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News Opinion

The Sochi lesson: Just say no to hosting the Olympics

A lot of attention has been paid to the lead up to the opening of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia this week. While there was a lot of anticipation for fans to watch the games themselves (I'm fond of curling myself) folks here in Maryland need to consider a different side to Sochi.

A lot has been made about the problems with Olympic facilities in the greater Sochi region. Some of them have been outright hilarious, some have been outright nasty, some odd, some have been dangerous and all of them have been accurate

All of those things could have a future impact here in Maryland.

Every so often somebody gets the harebrained idea that the Baltimore-Washington Metro area should host the Olympics. It's a topic I've written on both in 2012 and 2013 as the idea gets tossed around and more reasons as to why this is a bad idea come to light. Sochi is just another arrow in that particular quiver.

Would things ever be as bad as their are in Sochi? Structurally, I would hope not. Economically, though, is a completely different story. The Sochi Olympics are the most expensive Olympic Games in history, outpacing even every Summer Olympics despite the fact there are fewer events and fewer athletes. And that's important to our area given our already problematic jobs market and our traditional bungling of large scale projects.

Folks who are familiar with how politics in Baltimore and Maryland have worked over the last several decades pretty much know what the playbook is:

  • Governments come together to build multi-million dollar structures that the private sector would choose not to build themselves;
  • Elected officials decide who gets to be winners and who gets to be losers through the awarding the contracts and the establishment of set-asides for certain groups;
  • Taxpayers are shut out of the process virtually in its entirety, often rising up in opposition only long enough for certain subsets to get their piece of the pie;
  • At the end of the day nothing goes to plan and the government is "unexpectedly" on the hook for millions upon millions of dollars more than they originally indicated publicly.

It's a very typical process here when it comes to doing business in Maryland. There are winners, and there are losers. And usually the losers are the middle and working class taxpayers.

There are plenty of other reasons why we should pass on the games too, not the least of which is the fact that there is a cottage tourism industry of ruins of Olympic venues that our area really doesn't need in order to generate tourist dollars. 

When the time comes and folks like the DC 2024 committee come knocking for support, government and business leaders should just say no.


Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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