Madrid 2020 and the cult of the mega-event
A tale of three cities – Madrid, London, and Rio de Janeiro – and their tragic obsession with global sports blowouts.
By Alan Murphy
On September 7 this year, when the delegates from Madrid, Tokyo and Istanbul gather at the International Olympic Committee headquarters (IOCHQ) in Lausanne to hear the name of the city chosen to host the 2020 Games, the scenes will play out as they always have. The “winners” will cheer wildly in the Swiss auditorium and on the chosen city’s streets, and the “losers” will shrug and take it like sportsmen, choking back tears and grinning stoically.
But you have to wonder… Will the “losers” be secretly relieved at avoiding the massive financial burden of hosting global events like the Olympics or the FIFA World Cup and will the “winners” be quietly counting the number of schools, hospitals and train stations they will have to close in order to make their dream come true?
To the great preoccupation of Spanish taxpayers, this September there is indeed the very real risk that we will see Madrid’s dream-nightmare come true. For, despite the apparent hopelessness of the situation in Spain in general, and Madrid in particular, the contest is at present a two-horse race: Tokyo first and Madrid running a distant second. Istanbul is considered extremely unlikely because of the terrorism risk in Turkey and the more recent social unrest in the city, which was eerily similar to the ongoing Rio protests.
For as we all know, earlier this month the streets of Rio de Janeiro erupted in fury. Yesterday The Guardian carried an article by Romário, the great footballer who is now Socialist deputy in the Brazilian Congress. “I supported the bid because it promised to generate employment and income, promote tourism and strengthen the country’s image”, he wrote; “but now my fear is that this mega-event will only deepen the problems we already have”.
In the same paper Simon Jenkins described the scenes from the perspective of a Brit weary with Olympic white elephants:
Brazil has been bamboozled into blowing $13bn on next year’s football World Cup, and then on a similar sum to be later extorted by the International Olympic Committee to host the 2016 Games… Brazil’s citizens are being hit with higher bus fares and massive claims on health and welfare budgets. Up to half a million people may take to the streets this weekend to complain of “First World Stadiums, Third World Schools”… they appear not to be against sport as such, but against the extravagance of their staging. They are talking the language of priorities.
In May 2012, speaking the same language of priorities, Italy’s then prime minister, Mario Monti, cancelled Rome’s candidature for the 2020 Olympics, saying that such a venture would be “fiscally irresponsible” in Italy’s economic situation. By contrast, a rival city in a very similar situation – Madrid – received its government’s unreserved support.
For neither Rajoy’s PP government, which inherited the project, nor Zapatero’s Socialists before them, have wished to reveal to us that Madrid 2020 is a house of cards built on lies and fraud, of the purest Madrid-PP-style, and that instead of Madrid Mayor Ana Botella’s oft-repeated promise of “hope”, the Madrid 2020 Olympics may – if the city is unlucky enough to win – bring us another decade or more of austerity and unmanageable debt.
What price Madrid 2020?
The original proposal for Madrid 2020 from early 2011, as we revealed in Iberosphere last year, had only one confirmed private-sector partner: the notorious BFA-Bankia.
A year later, BFA-Bankia, with nearly €20bn in (public-held) debt and a stockmarket value of less than a dead fish, is understandably unwilling to spend so much on sports sponsorship. So the bank falls by the wayside and the baton is passed on…
In the Madrid 2020 Version 2.0 relaunch last April 7, Mayor Ana Botella presented the post-BFA list of major private partners, who pledged a total of €9.3 million in (sic) “support”. (Note that the “support” need not be hard cash, for there is another Emperor-Has-No-Clothes moment: in the fine print we note that the sponsors’ contribution can be “in the form of services or material provided”, or payment-in-kind. This contribution is tax-deductible at 80 percent, as if it were real money).
