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Opinion | Why it’s time for a stripped-back Olympics in 2032

The point of Big Sport is, naturally, to be Big.

Big stars. Big events. Big audiences. Big TV deals. Big sponsorships. Big money.

The bigger the better.

And they don’t come any bigger than the summer Olympics, which is appreciably bigger than its biggest Big Sport rival, the FIFA World Cup.

But this is now a Big Problem, because for the IOC and the Olympics, bigger is no longer better.

The IOC’s most important customer isn’t big media companies or big sponsors. It’s cities. Big cities. Beijing, London, Rio, Tokyo, Paris, Los Angeles.

But the pipeline of big cities who want to stage the Games is almost empty, as the recent 2024/2028 dual Paris/LA award highlighted.

Even big cities don’t want to stage the Olympics, because it’s become Too Big.

For Too Big, read Too Expensive.

“A taxpayer bill running into billions of dollars? Thanks, but no thanks.”

“Legacy? We’re not convinced.”

When you have a product which your most important customer doesn’t want to buy, you have a Big Problem.

No host city, no Games.

The IOC, naturally, knows this.

Hence the dual award, which bought it time to work on the Big Problem and, it clearly hopes, two new Big City Games that will rejuvenate its Big City pipeline.

And hence Agenda 2020, the IOC’s strategic roadmap for the future which, in the IOC’s own words, will ‘[change] the candidature procedure, with a new philosophy to invite potential candidate cities to present a project that fits their sporting, economic, social and environmental long-term planning needs.’

But what constitutes a ‘potential candidate city’ if big cities continue to say “Thanks, but no thanks”?

Does that include all the other cities and countries in the world that currently couldn’t dream of staging the Olympics, because it’s way too big – too expensive – for them?

I think it should. In fact, I can’t think of anything that the IOC could do to better safeguard its future. Starting with the 2032 Games.

But to make that possible two radical things need to happen.

The first is that the Games needs to become smaller.

Which opens the second, which is that the IOC should pay for it.

So where should the IOC start? Which potential candidate could it – should it – in its own words, ‘invite…to present a project that fits their sporting, economic, social and environmental long-term planning needs.’?

Welcome to Jamaica 2032.

Nowhere could be more appropriate.

The birthplace of Usain Bolt, the athlete who above all others in the modern era – maybe any era – has defined the Olympics.

The nation that is above all the beating heart of sprinting, the Games’ most iconic discipline.

And yet despite this, it’s a nation that currently couldn’t dream of staging the Olympics, because it’s too big, too expensive.

But not if you scale the Games down.

Kingston has Independence Park, the national sports and cultural centre which includes the National Stadium, home of Jamaican football and athletics (capacity 35,000), a velodrome, and a range of indoor and outdoor arenas that can stage multiple sports including swimming.

A readymade Olympic Park.

And on top of that there’s no Olympic event that Jamaica couldn’t stage.

Yes, Independence Park would need some refurbishment. But I stress, refurbishment.

A 35,000 capacity is fine. Remember, we’re scaling everything down: no more white elephant Olympic Stadiums. And while we’re at it, let’s make ticket pricing affordable – really affordable – for the local population. Every event would be packed out.

Yes, we’d need to build an Athletes’ Village and a Media Centre. Bring it on. New, affordable housing in a nation that desperately needs it. What a legacy.

And yes, there’d be some infrastructure work needed too.

But nowhere near as much as usual. Remember, we’re scaling everything down.

Let’s say it all costs $2 billion. That would go a very, very long way, if not all the way.

That’s pretty much what the IOC has in reserve right now. It’s only double what they contributed to Rio 2016 – a much, much bigger project. And based on their current TV and sponsorship rights trajectory it’s highly likely that they’ll have double that in reserve by the time we get to the other side of LA 2028.

Very do-able.

And a small price to pay for what would, at a stroke, transform the image of the IOC and the Games.

It would be impossible to criticise.

It would leave a sporting, economic and social legacy the like of which the Olympics has never seen in a country that couldn’t need it, or deserve it more.

The media, the sponsors and the fans would love it.

And making the Olympics smaller couldn’t be more Olympian.

As de Coubertin said, “The Olympic Games are a pilgrimage to the past and an act of faith in the future.”

Back to the future.

The Olympics shouldn’t be about the bigger, the better.

It should be about the best in human spirit, about purpose beyond profit.

Not bigger is better, but less is more.

Tim Crow is the former chief executive of Synergy. Follow him on Twitter @shaymantim

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