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JULES BOYKOFFIf Twitter-sphere trash-talking were an Olympic sport, Donald Trump would be a legitimate contender for gold.


When the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics commence on Friday, Trump will be consumed with campaigning. But it turns out the Olympics and “The Donald” have a whole lot in common. Like Trump, the modern-day Olympics are a tempting blend of spectacle and speculation. But behind the shimmering scrims sit some brutal truths.

The cosmopolitan luminaries who run the International Olympic Committee inhabit the world of helipads and caviar, a zone of privilege where Trump would feel at ease. The IOC’s Olympic Foundation reserve fund sits at about $1 billion. The IOC and its “Olympic Partners” — the Who’s Who of the corporate world, including Coca-Cola, GE and Visa —could comfortably rub shoulders with Trump and his ilk. When these corporate partners jet into the Olympic host city, they don’t pay a dime in taxes. This is not unlike Trump: the last time he made public his income-tax returns, he had forked over a grand total of $0 to the feds.

Both Trump and the Olympics position themselves as philanthropic, donating to both charities and fulfilling grandiose promises to the host city. But as with Trump, whose donations have proved to be more phantom than opera, the great benefits that the Games supposedly bestow on everyday people in the host city have turned out to be more aspirational than inspirational. Look no further than Rio de Janeiro. Hosting the Olympic Games was supposed to jumpstart the cleanup of the city’s waterways. But today Guanabara Bay and the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, which will soon host Olympic water-events, look more like scenes from the Old Testament, plagued by massive fish die-offs and sludgy carpets of trash clogging the shoreline.

According to lore, the arrival of both Trump and the Olympics are supposed to float all economic boats. But with both there’s a gulf between reputation and reality. Trump’s businesses have left a sketchy record in their wake. Exhibit A: Trump University. Exhibit B: his Atlantic City casinos hemorrhaged money. And while Trump himself did not go belly up, his shareholders did.

Similarly, the Olympics have become infamous for fudging the numbers. Every single Olympic Games since 1960 has catapulted over budget. This puts host cites on the hook for cost overruns, which average a whopping 156%. Meanwhile the IOC jets off to the next Olympic venue.

Mitt Romney, Trump’s nemesis who has sniped at him from the sidelines, has done some Olympic truth-telling as well. The former Republican presidential candidate, who previously nudged the scandal-wracked Salt Lake City Olympics across the finish line, recently cautioned of the Games, “It’s really not a money-making opportunity.” In truth, research by academic economists has shown that for host cities, the Olympics are less “The Art of the Deal,” and more “The Art of the Steal.” Taxpayers in the Olympic city pay a sizable price.

Trump has been called an “imperial CEO” but the IOC shares his penchant for onerous demands. Host cities are forced to harmonize their local laws with IOC dictates to prevent ambush marketing. This can lead to ludicrously monomaniacal outbursts of brand protection. During the London 2012 Olympics, one local café was strong-armed into removing its “flaming torch breakfast baguette” from its menu. A flower shop was ordered to disassemble a window display made out of tissue paper that was in the shape of the Olympic rings.

Trump could surely relate. After the ghostwriter of Trump’s blockbuster autobiography “The Art of the Deal,” publicly dubbed the book a work of fiction that the Republican presidential nominee might not even have read from cover to cover, Mr. Trump’s chief legal counsel sent him cease-and-desist letter.

Trump’s frivolous lawsuits sprawl back to the 1980s when he unsuccessfully sued fellow businessmen for having the temerity to share his surname and try to start a firm named “The Trump Group.” As with the Olympics, legal action all too easily replaces healthy, measured conversation and compromise.

Beyond the bluster, Trump shares similar favorability ratings with the Olympics. Seven of every ten Americans view Donald Trump unfavorably. Meanwhile a recent survey in Brazil found that nearly two-thirds polled thought the Rio 2016 Games will bring “more harm than benefit.”

Trump actually has historical links to the Olympics. In the lead-up to the 2004 Athens Games, Trump carried the Olympic torch as it passed through New York City. Previously he led an unsuccessful campaign for New York to secure those same Games. And in Rio, Trump Towers—five sleek skyscrapers—are slated to be built in the city’s northern zone (apparently he plans to Make Brazil Great Again).

