Last week, Udi Sommer wrote an op-ed for the Christian Science Monitor (normally one of my favorite news sites)Â with a somewhat radical proposal. Â In his piece, he suggested that the International Olympic Committee award Jerusalem the 2020 Summer Olympics, albeit with one very important stipulation.
Sommer argues that this privilege – if one dare call hosting the Olympics a privilege – should be contingent upon an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. Â In short, the international community led by the U.S. should not dangle this Olympic-sized carrot unless there’s real peace by 2013.
With all apologies to Sommer, who’s probably a very intelligent and well-meaning man, this kind of idiocy and short-sightedness is doomed to fail. Â While there’s no doubt that mega-events such as the Olympics can provide a temporary boon to the host locales – public morale improves, tourists rush in, and outdated infrastructure gets revitalized – the drawbacks are manifold.
Now I’ll admit – albeit reluctantly – that this could be the extra incentive that does lead to peace in Israel. Â What I won’t do, however, is support Sommer’s idea. Â You see, I, along with most of those concerned, want a peace that will last longer than 6 years; in other words, I want a peace that will last longer than the interim period between a 2013 treaty and the immediate run-up to the 2020 Olympiad.
Put simply, a Jerusalem Olympics would be a catastrophe. Â Here’s but a few reasons why:
- In the last twenty years, over two million people have been displaced or forcibly removed from their homes as a result of the Olympics, most notably in Beijing before the 2008 Games. Â On a related note, 20,000 residents of Cape Town’s Joe Slovo Informal Settlement are facing eviction due to another of the sporting world’s egregious money-grabs, South Africa’s upcoming World Cup.
- Vast cost overruns are par for the course. Â The Beijing Olympics, originally slated to cost $2 billion, ended up costing the Chinese a cool $20 billion.
- As part of the Olympic bid contract, cities are forbidden from holding any anti-Olympic demonstrations. In fact, “nothing to detract from the allure of the Games may take place immediately before, during, or after the events.” Â It doesn’t take a genius to figure out how far the Israeli police force could run with this little dissent-squashing clause.
- TheÂ IOC, besides historically having downright evil leadership, is above the law. As a SwissÂ NGO, other governments have no control over the organization. So when, for example, the British Columbia courts ruled that theÂ IOC had discriminated based on gender in the run-up to last year’s Winter games, they were unable to do anything about it.
So now, let us imagine together, the fruits of Udi Sommer’s grand idea. Â It’s 2020, and Jerusalem is at peace (at least according to some already-dated government document); tens of thousands of illicit/informal homes in the area are destroyed, leaving countless people (read: Arabs) homeless; and any anti-government or anti-Olympic protest is put down quickly and efficiently, with those responsible (again, most likely Arabs) rounded up and imprisoned. Â All this while taxpayers foot the bill on unnecessary sporting complexes, and greedy politicians take their piece of the very, very sizable pie (Holyland, anyone?).
Yes, Mr. Sommer, Jerusalem in 2020 will surely be something to behold, the Olympics a certain recipe for a true and lasting peace. Â Just forgive me when I sit these games out.
Sam Melamed is a Masa participant, participating in Career Israel, one of Masa Israel‘s 160 programs.