Should Third World countries host international sporting events?

John Tures Contributing columnist

February 16, 2014

The votes shocked the world. Long considered the front-runner for the 2016 Olympics, Chicago found itself finishing fourth among the finalists, the result of tactical voting against what was considered the front-runner in the competition to host the Olympics.

Then Tokyo was eliminated, followed by Madrid. There were all sorts of euphoric eruptions as Rio de Janeiro was nominated as the site. Even Republicans joined in the cheering, as it provided a slap in the face to the city with so many connections to Barack Obama.

Now, nobody seems to be cheering decisions to award the Olympics to non-proven sites. A recent report issued showed that Brazil is nowhere near ready to host the 2014 World Cup, which it was given. And hosting the 2016 Olympics could be a disaster for the Summer Games, as photos from the critical report showed the cesspool where rowing events would take place.

And that’s not the only problem. Brazil’s frequent blackouts and crime levels are likely to scare off investors and would-be tourists hoping to attend the event. Corruption and general government inefficiency have kept promised projects, supposed to be completed or almost ready at this moment, from being even started.

One only has to see the spectacle of Sochi’s 2014 Winter Olympics to see how this could be dangerous. Hideous hotels and laughable lavatories are one thing, but badly injured athletes from dangerous conditions and sparsely attended events are another. The event was supposed to showcase the rebirth of Russia, a second world country. But the games showed that Russia seems unprepared to host any other international event, and may be closer to Third World status than previously believed.

This is not some diatribe against non-whites (or I wouldn’t have singled out Russia), or even non-Western countries. South Africa seemed to do a decent job of hosting the 2010 World Cup, even if those vuvuzelas drove us crazy. But there seems to be a major difference between South Africa and the other two countries. And it involves government.

The Republic of South Africa isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly freer than Vladimir Putin’s Russia, where government power goes largely unchecked. And while Brazil may be relatively free, they aren’t necessarily free of corruption.

China isn’t free, but has remarkable stability that separates it from its chaotic counterparts, enabling the country to host a relatively successful 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. That can be contrasted with Mexico City, where the brutal massacre of student protesters by the government overshadowed the 1968 contest. At least the country did better with the 1986 World Cup, because the country was more prepared to do so.

I know there’s a desire to open up the selection of Summer and Winter Olympic sites, as well as World Cup sites. But instead of awarding the events based upon sympathy and apology for past slights, one should wait for the country develop before bestowing that honor, as the world did for South Korea in the 1988 Summer Olympics and their shared hosting of the 2002 World Cup. Brazil and Russia should never have been given the green light to host a major sporting event, unless they had proven they were ready to do so beforehand, not afterwards.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College.