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Hosting the 2012 Olympics: Who will benefit?

(Published July 1, 2002)

Showcasing all of the things that are good about the District of Columbia for a worldwide audience certainly is a logical tactic for the regional coalition of business and political leaders that is trying to land the 2012 Summer Olympic Games for the Washington-Baltimore region.

But their expensive marketing effort seems a bit disingenuous, or even downright hypocritical, when you consider some of the things that the local group has failed to show the U.S. Olympic Committee task force that will select a U.S. city to bid for the international honor of hosting the 2012 Games.

We're talking about buckled gymnasium floors, dysfunctional swimming pools, unlevel playing fields, worn safety equipment, dingy locker rooms, inadequate coaches' salaries and a host of other problems that the young people of our nation's capital suffer as part of the deplorable physical education and interscholastic athletic programs of the D.C. Public Schools.

Those glaring deficiencies in our public schools - attended by about 68,000 children - make a powerful statement about the kind of support that local business and political leaders give to programs that encourage healthful competition in amateur athletics among our nation's youth.

Isn't that the hallmark of what Olympic competition is supposed to represent?

Yet, we've heard little mentioned in all the talk about billions of dollars to be reaped from hosting the Games that indicates any of that money will ever find its way into improving the long-neglected state of our public schools' sports programs. Nor does rebuilding those decimated programs to their former greatness seem to even be on the radar screen of these local business and political leaders, who claim they support much-needed athletic activities for our youth. A new high school gym - 10 years from now - is merely a token gesture.

In fact, the public has heard so little about the estimated costs and expected benefits of hosting the 2012 Games because the coalition that's lobbying to get the Olympics says that information, which it submitted to the U.S. Olympic Committee, is all "proprietary."

In plain English, that means it's none of the public's business - even though the D.C. City Council already voted last year to underwrite up to $49 million of the costs with public tax dollars. Ask your council member for details about the cost of hosting the Olympics and you're likely to hear the same thing that one of The Common Denominator's reporters was told repeatedly: the council apparently decided to blindly commit $49 million of your hard-earned money to something that they don't know anything about.

Whether you believe them or not, remember to vote this fall.

The list of businesses involved in the local Olympics bid - including the region's two dominant daily newspapers, The Washington Post and The Baltimore Sun, each of which is listed as having contributed at least $500,000 to the marketing effort - reads like a Who's Who among major American corporations, not exactly your neighborhood mom-and-pop shops down the street. Many of those companies also show up repeatedly on local elected officials' campaign contributors lists.

Who do you think will benefit most from Washington being selected to host the 2012 Olympics? If the answer were really D.C. residents, wouldn't it make sense to share the "secrets" with the public so that they could lobby the U.S. Olympic Committee, too?

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator