Romney: Sochi Games cost too much

 
Mitt Romney sits in the stands during the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada.

Say what you want about former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, but he knows the Olympics.

As we were often reminded during the 2012 presidential campaign, the former Massachusetts governor swooped in as head of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee to rescue a 2002 Winter Olympics mired in delays and funding shortfalls.

Now the former Massachusetts governor has some strong words about the cost of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, estimated at $50b (£30b) (although even that figure may be too low).

Start Quote

Necessity is the mother of frugality”

End Quote Mitt Romney Former Republican presidential nominee

He contends out that the high price tag is unnecessary and contrasts the Sochi Olympics with his Utah games and the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, which cost $4b to host (£2.4b).

"Necessity is the mother of frugality," he writes. "In the United States, unlike every other host country, the money for the games comes almost exclusively from private sources: sponsorships, broadcast revenue and tickets."

Because other host countries pay for the Olympics out of government coffers, he continues, there is little incentive to control costs. Instead, the games become grand displays of "excess" where, for instance, Japan spends $300m (£180m) for a speed skating track in Nagano with an ornate wooden ceiling instead of $29m (£17.5) for the more modest venue in Salt Lake City.

So what's the harm if a country goes overboard on its games, even if for $50bn we could travel to Mars 20 times?

"Harm occurs when a country spends more than it can afford to keep up appearances with the big spenders," he writes. "Harm occurs when a country is excluded from hosting an Olympics because it can't afford the fabulous frills. And harm occurs when the world's poor look in anguish at the excess."

He concludes by recommending that the International Olympic Committee set spending limits for the games and make bidding nations stick by them.

Gregory Feifer, a former Moscow correspondent for National Public Radio, writes that the spending on the Russian games is just another example of Russian excess that dates back to imperial times.

Start Quote

It's hardly the case that private enterprise is free of abuse and criminal cost overruns”

End Quote Philip Bump The Wire

"Moderation has never been Russia's strong suit - not in the creation of its imperial capital centuries ago and not today, as it unveils the Winter Olympic Games at the Black Sea resort of Sochi," he writes.

In Russia, however, there seems to be scant interest in the cost of the games.

"The Sochi Olympics are seen as such a national priority - and a personal one for Mr. Putin - that there has been little official debate about the preparations and the costs," writes Steven Lee Myers of the New York Times. "The Parliament has not held hearings. The state auditing chamber has compiled a report on spending, but it has not disclosed its findings and would not do so until after the Games, a spokesman said."

The Wire's Philip Bump writes that it's ironic that Mr Romney is writing about the Olympics being used for political purposes, since he incessantly touted his accomplishments in 2012. And his solution of putting more funding into private hands isn't likely to bring the kind of financial controls he seeks.

"It's hardly the case that private enterprise is free of abuse and criminal cost overruns," he writes. "The games will always be as expensive as people want to spend on them; they will always be shiny objects to which politicians point with pride."

 
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  • rate this
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    Comment number 30.

    28. No Atlanta pride, shame on you! The Olympics is a huge deal that bridges nations and fosters excellence and camaraderie regardless of race and creed - not worth a single buck to you?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 29.

    I attended the Atlanta, Nagano and Salt Lake Olympics. The Atlanta facilities were dull spaces, as were the Salt Lake facilities. The Nagano facilities, particularly the speed skating oval, were beautiful. They lifted the spirit like all good architecture does.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 28.

    As an Atlanta tax payer I was thrilled with the fact none of my dollars were wasted on venues and ego massage projects. Sure Sydney,London Beijing etc put on great displays of excess and waste far exceeding Atlanta's but we paid the bill and walked away debt free. Something the venomous lefty leaners aren't much interested in. Jay 'bravo' you have it right.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 27.

    I would rather have beauty and frills no matter the cost difference. Where would you rather go watch skating: Nagano with it's ornate ceiling or the austere work in Salt Lake City? Make the government AND the private sector pay! If you would rather spend money on the poor or a space program, then don't offer to host the Olympics period. That actually sounds good to me and ends the debate!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 26.

    A private Russian contractor once told me that on any Putin-era government contract, you had to set aside 40% to cover the bribes (which means having to do construction as cheaply as possible, hence the horror stories).

