26 November 2006

ring(s) of fire

This article, and subsequent comments, from The Guardian are a fascinating insight into the various issues that arise when countries bid for the Olympics. For a newspaper that's generally understood to be on the left, and has been supportive of the Blair government, this is a pretty scathing summary of all the things expected to go wrong in bringing London's bid to reality.

The general accusation that the UK government has a poor history of bringing major projects in on time and on budget should be expected. Just thinking about that, it'd be a fascinating research project to try and compare some modern large infrastructure projects with earlier ones. For example, I'm sceptical about PPPs, believing that they are highly complex accounting exercises which governments routinely use to get stuff done while protecting the sacrosanct AAA ratings and budget surpluses which are part of contemporary economic dogma. However, accounting firms are better at these paper exercises, so governments have to buy in the expertise. I don't think they ever catch up. Hence, the inevitable cost blow-outs and unintended consequences that seem to accompany major infrastructure projects. But have we got that much worse over the years? Was it all much simpler in supposedly simpler times?

The view that because only London will benefit from the Games in terms of urban renewal or new facilities, then only Londoners should pay, is also run of the mill. What is facinating is to see commenters pick up the old UK vs France rivalry: the Games may cost us an arm and a leg, but they are necessary to preserve superiority over the bloody Frogs.

The suggestion that Sydney should host the Games in perpetuity because all Aussies are sports-mad is an interesting, if deeply flawed (joke) idea.

The environmental perspective, that the greenhouse costs of flying all the competitors, officials, media and spectators around the world to be part of the Games, is a relatively new angle but one that is sure to gain support.

There's been so much scrutiny of the Olympics in recent years, you'd kind of think that any concerns had been settled. However, the extraordinary amounts of money needed to stage them ensures that the argument won't go away.

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