As we learned last year, the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo were abruptly changed to the 2021 Olympic Games because of the pandemic. Now, with a fresh surge in COVID cases sending Japan back into lockdown mode, it’s looking as if they plan to bail on the project entirely. The organizers are facing “real pressure” to back out and cancel the games to avoid having them turn into superspreader events. But having made the commitment to host the event so far in advance, particularly given all of the resources that were flushed into the preparations, the Japanese are appropriately worried that this could wind up turning into a total debacle no matter what they decide.
Riding in like a knight on a white stallion (er… sorry. Stallion of Color) is Jimmy Patronis, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO). Patronis, presumably with the approval and support of Governor Ron DeSantis, has penned a letter to Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee, urging him to consider moving the games to the Sunshine State rather than canceling them entirely. The letter was published on the CFO’s website this week. In it, he makes the case that Florida is ideally situated to take on the task in an abbreviated timetable and do so safely.
Today, I am writing to encourage you to consider relocating the 2021 Olympics from Tokyo, Japan to the United States of America, and more specifically to Florida. With media reports of leaders in Japan “privately” concluding that they are too concerned about the pandemic for the 2021 Olympics to take place, there is still time to deploy a site selection team to Florida to meet with statewide and local officials on holding the Olympics in the Sunshine State. I would welcome the opportunity to pitch Florida and help you make the right contacts to get this done…
Unlike other states, when the COVID-19 vaccine comes to Florida it doesn’t just sit on the shelf wrapped in government red tape; it moves fast to protect our communities. The State of Florida has successfully allowed sports to take place during the pandemic. When most states shut down their sporting events, the city of Jacksonville hosted the Ultimate Fighting Championship (the UFC) and the National Basketball Association (NBA) setup the “bubble” to hold games in Orlando.
Patronis goes on to sing the praises of Governor DeSantis for his bold leadership and rapid actions to contain the virus and get people vaccinated. He mentions the many sporting events that Florida has already hosted over the fall and winter and even works in some references to Disney World. This enthusiastic pitch should leave us with two questions given the limited amount of time between now and when the games are supposed to begin. Could Florida actually pull this off? And even if they could, should they?
Traditionally, hosting the Olympics is a massive undertaking, where years of work and billions of dollars are flushed into the construction of shiny new facilities to hold all of the events and the millions of people who stream in to observe them. That’s not going to happen in eight months, particularly when there are still restrictions on various businesses that would have to supply all of the labor and materials. But when you consider what happens to the Olympic facilities of other host cities after the circus leaves town, is that such a bad thing? Rarely does a host city wind up seeing a profit from its efforts in the end. In fact, they normally lose money. (Los Angeles turned a $200 million profit in 2984, but that was an unusual set of circumstances and nobody else has replicated the feat since the 1930s.)
In that regard, having a hastily assembled Olympics might be a blessing in disguise. If the state quickly cuts arrangements with the various college and professional sports stadiums already operating there, they might be able to make room for all of the events and do it on the cheap.
But let’s not forget about why the Japanese are balking. It’s not because of the money. The pandemic is not over and it’s not going to be over in the summer, either. At the rate things are going, we’ll be nowhere near full vaccination levels by then. How many people will want to come to Florida to watch these games in person if the virus is still lurking out there? Further, if the attendees and the athletes, along with the armies of workers needed to support such a massive show, start coming down with a massive wave of new COVID infections, we’re never going to hear the end of it. Any profits the state might see from the event would likely be eaten up in lawsuits.
I give Patronis and DeSantis props for thinking outside the box and trying to come up with ways to boost Florida’s economy during these garbage conditions, but perhaps it would be better to just cancel the games entirely and try again in 2024. It’s not as if it’s never been done. The Olympic Games were canceled once during World War One and twice during World War Two. We’re not in the middle of a global war at the moment, but we are in the middle of a global epidemic. Florida would be taking a huge gamble on the virus being beaten down far enough in just seven months to be able to pull this off.