If you followed our Tweets and Facebook posts over the past week you already know that most people have a one-word answer to the question of whether Portland should host the Olympics—no. What's been interesting is to understand the history of the Olympics and why you all have very good reason to be skeptical about the promises Olympic boosters make.
On February 9, we invited a panel of Olympic experts—Pacific University Professor Jules Boykoff, four-time Olympic medalist Mariel Zagunis, US Track and Field President Vin Lananna, and Oregon 2028 promoter Damian Smith—to discuss the pros and cons of the Olympic experience and how an Oregon Olympics might be different.
Calculating the Costs
Professor Boykoff began the program by laying out what he sees as the three major downsides:
- Massive cost overruns
- The militarization of host cities
- Broken promises
In his analysis of Olympic Games going back decades, he can point to city after city that went billions of dollars over its budget. Cities have to build new venues, add infrastructure to house and move people around, and invest in security. Smith estimates that the games would cost $10 billion if Oregon were to host them. Other Games have even cost more. What do hosts get for this incredible sum of money? According to Boykoff, often you get expensive housing, infrastructure that isn't very useful beyond the Games, and a "hangover" feeling.
"The Olympics are trickle-up economics that favor the rich," Boykoff said.
Is Oregon Different?
Smith made a point to say that an Oregon Olympics would be different—it would have to reflect our goals and values. Smith believes that it's possible for Oregon to reap numerous rewards, both social and economic.
"Here in Oregon we run big projects all the time and deliver them under budget," Smith said, referring to the the Orange Line and other big infrastructure projects.
Smith sees London as an example of a city that has succeeded in using the Olympics to improve life for local residents. Specifically, the housing built for the games has transitioned into (relatively) affordable housing.
"I want to build the Olympics in a sustainable way," Smith said.
The Olympic Experience
Vin Lananna coached U.S. Track and Field to gold in 2016. His experiences are with the athletes and spectators who are experiencing the greatest moments of their lives. "I'm not sure there's a more inspiring event anywhere than the Olympic Games," he said.
"As an athlete, you don't think that anything else matters at the moment," Mariel Zagunis said. "You're in the Olympic bubble."
For Lananna, an Olympics in Oregon is an opportunity to share with the world what's special about our home. "It would be a different kind of Olympics here in Oregon," he said.