The remains of Olympics past.

I’m not a sports fan and as such I don’t tend to watch the Olympics, but I think the oft-promoted “spirit” of the Olympics isn’t a bad idea even if it’s not really why anyone participates anymore. That said, you’d think there’d be a way to host said events in a way that doesn’t involve the building of massive sports infrastructure most of which will be abandoned after the event is complete.

This was brought to mind by an article over at Wired: See What Happened to the Venues of the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

Russian photographer Anastasia Tsayder offers an illuminating case study in Summer Olympics, a series that revisits some of the venues the Soviet Union built for the ill-fated 1980 Summer Games in Moscow. “[I wanted] to tell a story about the hopes for a utopian future encapsulated in this architecture,” the photographer says, “and about how far from reality these expectations turned out to be in the end.”

[…] Hosting the Games is not cheap, and many cities spend lavishly on infrastructure that is underutilized, if not abandoned, afterward. Greece, which hosted the 2004 Summer Games, spent billions building stadiums, arenas, and tracks that are now abandoned. Four years later, Beijing hosted what was at the time the most expensive Olympics ever; today, many of the venues stand empty.

Interior of Dynamo Stadium in Russia. Photo by ANASTASIA TSAYDER

Interior of Dynamo Stadium in Russia. Photo by ANASTASIA TSAYDER

Click through to the article to see all the pictures. As it turns out Russia has done a better job of using their left-over facilities than some other countries. The links in the second paragraph above have photos of other host cities that are left with massive complexes that are little utilized, if at all.

Detroit has bid to host the Olympics seven times — more than any other city — and has never won. The best it ever did was second place for the 1968 games which went to Mexico City. Detroit was invited to bid on the 2024 Olympics and they turned it down due financial uncertainty at the time and the fact that it costs $10 million just to make a bid. Detroit declared bankruptcy shortly after that so it was probably a smart move.

That said, with more and more places opting not to bid because of the expense of hosting only to have so much of what is built sit idle after the event is done, there’s been talk that the IOC is starting to get a little panicky and may be trying to figure out how to do an Olympics on the cheap. That led to at least one article in the Detroit Free Press on the idea of a joint Detroit-Windsor hosted Olympics that would require very little new construction:

“For the most part, the infrastructure is already here,” said Greg McDuffee, chairman of Urban Land Institute Michigan. “If we’re serious about re-establishing our city as a preeminent global city — what is the acid test for that? It’s being awarded an Olympic games.”

Under one possible Detroit-Windsor scenario, the only major event venues needed to be built from scratch would be a canoe slalom course on Belle Isle, a cycling velodrome perhaps on the Windsor waterfront and an Olympic Stadium at the old state fairgrounds that could later become home for a professional soccer team.

There would be no need to dig an Olympics-ready swimming pool in Detroit, thanks to the new Windsor International Aquatic and Training Centre. Indeed, the biggest likely hurdles to a joint Detroit-Windsor Olympics would be marshaling the money and political will.

“From a technical perspective, there is no reason why Detroit couldn’t host a games. It actually has some natural advantages,” said Stefan Szymanski, a professor of sports management and economics at the University of Michigan who has researched the possibilities for a 21st-Century Detroit Olympics bid.

Even in the scenario described above there would still be the expense of three new venues to consider. Soccer has never been huge in Detroit so the idea that a new stadium on the old State Fair grounds being used for a professional soccer team after the Olympics is optimistic at best. I’m not even sure Detroit has a professional soccer team. (I just Googled it. No professional soccer teams, but a few minors. They are trying to bring pro soccer to Detroit along with a new stadium. Good luck with that.) I could see the possibility of opening up the canoe slalom course on Belle Isle to the general public after the games and having that get some use. Not as sure about the cycling velodrome. Though if the latter were built on the Windsor side then I suppose that’d be their problem to figure out what to do with it.

All of that assumes that the IOC would be happy using already existing venues that aren’t as extravagant as something built from scratch specifically for the Olympics. Given the number of articles over the years about the arrogance of the committee, I doubt they’d be willing to settle for that:

Oslo 2022 bid hurt by IOC demands, arrogance – USA Today

Conservative lawmaker Geir Inge Sivertsen publicly came out against the Oslo bid days before the vote, but said there was no doubt that the latest “very strange demands from the IOC” swayed the party, which he thinks had been narrowly in favor of underwriting the bid.

“Norway is a rich country, but we don’t want to spend money on wrong things, like satisfying the crazy demands from IOC apparatchiks,” said Frithjof Jacobsen, VG’s chief political commentator. “These insane demands that they should be treated like the king of Saudi Arabia just won’t fly with the Norwegian public.”

