Odd Thoughts: Hefty price tag for athletic party

If you had $51 billion to toss around, what would you do with it?

If you made a stack of $100 bills, it would reach high enough to obstruct international flight paths. Laid end to end, your $51 billion in $100 bills would circle the world twice.

But really, what would you do with it? After all, having $51 billion would make you the fifth richest person in the world, according to the Forbes list of billionaires – just a couple of billion behind Warren Buffet, and two and a half times as wealthy as David Thomson, Canada’s richest citizen.

Let’s say you’ve decided you’ve spent enough time making your money, and now you want to spend it.

Would you follow the lead of Buffet and Bill Gates (who is second on the Forbes list, and about $16 billion ahead of you)? Would you spend it on fighting world hunger, poverty, and disease?

Or would you use it to finance an extravaganza for pampered elite athletes?

The anticipated price tag for the Sochi Olympic Games is $51 billion.

Right now, the world aid community is looking for $15 billion to fight AIDS throughout Africa. You could foot that bill and still have enough left over to re-run the 2012 London Olympics twice – and if you do it the way the Brits did, you’ll snag yourself a tidy 100 million pounds profit.

Of course, defining “profit” in Olympic terms is a bit of a tricky business.

The 2000 Sydney Olympics broke even… after taxpayers kicked in about $2 billion. The operating budget was $5.6 billion.

The same year, while all that was going on, the U.S. offered a $1 billion loan – spread over five years – to Sub-Saharan countries… to buy U.S. medicine. Three countries were lambasted for declining the offer on the basis that the loan would further increase their debt and dependency on foreign aid.

The initial budget for our own 2010 Vancouver Olympics was $2.3 billion.

Our estimated final cost of $6.4 billion is listed as a “break-even” result… but that’s not including the billion-dollar security tab, $2.5 billion for transportation infrastructure improvements, or nearly another billion dollars for the Vancouver Convention Centre.

And then there’s the half-billion dollars spent on the campaign to bring the Olympics to Vancouver/Whistler. That’s not included, either, in the final “break-even” accounting.

By the way, in 2010, global efforts to secure essential HIV, TB, and malaria services fell short $4 billion.

Greece planned to spend $9 billion in Athens in 2004 – and lost more than $15 billion.

Until Sochi’s anticipated $51 billion price tag, the gold medal was secured with Beijing’s $44 billion budget. Of course, we don’t know how much was spent in Nagano in 1998, beyond about $10 billion for infrastructure, since the books were ordered burned.

Something to consider: whether the Olympics end up with a profit or a loss, all that money goes somewhere – and mostly to large corporations and the richest segment of society – most certainly not to orphans whose parents have died of AIDS.

I’m not suggesting that we kill the Olympics and turn all the money over to saving humanity. In fact, striving for the best in any human endeavour is a step towards saving humanity.

But the Olympics have become an exercise in international excess, with flags and anthems and medal counts taking precedence over the individual achievement touted in all the brochures – not to mention the one-upmanship that has bloated costs for a couple of weeks of athletic partying into tens of billions of dollars.

A little restraint could be shown… and maybe a little compassion.

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