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When Will an African City Host the Olympic Games?

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Will an African city host the Olympic Games in 2024? A recent report contends that South Africa will be stepping forward to compete by offering Durban as her bid city. The current Olympic economic model is not made for current economic times and most cities in the world, let alone in Africa, should bid with caution. But even with a clear view of the costs involved Istanbul, Tokyo and Madrid are moving forward before the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to compete for the 2020 games. Tokyo, for example, is projecting an economic impact of $37.9 billion and 152,000 jobs if the city hosts the Games in 2020.

The country mentioned most likely to support a winning African city bid is South Africa. Beyond Durban, the South African cities of Johannesburg and Cape Town are among the few African cities with many preexisting facilities that could service football, athletics and possibly be adapted for opening and closing ceremonies. Similarly exciting possibilities exist in a number of other African cities including Dakar, Lagos and Nairobi. The less developed the country the more the facility and infrastructure expenditures are likely to be. Therein lies the problem. The model of revenue distribution between the host city's local organizing committee and the IOC does not fluctuate based on the needs of a nation. Rio de Janeiro is hosting the 2016 Games in large part because the nation of Brazil committed to make the financial expenditures without a variation in the Olympic economic model.

No matter how much revenue future Games are projected to generate, or how dramatic the economic impact, the revenue stream to the host city is not likely to be extensive enough to cover the expenditures that have to be made.The ideal for any bid city is to use preexisting facilities. But even in cities where such facilities exist, the winning bids today focus on new gleaming facilities like the Bird's Nest in Beijing and those that will be on display in London this summer.

Outside of the usual hoopla of the Olympics, the Games also traditionally serve as the "coming out" party for the host nation. In this manner, and to this effect, the Games have served this purpose on every populated region on the globe except for Africa. For better or worse winning the bid to host the Summer Olympic Games is an indicator of a nation's, via a city's, arrival on the world stage. This has been particularly true since the Tokyo Games in 1964. Millions of dollars were spent by Japan on infrastructure and pageantry for the Tokyo Games in order to achieve their desire to be viewed by the world as something other than the producer of cheap transistor radios. "Made in Japan" had a negative connotation at the time. World War II was a mere two decades in the past. A particular goal of Munich in 1972 was to similarly show what post war reform had taken place in Germany. More recently, the Beijing Olympics provided us with the vision of how a grand opening ceremony, facilities, and flawless delivery can leave a lingering positive impression of an entire nation. Tokyo's 2020 bid is one designed to highlight the recovery of the country following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. An African city could frame their efforts in a number of ways from a focus on greater tourism and commerce to simply a greater presence in the global community.

The first African success in the world sporting event bidding process did not involve the Olympics at all but the 2010 World Cup. This success was a journey. In the bid for the 2006 FIFA World Cup by South Africa by all accounts it was a shocking surprise when that event was awarded to Germany. More than an illustration of any bias toward Africa, the denial of the event to South Africa was illustrative of the politics that come into play in the bidding process for any worldwide competition. There has been much disclosed in recent years about bribes and vote-buying particularly with regard to the Salt Lake City Olympic Organizing Committee. South Africa lost by one vote, including a controversial abstention.

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki labeled this vote against South Africa a "tragic blow for Africa." But that blow was overcome and South Africa did host the event in 2010. In the fervent success of that event there was a groundswell to pursue the Olympic Games.

Africa is a long time member of the Olympic family. African nations have participated in the modern Olympiad since 1908, when South Africa was the lone African team participating in London. The second participant was Egypt in 1928 in Amsterdam. The level of participation changed in 1960 with the onslaught of African countries gaining independence from colonial bondage; Africans participated prior to this date, but generally as team members of their respective colonial powers. African nations are now successful participants on the world Olympic stage.

The key complication for any city bidding for the Games is the finances. Financially, the country with the corporate interest and wherewithal would have to be South Africa. The most successful Games have had both tremendous public and private sector backing. Cape Town was an early bidder for the 2004 Games that were awarded to Athens. Cape Town made it to the third of four bidding rounds before being eliminated.

Absent the finance issue, it is certainly past time for the Olympic Games to be held in Africa. The Games revisited Australia, having been held in Melbourne in 1956 before Sydney. Four times the Games have been in the United States and twice in Germany. This summer marks the third opportunity for London. The Games are back to Latin America in 2016 after having first been in Mexico City in 1968. Somewhere on the continent, if not a South African city, a successful bid should be in the works, but the timing, guided by the economic model in place by the IOC, must be right.

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