Even as the masses gather in Spain to protest against austerity measures and the country’s 25% unemployment rate, Madrid is bidding for the chance to gather crowds for the 2020 Olympics. This won’t be just any bid. Madrid is billing this attempt to host the Olympics as an “Austerity Bid.”
Madrid’s organizing committee believes that hosting the Olympics will help Spain recover from the global recession, and cites the example of Barcelona ‘92. However, there are stark differences between Madrid 2020 and Barcelona 1992.
Barcelona had a plan for urban revitalization and transformation. The Olympics presented an opportunity to rally public investment for urban projects and revenue from Olympic taxes. Barcelona used the Olympics as a catalyst for rapid public investment and public-private partnerships, leading to long-term job growth and economic prosperity. Madrid’s austerity bid hopes to have a similar impact using a fraction of the budget and relying on existing structures with temporary additions.
Unlike Barcelona in the run up to the 1992 Games, Madrid already has a strong transportation network and pre-existing infrastructure. The Austerity Bid relies on using prexisting venues that currently exist in the city, which meet about 80% of the Olympic requirements. This means Madrid’s Olympics 2020 budget will be spent on temporary structures instead of invested in long term public goods. The Olympics can be a tipping point for cities. But Barcelona was poised on the brink of success; Madrid is poised on the brink of disaster.
Madrid is a beautiful city and may well host a wonderful Olympics 2012. But the city has little to gain from Olympics-inspired urban development. The potential impact of Olympic investment is much lower than in a city like Istanbul, and its ability to fund the Games is much less secure than Tokyo’s.
As the BRICS countries rise, there is more and more reason to host the games in emerging markets. Emerging countries like China, South Africa (FIFA 2010), and Brazil, bring together a demonstrated need for urban transformation and pre-existing, but disparate, resources. With those two preconditions, bidding for the Olympics alone can be a benefit, regardless of hosting the Games.
Madrid’s need may not be as drastic as Barcelona’s was in 1992, but more importantly Madrid does not have the resources to fund a games that doesn’t come with a concrete plan for urban revitalization. The Olympics are not an economic stimulus, and the Austerity Bid is not a recovery plan.