When Vietnam won the bid to host the 2019 Asian Games, the news didn’t really trigger street parties in Hanoi. Vietnam’s guarded reaction was due to the high cost involved in hosting a grand show. Even the sports lovers were worried that the expensive sporting extravaganza would drill a hole in their pockets. After a series protests, the government gave in to the majority opinion.
For the first time a city gave up the hosting rights of a event of this magnitude. Though, a bit late in the day, Vietnam realised that it couldn’t have matched the glitzy spectacle staged by previous Asian Games.
The last three Asiads have cost the host nations a fortune. The Busan Games in 2002 were estimated at $2.9 billion while Qatar spent roughly $2.8 billion for the following edition in 2006. Four years later, China stepped it up like no one before. Reports said that the overall cost of the 2012 Guangzhou Games was approximately $20 bn.
Incheon has been striving to keep this year’s Games below the $2 bn mark. South Korea has said it wants the event to be economical and effective rather than trying to match Guangzhou’s “materialism and nationalism.”
In stark contrast, the Vietnamese government had earmarked just $150 million for the Games. And the country’s prime minister had been candid enough to admit that due the lack of funds, the country’s reputation was at risk if things could not go smoothly.
Vietnam’s retreat should trigger a rethink within the Olympic family. Sporting world cannot remain blind to the global financial reality. Already there have been some glaring changes in the way other sports are run — Formula One is going green and Financial Fair Play is changing the way players are traded in football.
Olympics and its offshoots need to reposition itself as well. The significant investments made by governments suggests that the economic returns of hosting a major sporting events are huge. But Vietnam’s decision shows how in developing countries it is getting increasingly tough to justify the mega-costs for mega-events.
(Mihir is a senior correspondent, based in Mumbai)