Feb 9, 2021 - Sports

The growing nexus between the Olympics and authoritarian states

Data: Council on Foreign Relations; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

The cost of hosting the Olympics has skyrocketed in recent decades, outpacing revenues from visitors and saddling cities with heavy maintenance burdens. As a result, residents of potential host cities have increasingly resisted their government's bids to host the games.

Why it matters: Authoritarian countries eager for global approbation can ignore local opposition, making hosting the Olympics increasingly the terrain of autocratic regimes.

What's happening: In recent years, democratic countries considering an Olympic bid often hold a local referendum in the potential host city to gauge the level of local support.

  • The results often indicate that city residents oppose the bid due to heavy costs and other burdens, so democratic countries increasingly cancel their bids, Thomas Könecke and Michiel de Nooij wrote in a 2017 study published in the journal Current Issues in Sports Science.
  • "In the bidding race for the Winter Games in 2022, all eight potential hosts from democratic countries terminated their bidding efforts before the IOC's final vote, which left two cities from authoritarian states as potential hosts," Könecke and de Nooij wrote.

The bottom line: "Keeping good working relations with authoritarian governments helps the IOC to secure the future of its main revenue driver, the Olympic Games, thus providing for its own future," Könecke and de Nooij wrote.

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