    So the actual cost was $30B for the games, and $20B for bribes ... assuming the bribes weren't set even higher for such prestige projects.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 25.

    I am surprised by how thoughtful this intervention was. The image of the poor looking on as politicians from the world's wealthiest countries build monuments to their own egos is a potent one.

    He has a very valid point. The Olympics has moved away from a celebration of amateur sport and healthy competition to a forum for jingoism, national one-ups-manship and political egotism.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 24.

    What America needs to remember during these Olympics is two major things

    1) Russia and USA together won WWII which means they have been an important ally in past and could be very valuable ally in future

    2) Russia and USA are going to space together in which we would be unable to if it wasn't for Russia

    The positives regarding Russia overshadow the negatives

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 23.

    If Russia wants to spend billions on their Olympics, no one should criticize them as its their money, not ours

    This is a once-in-a-chance lifetime so Russia is living it up

    Its only the second Olympics they have ever had
    in which their first one was boycotted by us for them invading Afghanistan

    Well today we are in Afghanistan

    Everybody needs to leave politics out of the Olympics

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 22.

    Mitt Romney has been here before on Olympic Games comments: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/26/mitt-romney-shambles_n_1707995.html And as a US presidential candidate visiting the UK no less! Keeping his foot out of his mouth is not his strong suit!

    2. Like the 'mitts' comment on the $50 Billion!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 21.

    The Russia Olympics are going great and many Americans, including myself, are having a lot of fun watching them because we have never really seen Russia before

    Overall I am very impressed with Russia and I think they have actually exceeded expectations

    That being said, I would rather hear Romney bring attention to the fact that our American athletes have to pay taxes on their medals

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 20.

    Romney talking about 'the worlds poor', give me a break!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 19.

    A knack for the obvious. In addition, a Russian oligarch is bankrolling at least one team, and Putin hands out citizenships and large stipends to entice a Korean skater and an American snowboarded to bear his flag. When the Olympics become a contest between the American Koch brothers and Warren Buffet, vs. Prince Alaweed, vs. Brunei (Sultan of), vs. Russian oligarchs, it's over.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 18.

    This guy is just an American Republican whose party wants to privatize everything to benefit his corporate buddies. Theres a reason he lost the election. He was born into millions of dollars and has never worked hard or struggled for anything in his life and therefore, is out of touch with the world.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 17.

    Who gives a care what this empty headed Republican loser says? Who is he to criticize anybody? The man has $millions hidden in a trust fund in the Cayman Islands to avoid paying federal taxes about which he always says he doesn't know what money he has there. Some stupid excuse. Liar! Perhaps the Sochi games are costly but that's not idiot Romney's business it''s Russia's.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 16.

    Figures USA Today would carry commentary by 'the 47% guy', Romney: http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2014/02/11/mitt-romney-olympics-sochi-cost-column/5404889/ The-obvious flows from Romney as he posits as 'the authority' (sic) on Olympic fiscal constraint. A four year only event, how the successful bidder presents the contest within the rules while showcasing its nation is its own business!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 15.

    Mr. Romney neglects to mention his rescue included millions from Washington which he was able to extract due to his political connections. These funds came down through appropriations bills. Mr. Romney neglects to mention that Salt Lake City had most of the infrastructure in place thanks to funding by state and local governments. His main success with those games was limiting the corruption.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 14.

    More American nonsense !

    The largest portion of the 50 Bln was spent on building the non-existing infrastructure and removal of the Soviet built eye-sores.

    "They launched an ambitious effort to construct hotels, roads and railways in this city of about 400,000 residents. The goal? To make Sochi more than just a summer vacation spot"

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 13.

    What ever the cost it will be less than the money spent on invading Iraq and Afghanistan, with rather fewer deaths and less maiming

  • rate this
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    Comment number 12.

    The Sochi case has nothing to do with the building of Russia's Imperial capital, for 300 yrs now 1 of the world's most impt cities. VP chose Sochi because that was where he wanted to build his palace, which he hopes to keep. It went up concurrently with the venues. As a child, VP knew of Sochi as Stalin's playground. IOC enabled this. Mitt is right: a lot of this has gone very, very wrong indeed!

  • Comment number 11.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

 

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