Justin Peligri: The stimulus of a D.C. Olympics

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Justin Peligri

From the moment last week that D.C. 2024, a District organization, announced its bid for the city to host the 2024 Summer Olympics, D.C. residents have made the prospect a running joke.

Many have taken to Twitter, using the hashtag #dcolympicevents to tweet the ideas for fake sports – like “spout-running” and “400-meter hurdle over the homeless guy” – to point out just how stupid, in their view, bringing the Games to the District would be.

Admittedly, hosting the Olympics here is a longshot. An American city hasn’t hosted the Summer Olympics since 1996, and D.C. was rejected when it submitted a bid for the 2012 games. And even if the U.S. Olympic Committee were to make an attempt at bringing the games to this country, D.C. faces stiff competition from the 35 other American cities that have already been contacted about hosting.

But it’s wrong to say that hosting the games would do little to help the city. Hosting the 2024 Olympics would be a massively expensive endeavor, but it presents an otherwise impossible opportunity to revitalize the District and even our university.

“There’s a lot of ancillary money that comes with hosting the Olympic Games,” Lisa Delpy Neirotti, a professor of sports management and member of the D.C. 2024 advisory committee, told me.

She’s talking about donor dollars and corporate sponsorships. Lots of them. Olympics are notorious for imposing high costs on host cities, but the Olympics earns plenty of money in the long term that skeptics usually don’t think about.

Yes, in the short term, putting on the games would cost the city far more than it earns from the tourists who flock in for the two-week-long festivities. (It reportedly cost London $20 billion last summer.)

But the long term economic benefits are often left out of this equation. And for D.C. – a city in need of some serious revitalization of its infrastructure – those gains could be huge. Hosting the Olympics would act like a stimulus package, except the money would be coming from outside corporations, not the government.

For example, last summer, when London hosted the Olympics, sponsor General Electric donated $8 million toward equipment for a neonatal unit at a hospital in the city. Coca-Cola gave disadvantaged Londoners work experience and training in leadership, communication and teamwork through an apprenticeship program.

Huge companies, like the American-based Visa and McDonald’s, have traditionally been Olympic partners. Who’s to say all of these big businesses won’t provide a much-needed jumpstart for the District and the people who live here just like they did in London?

Critics complain that the Olympics leave places like London and Beijing in tremendous debt, and that the District would be better off without that outstanding burden. But even if it takes decades to pay off the cost of hosting, District residents could expect these massive corporations to chip away at the city’s high unemployment rate – which, at 9 percent, is significantly higher than the national average – by providing job training to young adults.

And even when the games are over, these people would walk away with marketable skills that would help them get more permanent jobs.

The Olympics would also be a wake-up call for American corporations to invest in the District’s public transit system, which seems eternally plagued by track closures and delays.

It’s these types of investments in the city’s future that will help D.C. fix structural issues that it doesn’t have the resources to repair on its own.

And our university would thrive in tangible ways as well. We all know the University is strapped for cash, tapping heavily into our comparatively small $1.37 billion endowment to cover the costs of the myriad construction projects on nearly every block of campus.

Now, it seems pretty far-fetched to suggest that our campus would be the site of the Olympic village – although anything could happen.

But Delpy Neirotti is confident that campuses like ours would be used somehow. After all, the athletes have to train somewhere.

“I guarantee you that some Olympic Committee will go in and rent out universities so that their athletes can come and prepare by themselves,” she said. “And the visitors, work staff, security forces, bus drivers – all these people need housing during the games, and GW would benefit from that.”

Our residence halls and athletic facilities – which wouldn’t be filled with as many students because the games take place during the summer – could be put to good use, and could provide a financial cushion for GW.

If the District’s candidacy for the Olympics is going to be anything but laughable, D.C. 2024 still has legitimate issues to contemplate. But at the end of the day, D.C. requires some serious help, and this might just be the stimulus package we need.

The writer, a junior majoring in political communication, is The Hatchet’s opinions editor.

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