The banner list of new Madrid 2020 Private Partners made familiar reading to those who have been following the Bárcenas or Gürtel cases of alleged political graft within the ruling Partido Popular. Topping the sponsors’ roll of honour with an €800,000 donation was OHL-Villar Mir, run by Madrid businessman-turned-feudal-lord, Juan Miguel, Marqués de Villar Mir. Ennobled for unnamed services to the state in 2011, Villar Mir is at the centre of the Bárcenas storm but has remained professionally and legally unharmed so far.
He is alleged to have kicked back a total of €530 million to Luis Bárcenas in secret payments to the PP (these payments being the origin of the famous Bárcenas “envelopes” or “b-payments”) in return for public contracts awarded to his civil-engineering/construction group, allegations which he vigorously denies.
Along with OHL Villar-Mir, in the more modest category of “collaborators” with a €50,000 tax-deductible contribution, we find the following groups: Dragados, FCC, Ferrovial and Sacyr. These names for followers of Spanish Sleaze are as familiar as Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the Spanish Football League.
In total, groups with present-day allegations related to evidence in the Bárcenas-Gürtel cases have pledged €1 million to Madrid mayor Ana Botella’s Olympic organising committee as “partner” (OHL) or “collaborator” companies. If any of these fall before the sword of justice, and Madrid 2020 is in the nightmare position of being a real project a year from now, I suppose we could always ask Sheldon Adelson, casino mogul behind the EuroVegas-Madrid project, to cough up a few hundred million.
Halloween tragedy and the doping epidemic
All of which might condemn Spain merely to years of burdensome public debt and cut services, all in return for a chimerical Olympic dream that turns ugly when people recognise the real cost, as in Brazil today. That’s bad enough.
But there is an even grimmer spectre over Madrid 2020: the Madrid Arenas incident on November 1 last year, in which four young women were crushed to death in an overcrowded Halloween Mega-Party, has cast serious doubt over Madrid City’s record for safety and management of mass events. Three PP officials from the Madrid City Hall events and safety departments have resigned so far amid inquest revelations that safety controls and inspections were inadequate. As investigations deepen, more senior heads may roll.
And finally, there is the Spanish doping epidemic. Operation Puerto, the Guardia Civil’s massive anti-drug investigation, has revealed extensive networks of doping in athletics and sports clubs across Spain. As this article goes to press, police have revealed that 84 athletes and coaches have been arrested for doping offences in Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia. The admissions of Lance Armstrong last year related almost entirely to doping operations from his Gerona home and in other Spanish locations during the 2000s. Spain has a dirty reputation in a world already suffering from disillusion with substance-abusing sports stars.
So between the corporate sponsors mired in long-running corruption cases, the previous failed bids (two or three in total, depending on how you count), Spain’s political and financial uncertainty, and the very real doubts about safety and doping standards, you might think Madrid hasn’t a hope.
But you’d be wrong. A Metroscopia poll of Madrileños last April found that 48 percent still believed they would win the 2020 Olympics, while 32 percent predicted Tokyo would be the lucky one. Incredibly, 76 percent believed that the Games would be beneficial to the city, despite the hard evidence of London not gaining a thing for its 9.6 billion pound (around $13 billion) investment in the 2012 Olympics. (See my previous Iberosphere piece for an analysis of London’s economic situation in the wake of the games). Proving that the Emperor still has his clothes, for now.
It only remains for us to pray that Japan’s politicians don’t say something else to offend large portions of the “Olympic Community”, as this year when Tokyo governor Naoki Inose commented that Istanbul’s bid was doomed “because Islamic countries, the only thing they share in common is Allah and they are fighting with each other.”
International journal The Diplomat, in its behind-the-scenes look at the Olympic bids, reckons that “the bid is Tokyo’s to lose,” and that only another such gaffe would jeopardise Tokyo 2020. I don’t know about you, but I’m planning to send a case of the finest Spanish mineral water to Governor Inose and to all the Japanese political elite, and praying they stay off the sake from now until September.
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