Torontoist vs. Torontoist is an occasional feature that has two of our staffers debating an issue that is important to our city. We invite our readers to join the debate in the comments section following the post.
Last week, Canadian Olympic Committee chief executive Chris Rudge (who Torontoist believes may have been separated at birth from David Miller) floated the idea that Toronto should seriously consider putting together a bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympics. Rejected for both the 1996 and 2008 games, the reaction in the city to this suggestion has been notably cool. Should Toronto play hard-to-get with the Olympics, or should we, once again, get all dolled up in order to win the affections of the I.O.C?
Let us first eschew the notion that hosting the Olympics is somehow not worth the bother. In order to believe that, you would have to believe that the other great cities of the world are terribly and collectively deluded for spending millions of dollars and thousands of hours on their own bids to host the summer games. The three cities competing right now for the 2016 games are Chicago, Madrid and Tokyo. The four cities that London beat out for the 2012 games were Paris, New York, Moscow and Madrid. Some of the cities currently considering bids for 2020 are Rome, Copenhagen, Lisbon and Prague. Every one of those places is already indisputably a world-class city. They are not trying to win the games to improve their image, or because they have a tourism crisis, they are trying to win because winning the games is worthwhile in and of itself.
There is simply no other single event that places a city at the centre of the world’s attention in the same way that the Olympics do. Being able to pull off an event of this complexity is a huge boost to civic and national pride and the other great cities of the world realize this. Toronto has realized it too, having produced two very credible bids for 1996 and 2008.
The cynics will point to the waste and corruption that has plagued the bid process in the past. The cynics will point out that security will be a problem, transportation a nightmare, and that the funds needed to run the games will cause taxes to spiral upwards until we are all living in serfdom, shackled by the Olympic rings. The cynics will say that Toronto doesn’t need to spend money on an Olympic stadium, or a diving facility, or a world-class velodrome, when we have problems with poverty and homelessness, but, as Oscar Wilde said, “cynics know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.”
Hosting the Olympics is more than an opportunity to draw tourism dollars to the city, hosting the Olympics is a chance to be a part of history. It is a chance to celebrate the hard work and accomplishments of young athletes who have dedicated their lives to achieving their dreams. It is a chance for the entire world to come together at one time, in one place, and find the common ground that eludes us so much of the rest of the time. Each Olympics produces incredible stories of triumph, iconic moments that are remembered long after the games have ended, and Toronto should want to be a part of that.
Whether or not we can win the 2020 games will have a lot to do with whether Chicago wins 2016. If they do, then North America will be off the table for a while. If they don’t, that means that by 2020, the summer games will not have been in North America, the I.O.C’s richest market, for nearly a quarter-century. Toronto, with its previous bid experience, would be a natural front-runner. If Chicago wins, we can quietly withdraw, but if they don’t we should be ready to put forward our best bid for 2020. Sure, it’s possible that we might not be successful, that we might have our hearts broken again, but that sort of defeatism is just the kind of thinking that keeps so many individuals from realizing their Olympic dreams, lets not let it get in the way of ours.
Does Toronto really want to take a shot at the 2020 Olympics? After losing the 1996 games to Atlanta, and 2008 to Beijing, you’d think that even the most tireless local athletic supporters would face the fact that letting the whole idea drop once and for all is the right thing to do.
Firstly, let’s look at the motivation of the Canadian Olympic Committee—why do they want yet another Toronto bid? Not because Toronto as a city has shown any real enthusiasm for the idea, or has any particularly geographic merit. The simple fact is that there are only a few urban areas in Canada with the population base to host an event the size of the Olympic Games, and Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver have had or will soon have a shot already. In other words, we shouldn’t be too flattered—Toronto isn’t the first choice, just the only option left to the COC.
Olympic boosters, not surprisingly, like to point out the potential benefits of a successful bid—the shot in the arm to civic and national pride, new sports facilities, hundreds of millions in tourist dollars, a chance to show the world that summer in Toronto is more than guns, SARS and roadwork. Unfortunately, before we grab the gold ring, there are a few metaphorical hurdles to get over, hurdles which we’ve proven spectacularly unsuccessful at clearing the last couple of times around.
The bid process would be as contentious as ever, since as a city we like the idea of the Olympics, but we sure don’t want to pay for them. Faced with the prospect of property tax increases to fund mammoth swimming pools, stadiums, and high tech accommodations for athletes, Toronto homeowners would once again rise from their torpor to express their displeasure publicly. While that dialogue might be kept relatively civilized, not so the bleak, angry whining of professional poverty pests “Bread Not Circuses” who would emerge blinking from under their rocks to demand that any money raised for the Olympics instead be allocated to soup kitchens and public housing (for the record, I favour both bread and circuses).
It’s that kind of civic infighting that amuses the international press and scares off the International Olympic Committee. However, image problems aside, the controversy highlights the very real divisions in the city over the prospect of hosting the games. It’s that divide, more than finances and facilities, that make the prospect of a successful bid so unlikely, and the idea of attempting one so unpalatable.
In any case times are changing—bribery, drug scandals, political favouritism, and competition from more popular global events like the World Cup are taking the luster off of the Olympic gold. Before we drop a hundred million bucks just to watch our civic pride suffer another world-class humiliation, let’s ask ourselves if it’s really worth it.