A Brief History of Disastrous Sports Events
The answer is no, obviously
There's nothing that symbolises the ideal of international sporting participation and the brotherhood of man more than sniggering schadenfreude. Watching another country screw up the organisation of their Olympics, Commonwealth or World Cup simply reaffirms the comforting racist fact that all other races are bullshit. So, as we raise a toast to the soon-to-be-toast Delhi Commonwealth Games (nice toilets, mate), let us remember some of those other great logistical nightmares and financial calamities of the sporting world.
It wasn't enough that people were being hosed with hot lead on the fields of Flanders only two years earlier – as further war reparations, Belgium was forced to host the deeply unprofitable Summer Olympics of 1920, notable as the only Games where the local Olympic Organising Committee actually went bankrupt midway through the event, meaning that no official reports or medals tables were ever published.
As the engineers watched the final piece of the Montreal Olympic Stadium roof slide into place, they could congratulate themselves on a job well done. They'd finished the stadium! Too bad it was 1987, and the Games had come and gone 11 years earlier. Just one more symbol of the graft and incompetence for which Montreal had become notorious was that, even then, the covered roofing they'd installed began to tear within weeks, owing to a design flaw.
When they beat both Moscow and Los Angeles to the prize, Montreal's mayor had decreed that “the Olympics could no more make a loss than a man could have a baby”. He was soon eating his words for two: Montreal spent thirty years paying off a $1.5 billion heap of chump change for its untenanted, unwanted, useless stadium, known semi-officially as the “Big O”, but more colloquially as the “Big Owe”.
In 1986, a big chunk of masonry fell off the central tower during a baseball game by the Montreal Expos. Not long after, the entire team was shipped off to Washington DC, permanently. Now many Montrealers want it demolished, but because of the "unique" design, even that isn't possible – it won't implode because of its curvature, so you'd have to take it apart piece-by-piece – an exercise likely to cost $700 million in itself. Half of what they paid to create it in the first place.
Just let the people look at the fucking flame, OK? They just want to get a good clear line-of-sight for that Olympic Torch. This, the governors of Vancouver's shitty 2010 Winter Games couldn't comprehend. It all got a bit East Berlin when gaggles of people had to observe the Torch from behind a messy wire fence because of safety concerns and the ever-present threat of someone desperate to free Tibet immolating themselves on the sporty flame.
This all added to the good vibes. A #takedownthefence campaign stalked Twitter. The promised snow turned to slush after a warm spell. A Georgian luger died after coming unstuck on a practice run. At the opening ceremony, one of the hydraulic ice totems, which was supposed to re-emerge from the floor didn’t, leaving Catriona LeMay Doan stuck in her silo, unable to participate alongside Wayne Gretzky, Nancy Greene and Steve Nash in the “quadruple-lighting of the cauldron”. And with tickets for key events changing hands for $4,000, no wonder there were reports of window-smashing rampages downtown by outraged fans.
Seems a bit bizarre, holding the Olympics in Greece, but whatever. The Greeks finally got their Games in 2004 and built a shiny new subway system and a big stadium in the usual fashion. Nine billion dollars later, Greece had spent 5% of its national income on the Games. You'd think that a programme of massive public spending would start some kind of economic boom, but instead of spiking, straight after the games GDP fell to its lowest level in a decade, setting off the chain of events that would lead to Greece finally calling in the men in pinstripes to rake over its public finances earlier this year. Yes, the Greek Debt Crisis is all the fault of Greece's greatest export, the Olympics.
By 1986, everyone who was anyone was boycotting something – hey, it was the era of Live Aid and we could change the world if we really wanted to. So when 32 of the 56 nations involved in the Commonwealth Games decided to boycott the event over the Thatcher government's soft stance on South Africa, the finances of the event duly turned south after no one wanted to sponsor it. Four million quid in debt even before kick-off, rogue entrepreneur and Fleet Street baron Robert Maxwell then announced that he would step in to save the games. Clearly, the mild-mannered city councilors who let him in hadn't read his roguish CV. Instead of the £2million he had announced he would contribute, Maxwell ultimately stumped up a measly £250,000. Instead of securing new lines of revenue, he simply asked all the Games' creditors if they'd be prepared to settle for half the amount they were owed. That takes a certain genius.
Well it hasn’t happened yet. But they did manage to cut off the water to half of Hackney for a week and I met someone the other day who was building the stadium and he said they just hung around smoking dope all day. So roll on glorious Olympics!