions and sometimes billions to host multi-sport Games.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, yet the number of multi-sport events seems to be mushrooming with each passing year.
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic may have laid bare the heavy toll hosting mega events has been putting on the economic structure of governments. Japan has already lost billions by the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 to next year and may end up with a bigger hole in their pockets if the Games does not go ahead next year.
The ballooning cost of hosting multi-sports events has also seen a number of these Games disappearing in double quick time.
Senior sports administrator and former Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) secretary Dato Sieh Kok Chi believes that some of the multi-sports events were just out for financial gains.
“Yes, especially the newly created ‘artificial’ ones which are there with the main objective of making a fast buck from television broadcast rights. The Games owners, such as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for example must justify the creation of new Games,” said Kok Chi.
He added that the IOC has done very well in positioning the growth of the Youth Olympic Games and both Summer and Winter Olympiads.
“On the other hand some newly created ‘artificial Games’ cannot be justified, and may die naturally. The Olympic Games, Continental Games and some Regional Games are sustainable and will survive if they continue to obtain the support of the governments for their Games,” said Kok Chi.
It is highly unlikely that any multi-sport event can be successful without the financial backing of the concerned government. The ASEAN Para Games in Manila, was first postponed because of the pandemic but was ultimately cancelled after the government’s decision to withdraw its funding.
“Governments should be more careful in supporting frivolous Games and not play into the hands of dishonest people especially during the present challenging times,” said Kok Chi.
Brazil and the Philippines, hosting multi-sports Games, were also riddled with corruption accusations and in the backdrop of social issues being sidelined.
Since 2000, new multi sports events (list below) have mushroomed both at the international as well as regional levels.
Afro Asian Games, ALBA Games, African Youth Games, ASEAN Para Games, Asian Beach Games, Asian Indoor Games, Asian-Indoor Martial Arts Games, Asian Martial Arts Games, Asian Para Games, Asian Youth Games, Asia Youth Para Games, Australasian Police and Emergency Services Games. Australian Youth Olympic Festival, Black SEA Games, European Games, European Masters Games, FESPIC Youth Games, Pan America Sports Festival,
Commonwealth Youth Games, Extrimity Games, Invictus Games, Islamic Solidarity Games, Lusophony Games, World Games, Warrior Games, World Mind Sports Games, World OutGames and Youth Olympics, World Combat Games, World Urban Games
Not all of these Games are still running and the chances of more multi-sports events being created to cater for specific type of sports or demography is still very high. There are multi-sports Games, created specifically for ethnicity, language and occupation as well.
“Some of the less attractive and popular ‘artificial Games’ will die a natural death due to global economic downturn and the rising emphasis on cost of health and safety of not only the athletes but also the fans and spectators,” said Kok Chi.
Even the IOC is finding it challenging to get hosts for some of its future Olympiads. Bidding for the 2022 and 2026 Winter Games was met with hesitancy and reluctance from potential host cities, prompting the IOC to consider ways to reduce the exorbitant price tag that comes with hosting.
After six cities dropped official or potential bids to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, the games were narrowly awarded to Beijing.
Cities and governments’ often spend years paying off debt taken on to host the major multi-sports events that often increases the burden on taxpayers. For the 1976 Montreal Olympics, the city paid over US$6 billion to host the Games and spent the next 30 years paying it off until the debt was forgiven in 2006.
With the total cost far outstripping the private means of raising sponsorship money, the balance needed almost always comes from the government coffers. People get incensed about putting their tax money into what some see could be well spend on humanitarian issues.
Is it absolutely necessary to keep coming up with more and more multi sports events?
“Certainly not,” says Kok Chi.
“Games owners should and must be more conscious of quality over quantity, cost effectiveness and health and safety requirements. Governments that support the hosting of Games and the funding of their national athletes must be more conscious of the very high risks involved. The postponement of Tokyo 2020 by a year is a valuable lesson that all Government and sports leaders must learn from,” he added.
Tokyo budgeted US$12.6 billion to organise the Olympics this year, although a national government audit says it’s twice that. And that figure was before the postponement with the final cost yet to be determined.
More multi-sports events do not translate to better athletes performances either.
“Statistics of all major Games clearly show that the strong teams (countries) get stronger and stronger over the years, leaving the weaker countries little to strive for. Results of almost all major Games show that 10% of the participating countries win around 70% of the gold medals at stake,” said Kok Chi.
At the 2016 Olympics, of the 307 gold medals at stake for the 206 participating countries. The top 10 countries took the lion’s share of 182 gold medals. The top three nations alone took home 99 gold medals.
It was not much different four years earlier where 204 countries were vying for 301 gold medals at stake. The top 10 countries won a massive 131 with the top three nations taking home 113 gold medals.
“This is one of the reasons why Regional Games are more appropriate because the athletes compete with their peers. Even in this, there are countries who buy foreign athletes to win unfairly, instead of developing their own people,” lamented Kok Chi.
The use of naturalised citizens, purely for their sporting prowess, was evident among many of the participating countries even at last year’s SEA Games.
In Jakarta two years ago, Bahrain grabbed attention in the Asian Games athletics competition when they finished joint-winners alongside traditional giants China. All 12 of their gold medals in athletics were won with the help (including relays) of athletes who were either born in Morocco, Kenya, Nigeria and Ethiopia.
While Kok Chi is of the opinion that regional level Games helped with the general development of sports performances, increasingly these Games including the SEA Games are also slowly turning into a farce.
Hosts take advantage of the rules to include sports that either they were better at or traditional and non-popular sports to ensure success for their own athletes. To this extend sports like underwater hockey and Arnis were included at the Manila SEA Games last year.
Kok Chi, however, sees the benefit of the Olympics being retained as the premier multi-sports Games.
“Since the Olympic Games is over 100 years and the IOC has a good program and sufficient funds to sustain it, it is reasonable to retain the present system where the Olympic Games remains the premier multi-sports Games and the respective World Championships are also retained as the show piece of their sports,” said Kok Chi.
While many sports clamour to be included in the Olympic roster, sports like cricket and football pay more credence to their own tournaments. Cricket is not in the Olympics while football at the Olympiad is only an age-group competition.
“There are differences between a multi-sports Games like the Olympic Games and a single sport World Championship like FIFA World Cup. Both have their attractions and legacy. However loyalty to one’s sport is much stronger than loyalty to a Games,” said Kok Chi.
The FIFA World Cup, the World Cup Rugby and the various World Cups for Cricket are all major financial and sporting success on their own.
He added that most people are attracted to a Games only if their sports were included in the Games.
“If their sports are not, they will have only a passing interest because of the glamour and publicity,” said Kok Chi.
In recent years it is also increasingly evident that sports that do not get into the Olympics are being enticed to joining other multi-sports events, under banners of different international groupings.
Despite the financial issues, the lure of positioning their own sports and the multi-sport Games at the same pedestal of the Olympics is just too great to pass by for many.