Grainger questions Olympics hosting model, poses Athens permanent site

·3 min read
Katherine Grainger UK Sport
Grainger won double sculls Olympic gold after three successive silvers

UK Sport chair Dame Katherine Grainger believes the COVID-19 pandemic might be the time to reopen the eternal can of worms that is a permanent site for the Olympic Games, writes Tom Harle.

King George of Greece had his say in 1896, saying “these Games should never be removed from their native soil” when the modern Olympics were revived in Athens.

Founding father Baron Pierre de Coubertin actually pretended to have misheard the monarch’s speech, later confirming his view the Games should move each time to promote peace and internationalism.

The debate resurfaced in the turbulent IOC presidency of Lord Killanin in the 1970s and a motion was tabled at the 1988 IOC Session by - you’ve guessed it - the Greek president, Konstantinos Karamanlis.

The question now comes around every two years, but Grainger says straightened times could make calls for reimagined Games impossible to ignore and namechecked the Greek capital.

“Long before this pandemic struck, we're getting more challenged by countries willing to host those big global events,” Grainger told Ruth Davidson’s LBC show.

“We all talk about how this pandemic will change us longer-term and where we can find some sort of benefit from the awful stuff that's happened to people's lives.

“How can we make sure in some areas we’re better for the horrible experiences? Part of it will be asking is it time to have a fresh look at how to minimise the cost of bidding for the Olympic Games?

“We’ve talked before about Athens, the original home, being a permanent venue, and all the money goes into that location at the same place every time.”

Last week, Tokyo 2020 organisers unveiled the £400 million Aquatics Centre, incongruous with the Tatsumi International Swimming Centre less than 600 metres away.

The postponement of next year’s Games alone is expected to cost around £2bn, taking overall costs to somewhere around £20bn.

Tokyo have reportedly found savings of £217 million but the lead is being taken by the Paris 2024 Organising Committee, slashing budgets with several years still to go.

A temporary aquatics venue, planned to host swimming in St. Denis, has been scrapped in favour of a structure inside the existing La Defense Arena.

And a temporary volleyball arena in Le Bouget has been eschewed in favour of Stade Pierre-Mauroy, that hosted a top-level domestic team and the international Nations League. These and other changes could save £400 million.

Alterations to IOC hosting and bidding rules in 2019 means multiple cities, regions and countries can now host the Games, starting with Milan and Cortina d'Ampezzo sharing the 2026 Winter Olympics. The idea appeals to Grainger.

She said: “Should we have different venues hosting different parts of the competition, so it’s not one central venue taking all the costs on?

“There are enormous costs associated with it and there can be an ongoing impact on the host country and the host city.

“There's huge benefits that come with the Games but what you don't want to bring is this circus of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and then leave and leave anywhere worst off or to have suffered for having hosted it.”