The 2022 Winter Olympic Games currently being held in Beijing, China have been marred by China’s severe human rights violations, concerns relating to the management of the COVID-19 pandemic, environmental issues, displacement of local residents and growing global political tensions. These issues are symptomatic of a larger problem: the Olympics aren’t working. Moving the Olympics to a permanent location would go a long way towards fixing the games.
There are several reasons why the current system no longer works. According to the International Olympic Committee, the stated goals of the games are to “create a way of life-based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of good examples and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.” Nevertheless, the fact that China won the right to host the games despite its massive human rights violations, most notably the genocide of Uyghurs and other minority groups, underscores the corruption of the Olympic bidding process.
What used to be a competitive process for choosing an Olympic location has changed entirely, as the high costs of hosting the games have resulted in fewer cities bidding, increasing corruption of the process. For the 2022 Games, only two cities — Almaty, Kazakhstan and Beijing, China — made it through the bidding process. Only Paris and Los Angeles bid for the 2024 Summer Games. The huge costs of the games and the financial burdens placed on the host city are the main factors in the decline of interest. This attitude has enabled a culture of corruption in the bidding process. Charges of corruption were filed against the head of Rio’s Olympic Committee, and controversies of illegal payments also surrounded the 2020 Tokyo bidding process.
The most recent Olympic summer games, held in Tokyo, Japan in 2021 following a postponement due to the COVID-19 pandemic, reveal much about the IOC’s issues surrounding corruption in the bidding process and performative sustainability. The former governor of Tokyo, Naoki Inose, resigned from his post in 2013 after a vote-buying scandal only two months after Tokyo was voted to host the 2020 Games. In 2019, Tsunekazu Takeda, former President of the Japanese Olympic Committee, was indicted for his role in bribery payments made to obtain votes from the IOC for the same games. Additionally, the Tokyo Games were branded with the phrase: “Be better, together – For the planet and for the people.”
While the 2020 Tokyo Games implemented some sustainable initiatives, like recycled materials and cardboard beds, critiques remain surrounding “greenwashing” of the games. The Olympics have embraced strategies like carbon offsetting, an effort which is not an effective method of true climate action. Such claims only further the appearance that the Olympic Committee is more concerned with the appearance of sustainability, rather than substantive action.
Additionally, public support for the games has fallen due to the impact of the Olympics both on the environment and citizens of the host country. The 2016 Rio Summer Games saw a rise in labor trafficking, police violence and forced evictions. These human rights violations, which occurred during the construction of and during the games, continue to plague Rio de Janeiro. The environmental fallout of the Rio Games has also been disastrous, with many stadiums and facilities “sit[ting] largely abandoned,” falling into disarray due to lack of upkeep and maintenance.
This year, the American public’s hostility to the games centered largely around China’s human rights atrocities, with a 47 percent plurality of Americans in support of the diplomatic boycott of the games. China’s treatment of its Uyghur Muslim population has been called a genocide by the U.S. government. Free speech has been severely curtailed by the Chinese government, which has warned that “athletes are subject not only to Olympic rules, but also to Chinese law,” thus preventing many athletes from speaking out about China’s human rights record and other key issues.
To eliminate some of these issues and enable the Olympics to return to alignment with their stated goals, a fundamental change must happen: the Olympics must move to a permanent location.
In 1896, King George I of Greece proclaimed that Athens should be a permanent location for the games due to Greece being the birthplace of the ancient Olympics. This location would provide tradition and historical significance to the games, and Greece, whose economy is heavily reliant on tourism, would benefit financially from consistent streams of tourism and related revenues with every Summer Games. Another strong option to permanently host the summer games is Los Angeles. Los Angeles already has all of the stadiums and venues in place, and so no new permanent venues are required to host the Summer Games. The city is currently expanding its public transportation infrastructure, ahead of the 2028 Summer Olympics that will be hosted by LA. The 1984 Summer Games in LA were widely considered to be a success, with the city even turning a profit, making LA a strong contender for a permanent location.
For the Winter Games, it is essential that the host location has a reliable natural supply of snow. The Beijing Games rely mainly on artificial snow, a process which yields high levels of carbon dioxide emissions and consumes a lot of water. Potential permanent winter locations include Switzerland, which has an abundance of snow and represents a symbolically neutral site, and Norway, which hosted the games in 1994 and has infrastructure already in place. While Oslo pulled out of hosting the 2022 Games due to lack of public support and the expensive nature of the project, it figures that a permanent location would draw consistent tourism and increased revenue every four years, without the expenses of constructing new facilities.
The IOC could also opt for a rotating model of Olympic host cities, with a few chosen cities that are cycled through. A diversity of recurrent locations would retain the international spirit of the games while also reducing repeated infrastructure and bidding costs.
While some downsides of a permanent location include less of a global atmosphere and potential irritation regarding traffic for the people of whichever city is selected, this change would do more good than harm. Having a permanent home for the games would ensure that the sports, not scandal, are in the spotlight. For the Olympics to modernize and meet the times, they must return to the ancient tradition: a single location.
Annika Reff PO ’25 is from Los Angeles, California. She enjoys consuming an unhealthy amount of caffeine and listening to the soothing voice of Michael Barbaro.