Chile’s 2036 Olympic Games: obstacles to overcome and surprise wins
Juan Antonio Belmar
June 5, 2024

“Our country has the organizational conditions, management capacity and international leadership to host world-class sporting events. Therefore, I announce that we will begin the path for Chile to be, for the first time in its history, a candidate to host the 2036 Olympic Games”. With these words, in the middle of his public account to the Nation, Chilean President Gabriel Boric surprised with the postulation and the most ambitious of the announcements made in the middle of his extensive speech in the hall of honor of the National Congress.

Despite the impulse of some to install the idea due to the “successful development” of the Pan American Games of Santiago 2023 and the fact that the announcement cannot be described as a surprise – since Boric had mentioned the idea of applying for the Olympic Games previously – now the efforts to aspire to host the Games are materializing as a State planning. Even with the epic quota included in the presidential message itself: “We know it will not be easy to compete with the great powers of the global north, but just like the World Cup generation of ’62, I invite you to dream high and unite in this beautiful challenge”.

For its part, the Ministry of Sport, in charge of implementing the presidential announcement, was the first to react: “And so, just as last year we initiated the bid for the Special Olympics World Games, which was resolved in our favor, now the country will begin this long term process,” said Antonia Illanes. The enthusiasm of the Secretary of State was joined by the reaction of the Chilean Olympic Committee (COCH) through its president Miguel Angel Mujica: “We must not only think of a plan for the organization of the Games, but we must also provide more resources to high performance sport and to the federations. It makes no sense to think about the Olympics without preparing for them in terms of sports. In practical terms, Mujica added, it will be the official communication to the IOC of the intention to host the 2036 Olympic Games to then “initiate a process of dialogue to channel the candidacy”.

CHILE’S RIVALS

In Chile, beyond the initial surprise, there is awareness that the road to the long margin, as the president said, will be extremely difficult due to at least a couple of factors. The first has to do with the overwhelming competition that Chile’s candidacy already has today, notwithstanding the candidacies that may still be added. So far there are 7 aspirants with the South American country included: Turkey, Indonesia, Poland, India, Qatar and neighboring Saudi Arabia. It is no secret that the Qataris are everyone’s favorite, and now the Saudis have joined the list, not to mention a possible joint bid by the two Arab countries.

13 BILLION TO START WITH

The second factor is obviously economic. The Tokyo Olympics, according to the financial statement of the event’s executive director, was worth US$ 13.6 billion (US$ 7.7 billion from the public coffers and US$ 5.9 billion from the Organizing Committee).

The figures over the last decades have not changed much. According to a study by the Statista platform, spending on the organization of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games was around US$13.7 billion, while in the case of London 2012 it was approximately US$15 billion. It is true that some claim that the investment would be worth it, since, supposedly those costs would be cancelled out if factors such as return due to tourism, advertising and investment in public infrastructure, among others, are taken into account. However, the figures hide a reality verified by a 2016 study conducted by Oxford University: “The Olympic Games register the highest average cost overrun of any type of megaproject. Moreover, cost overruns occur in all Games, without exception; in no other type of megaproject does this happen.” He further adds that “47% of the Games have cost overruns in excess of 100%.”

“My advice would be that once we finish these Games successfully, they should start setting the next goal. And among them could be an Olympic Games or other events of this nature”, this was the sentence of the IOC president, Thomás Bach, during his visit to Santiago on the occasion of the Pan American Games 2023. This initial impulse to dare to go for “something bigger” was literally taken up by the director of the Games Corporation, Harold Mayne Nicholls, in what for many was simply an excess of enthusiasm. Until now, when the President himself has made the proposal official.

Critics of the presidential announcement point to mere “fireworks” in the face of an option with no chance of success, as well as to enumerate the long list of urgent needs of a country still with too many pockets of poverty to indulge in “rich people’s pleasures”. What cannot be ignored is that only the announcement of the candidacy, regardless of its final result, already opens a much more generous perspective than usual in the expectation of the next sports budgets, as well as enriches the future projection of a Santiago that in 2041 will celebrate its fifth centenary. Time will give answers for a path that has just begun, the steepest joint effort that the Chilean Olympics and the Chilean State have undertaken in its history.

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