[…] “There were two arguments against the bid. One was the financial part — most Olympic budgets end up being much more expensive. But the IOC’s arrogance was an argument held high by a lot of people in our party,” said Ole Berget, a deputy minister in the Finance Ministry. “Norwegian culture is really down to earth. When you get these IOC demands that are quite snobby, Norwegian people cannot be satisfied.”

Personally, I’d be happy if Michigan never hosts an Olympics if it’s going to continue being a lot of expense for little gain. I can remember when we hosted Super Bowl XVI in Pontiac 33 years ago and all the claims of long-term economic benefit it would bring with it. It did pump a couple hundred million into the local economy and transformed downtown Pontiac into a popular area during the event, but it didn’t last all that long. On the plus side we didn’t have to build a new stadium for it and it was relatively cheap compared to hosting an Olympics. These days, however, hosting the Super Bowl is getting to be a lot like hosting the Olympics so you can keep that too.

If we’re going to host big events then I say we should shoot to get a few big e-Sports into Detroit. It’s gaining in popularity and would be a lot less expensive because we wouldn’t need to build a damned thing. Between the number of stadiums and convention centers we have you could whip up a set inside and have plenty of seating for a fraction of the cost of a big sporting event. Yeah, yeah, I hear you laughing, but hear me out. Watching e-Sports events has been huge in Korea for over a decade and with the arrival of MOBAs it’s been gaining in popularity here in the States as well. Here’s a short YouTube video on what e-Sports is:

Those playoffs are no small affair and neither are the crowds watching them. Would it generate as much revenue for Detroit as a Super Bowl or the Olympics? Hard to say, but it’d be a damned bit cheaper to host than either of those things.


Columnist Bob Molinaro uses football injury to rant about… video games?

The tenuous connections the anti-video game crowd will use to justify a screed sometimes amazes me. Apparently on Sunday night pro-football player Kevin Everett suffered a major spinal injury during the game that had many people predicting he’d be paralyzed as a result (he’s doing much better than expected at the moment). For some reason this prompted a columnist at The Virginian-Pilot by the name of Bob Molinaro to write a rant about video games apparently on the basis that violent games have so desensitized us that we aren’t able to sympathize with the plight of this multi-million dollar sports star:

Video-game generation may be desensitized to NFL injuries – The Virginian-Pilot

I IMAGINE THERE’S a large segment of NFL fans that envisions pro football to be the embodiment of the video games they love to play.

Perhaps most of the NFL’s popularity can be attributed to the interests of gamblers and fantasy fanatics. But I’ve got a feeling that a certain percentage of males, those whose senses have been bombarded by video violence all their lives, are attracted to pro football by the slickly edited TV images that are a variation of their virtual-reality experiences.

At this point I think it’s important to point out that there have been rabid fans of NFL football and the “slickly edited TV images” for far longer than there have been video games. I know a lot of football fans that were attracted to video games because of the football simulations, but I don’t know of too many gamers who were attracted to football because the broadcasts kinda sorta seem like the games they play. Granted I’ve not undertaken any scientific studies of this question, but I have heard people claim the former reason and no one claim the latter one.

This makes me wonder if the catastrophic injury to Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett will make any real impression on the desensitized adolescents and adults raised with the cartoon violence of “Madden ‘08” or “NFL Blitz,” or the absurd blood-and-guts scenarios associated with other Xbox games.

This was my “what the fuck” moment. Apparently Mr. Molinaro thinks video gamers are unable to tell the difference between fantasy and reality. It’s not entirely clear just what sort of response Mr. Molinaro feels would be appropriate from gamers. Does he expect this tragic injury to cause us all to toss down our controllers and rush out to donate money to an already well-paid sports star in hopes of helping him overcome this injury? Or is he just upset we haven’t sworn off violent video games after being shocked to our senses by Everett’s injury? Even though it’s clear that he seems to think we should be doing something as a result of this unfortunate event he doesn’t actually bother to say what that something is.

From there he goes on to rail against football fans themselves apparently having forgotten about us insensitive gamers for a bit:

On a human level, there may be no more important or heartbreaking development in the NFL this season than the spinal-cord injury suffered by Everett on Sunday. Yet, I suspect it won’t resonate as it should.

The NFL, after all, has a well-programmed audience. The league’s crass packaging of its product anesthetizes us to the violence. The men inside those jerseys sacrificing bones and ligaments and risking paralysis aren’t really people; they’re interchangeable laundry.

