Why on Earth is London hosting the Olympic Games?

Counting down the days/hours/minutes/seconds until the
London Olympic Games are opened
– in front of the National Gallery
London is hosting the Olympic Games this summer, but for the life of me I can't understand why. Why is London hosting the Olympics?

Back in 2005 when London "won" the bid to host this summer's Games, the British government - funders of this extravaganza - claimed that the games would cost the British taxpayers £2.4bn ($4.2bn). Inevitably the costs have risen. Now it's estimated that the games will cost anywhere from £9bn ($14bn) up to £24bn ($37bn).

Let's stick to the lower end of that scale and estimate the British taxpayers' final bill at around $20bn. Twenty billion dollars. Just in case you're not sure, yes, $20bn is a lot of money for the UK government. They have their own economic and budgetary problems, as yesterday's Moody's announcement highlights. So, again, the question again arises: why? Why is London hosting the Olympics?

I was in London yesterday. As the plane was taking me to the UK's capital I was wondering how much Olympic hype I'd be confronted by. I figured I'd see billboards at every train station, buses featuring huge Olympic ads and Olympic merchandise everywhere. I couldn't have been more wrong.

In fact, other than the ridiculous Olympic countdown clock in Trafalgar Square {photo} and one billboard at an Underground station {photo below} I saw virtually nothing shouting Olympics at me. Okay, one or two airlines had Olympic-themed ads around the city, but really, it was as if the Olympics were five years away and not five months.
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The lack of Olympic hype I experienced yesterday convinced me that Londoners don't need the Olympics to  believe their city is special. They already know it is. So, again, why? Why is London hosting the Olympics?

I understand why some cities want to host the Olympics. The Olympic Games can put a city/region on the map. Acting as host of the Olympics can showcase a city as a potential tourist destination and, maybe, if the games are deemed a success (and are they ever not these days?) maybe businesses will take a closer look a locating in the area. Atlanta made perfect sense to me in that way. Rio de Janeiro makes similar sense, I suppose.

But London? London doesn't need the Olympic Games to entice tourists. In fact, I suspect the Games will deter as many from visiting this summer as will ultimately turn up to watch. London is already one of the great cities of the world. I can't imagine there is anyone, anywhere who needs to see Synchronized Swimming or the Hammer Throw or the Modern Pentathlon from a London arena to be sold on the idea of visiting London.

Same goes for business, only double. I'd love to meet the corporate executive who opts to locate his operation in London having only considered such a move after catching the Weightlifting finals. Honestly.

So if the Olympics are not going to help bring tourists or new businesses to London then why is London hosting the Olympics?

Ad for official Olympic merchandise at a London Tube station
The funny thing is, the Olympics do have the potential to be a real negative for London. Whereas many thousands of visitors to London have experienced the oppressive heat of the city's un-airconditioned underground trains and hotel rooms, their experiences are mostly individual. That could change with the anticipated, excessive coverage of this summer's Games, which could bring this issue front and center to people all around the world. Unless ... the weather is miserable and another fact known to many of London's visitors is suddenly a big talking point for a global audience.

Then there are other possible pitfalls. I read the other day that Britain's stretched mobile phone and other telecomunications networks could crash during peak demand for internet services during the Olympics. What a great ad for London that will be – a global audience being told the UK's infrastructure can't cope with modern communication demands.

When the Olympic committee announced that the 2012 Games were going to be held in London Prime Minister Tony Blair called it a "momentous day" for London and Britain. It may well turn out to be exactly that, only in a London-is-really-falling-apart type way. {And let's not forget that Mayor Bloomberg tried to get the Olympics to come to New York, which would have been equally stupid for all the same reasons.}

Great cities should not want the Olympics. The Games are too costly, too intrusive, unneeded for promotion and potentially more damaging than beneficial. So, why, oh why, is London hosting the Olympic Games?

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