Romney: Sochi Games cost too much

Mitt Romney sits in the stands during the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada. Image copyright Getty Images

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).

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.

"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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