Bread and Circuses

If you are hooked on the 2032 Brisbane/SEQ Olympic palaver, then maybe quit reading now whilst you are ahead.

For those that don’t easily swallow the bunkum, read on.


My headline comments

For mine such major sporting events are an absolute waste of money.

The 2032 Olympic Games is also very, very unlikely to leave a lasting legacy.

And the next ten years of Olympics-related development – Queensland’s so called Golden Decade (oh Lord please give me a break!) – doubtfully will deliver anything special; let alone supply what is really needed; nor should it lead to above average Brisbane centric asset growth.

Why?  Because such past events like this hardly ever do.

Some statistics

But wait just a minute, there is a report which says that the estimated economic and social benefits of the 2032 Games is projected to around $8 billion for Queensland and $18 billion for Australia.

Yes, there is such as report but did you know that this impact is based over 20 years – between 2022 and 2042 – and more than half of this illusionary $18 billion figure is for things like civic pride, better health due to exercise, self-improvement from volunteering and even ‘retained expenditure’, in this case, the assumption that Aussies around 2032 won’t travel overseas but will stay home to attend the Games.

I kid you not.

Past studies have found that there was only a moderate increase in adult sport participation post a Summer Olympics – and that this didn’t last long – and when it comes to the winter event, and also Commonwealth Games, there was no evidence that the event boosted adult sports participation in the area that hosted the sports event.

We also now have the politicians telling us that the Brisbane Games will create around 120,000 new jobs.  Well, that figure is also over 20 years, and sounds less impressive when you consider that by 2042, Australia is likely to have an extra six million more people employed than now.

A 2% potential job impact doesn’t have the same ring to it does it?

Talk about hyperbole!

But wait there is more.

And just like every other urban region that has invested heavily in hosting a major sporting event or its equivalent over the last couple of decades, this event will most certainly lose money.  Probably a lot of money and much more money than most realise.

A review of the 19 past Olympic Games, covering both the summer and winter events and stretching from Grenoble in 1968 to Rio de Janeiro in 2016 found that the average cost overrun was in the tune of 120%.

The Sydney 2000 Summer Olympics saw a cost overrun of 90%.  Furthermore, the Sydney event – which was fun to watch and no doubt a positive experience for those that were involved – generated about a $2.1 billion loss in real terms.

That’s a very expensive two week holiday if you ask me.

With such a poor batting average it is very unlikely that Brisbane will hit the ball out of the park.  In fact, based on past evidence Brisbane is very likely to eclipse the 120% average and by a long shot.

My two bobs worth

Moreover, I think that we – being the ‘West’ and especially, Australia, of late – have now reached a stage where the quote “Give them bread and circuses and they will never revolt” by Roman poet Juvenal, applies.

During the last stages of the Roman Empire, the government kept the Roman populace happy by distributing free food and staging huge spectacles such as gladiator contests in the Colosseum.

In the modern political context, the phrase means to generate public approval, not by excellence in public service or practical policy, but by diversion, distraction or by satisfying the most immediate or base requirements of a populace — by offering a palliative: for example, food (bread) or entertainment (circuses).

Replace ‘food’ with welfare; subsidies; wokeness; even artificially low interest settings and you get the drift.

We are now so hooked on this stuff.  We were once a stoic brunch.  Not anymore.

Imagine if the Olympic monies (and importantly the time and effort) was spent on things that would really make a difference to the city and its local residents.

Some suggestions include:

And whilst outside of my purview, our education, taxation and even health systems need a major overhaul.

The real lesson here

Yet despite volumes of documented evidence to the contrary why do cities and nations keep pitching for these things?

There are several reasons why.

  • Powerful people will benefit.  High profile projects attract vendors, businesses and politicians that seek high profile outcomes.
  • The project is specific.  Are there other ways that Brisbane/SEQ could effectively invested the money? Revisit my short list above and the answer is yes, without a doubt.  But there’s an infinite number of alternatives – with numerous agendas and many vested interests – versus just one specific goal.
  • The project has a rigid timeframe.  It’s imminent. You can’t study it for years or a decade and come back to it.  You are either in or out.  It’s yes or no.
  • The end is in sight. When you build a stadium, you get a stadium.  When you host the Games, you get the Olympics.  That’s rarely true for the more important (but less visually urgent) alternatives, such as actually making the city better.
  • Patriotism’s at work. “What do you mean you don’t support the city?”

As I wrote a few years back, the big takeaway here is to understand that an economic argument as to why the hosting of the Olympics shouldn’t happen is a waste of time.

It won’t change the decision maker’s minds.  It will get no purchase with the masses.  The media might run a few stories about the counterpoint but only really to be seen as offering a balanced view.

But we can learn a lot as to why such campaigns get traction and succeed.

Enough said.  I won’t waste anymore of your time.

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