Nobody stops to ask what price the athletes pay for our amusement until years later, when former players are hobbling like tables with one leg shorter than the others. Or they suffer brain damage brought about by the very collisions that vicariously thrill us as we sit in our family rooms.

Last I checked those players are paid pretty damn well for those risks and I doubt very many of them are unaware of the potential for catastrophic injury they face when they go out on the field. Yes, the whole thing has a gladiatorial combat air about it and that’s as much an appeal to the players themselves as any of the fans. Anyone who has reservations about that sort of thing probably isn’t signing up to be a football player to begin with. Is it a tragedy when they get hurt this seriously? Absolutely, but is it too much to ask for a little personal responsibility? Those players knew what they were getting into when they signed up and they’re not exactly hurting for health care when they do get injured.

One of ESPN’s most popular features with football fans is a program highlighting the biggest hits from that week’s games. Former NFL players sit around a desk guffawing as video of freight-train collisions are played one after the other.

With each hit, the panelists raucously exclaim, “He got… jacked up!”

Somehow, with a young player clinging to life in Buffalo, getting jacked up doesn’t seem so funny.

As they say: It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye. There’s a certain amusement to be found in tempting fate and walking away unscathed or with only minor injuries and that’s as true for everyday people as it is for any football player. How many reality shows are made up of video clips of people injuring themselves in some way? The people in all those clips survived — very few of those shows will air clips in which people were grievously injured or killed — and many of the people involved are interviewed boasting of their survival. A lot of them seem to be composed of poor guys getting hit in the balls unexpectedly. As someone who has taken a few nutshots in his time I can honestly tell you there’s nothing at all funny about it at the time, but years later I often laugh about it when I recount those stories to others and I still laugh at every video clip of some poor guy who got hit in the balls trying to teach his five-year-old how to play baseball.

You can argue it’s wrong to laugh at the misfortune of others I suppose, but that’s not going to stop people from doing it and exposure to violent video games has very little to do with that fact. I need only remind folks that the old cliche of slipping-on-a-banana-peel joke was in cinema long before video games came around and it rarely failed to get a laugh at the time. Hell, it still does when done properly.

From here he goes on to whine about how you shouldn’t get too attached to a player if you’re a fan as they’re only one bad tackle away from being out for the season (as if fans didn’t already know this) and he whines about how the outcome of a season isn’t so much who has the better team as much as it is which team is luckiest to have the fewest injuries and how football isn’t just some cartoon, blah blah blah blah blah. Then he gets back to tying it all in with those nasty, desensitized video game players:

I wonder if any of this hits home with the very large and growing demographic that comes to football through the make-believe violence of video games. In that world, jacked-up players always bounce back, returning as good as new when the game is switched on.

This week, more than many, we’re reminded that in real-time, real-life football, the violence and its consequences are all too real.

Allow me a moment to enlighten Mr. Molinaro even though I, technically, am not a football fan at all.

Dear Mr. Molinaro. We video gamers aren’t so inured to violence that we can’t sympathize with Kevin Everett on his injury. Nor are we blissfully unaware that football and life don’t have a Reset button. It might come as a surprise, but a lot of us prefer violent video games over watching football precisely because we know the violence isn’t real and no one is actually getting hurt. In many ways it allows us an opportunity to exercise some of the baser instincts of mankind without actually harming anyone in the process. The same baser instincts that are likely the cause of the NFL’s popularity along with boxing and the UFC.

By the same token we are not unaware of the enormous sacrifices and pain of the people who participated in World War II or Vietnam or Desert Storm simply because we’ve played games set in those environments. We’re not unsympathetic to the victims of violent crime even though we have played games that allowed us to act out said crimes nor are we unresponsive to the victims of police brutality even though some games have allowed us to play as officers who like to use excessive force. We’re also not desensitized to the plight of hostage victims or the gorillas who kidnap them the world over despite the fact that we’ve played a lot of games, Donkey Kong comes to mind, in which such scenarios play out. We also have deep respect for the pain and suffering experienced by uncounted millions of little yellow pills needlessly consumed, along with the occasional ghost, despite our years of playing Pac-Man.

It is possible, Mr. Molinaro, to play video games on a regular basis without losing all connection to reality or the empathy for others that makes us human beings. Blaming the world’s woes on a hobby you don’t appreciate does nothing to solve the problem you’re whining about, especially when that problem appears to be largely a figment of your imagination or lack of understanding of human nature. If you’re appalled by the violence inherent in either NFL football or video games my advice would be not to participate in either activity, but don’t try to claim those of us who do are all insensitive jerks because we don’t react the way you think we should to every tragedy that comes along.

Update: Forgot to give a hat tip to Game Politics for the original link.