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McAdams On: The Olympics

I just had a brief social media exchange about the economics of the Olympics. NBC surpassed $1.2 billion in ad sales the day before the opening ceremony, due in part, according to The Associated Press, to reports of Zika and the unsanitary conditions of Guanabara Bay. Brazil had seven years to contain 80 percent of the sewage flowing into the bay by the time of the Games.

This did not occur.

Brazil went 51 percent over budget instead, spending $4.58 billion on preparations and infrastructure for the Games, according to Statista. That’s a bargain, however, compared to the $21.89 billion borne by Russia for Sochi and representing a 289 percent cost overrun to produce a park with one McDonald’s and a lot of stray dogs.

This seems like a good time for a cost analysis of dedicated sites for the summer and winter games. Some place without a general plague of deadly mosquitoes, because the Olympics are important, and NBC’s haul reflects that as much if not more than the market value of America’s morbid curiosity. These games are a refuge from the wall-to-wall mudslinging that otherwise dominates our TV screens.

Young athletes from around the world at peak performance come together and compete against their peers. Some of them do things we never forget. Jesse Owens winning four gold medals in Berlin in 1936. Tiny little Nadia Comaneci’s perfect 10. The Jamaican bobsled team. Derek Redmond’s dad running out to help him cross the finish line after he tore a hamstring. People we probably never heard of before, from all cultures, languages and beliefs, doing amazing things, often against astounding odds, and sometimes rising above it all to be wholly, courageously human.

Let the Games continue and the cost-impact analyses begin.