We can learn a lot about the state of the Olympics in the 21st century by flinging the Games through the Trump filter.

Jules Boykoff lives in Portland and teaches political science at Pacific University in Forest Grove. He is the author of three books on the Olympic Games, most recently "Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics" (Verso Books, 2016). His writing on Olympic politics has appeared recently in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and USA Today. In fall 2015, he was a Fulbright research fellow in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he researched politics in the pre-Olympic city.


LINKS

Yet another similarity to Trump: the last time he made public his income-tax returns, he had forked over a grand total of $0 to the feds: www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trumps-income-tax-returns-once-became-public-they-showed-he-didnt-pay-a-cent/2016/05/20/ffa2f63c-1b7c-11e6-b6e0-c53b7ef63b45_story.html

Olympic corporate sponsors: www.olympic.org/sponsors

But as with Trump, whose donations have proved to be more phantom than opera:

www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/instead-of-releasing-his-taxes-donald-trump-offers-nothing-but-flimsy-excuses/2016/06/09/7e687110-2db9-11e6-9de3-6e6e7a14000c_story.html?tid=a_inl

…the great benefits that the Games supposedly bestow on everyday people in the host city have turned out to be more aspirational than inspirational. Look no further than Rio de Janeiro. Hosting the Olympic Games was supposed to jumpstart the cleanup of the city’s waterways. But today Guanabara Bay and the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, which will soon host Olympic events, look more like scenes from the Old Testament, with massive fish die-offs and sludgy carpets of trash sliming the shoreline:

www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2013/may/01/engineers-rio-stink and www.nytimes.com/2016/07/18/opinion/what-makes-brazilians-sick.html

Exhibit A is Trump University: www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jun/01/trump-university-staff-testimony-fraudulent-scheme

Trump has left a sketchy record in his wake, with his Atlantic City casinos hemorrhaging money. And while Trump himself did not go belly up, his shareholders did. www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/16/atlantic-city-casino-donald-trump-plaza

Similarly, the Olympics have become infamous for fudging the numbers.

www.ft.com/cms/s/0/be5f9884-37ff-11e6-a780-b48ed7b6126f.html

Every single Olympic Games since 1960 has catapulted over budget. This puts host cites on the hook for cost overruns, which average a whopping 156%. www.technologyreview.com/s/601948/full-scale-of-olympic-financial-disasters-revealed/?utm_campaign=add_this&utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=post

Romney quote: www.forbes.com/sites/johnclarke/2013/11/01/mitt-romney-backs-boston-olympics-but-warns-it-wont-make-money/#42c7a6313354

Trump has been called an “imperial CEO” but the IOC shares his penchant for onerous demands. www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/mr-trumps-business-dealings/2016/07/17/843ab114-3194-11e6-95c0-2a6873031302_story.html

Host cities are forced to harmonize their local laws with IOC dictates about preventing demonstrations in and around Olympic venues and to prevent ambush marketing. This can lead to the curtailment of democratic freedoms as well as ludicrously monomaniacal brand protection. During the London 2012 Olympics, one café was strong-armed into removing its “flaming torch breakfast baguette” from its menu. A flower shop was ordered to disassemble a window display made out of tissue paper that was in the shape of the Olympic rings. www.independent.co.uk/sport/olympics/news/father-of-olympic-branding-my-rules-are-being-abused-7962593.html

Trump could surely relate. After the ghostwriter of Trump’s blockbuster autobiography “The Art of the Deal,” publicly dubbed the book a work of fiction that the Republican presidential nominee might not even have read from cover to cover, Mr. Trump’s chief legal counsel sent him cease-and-desist letter.

www.nytimes.com/2016/07/21/us/politics/trump-tony-schwartz-book.html

Trump’s frivolous lawsuits sprawl back to the 1980s when he unsuccessfully sued fellow businessmen for having the temerity to share his surname and try to start a firm named “The Trump Group.” As with the Olympics, legal action all too easily replaces healthy, measured conversation and compromise. fortune.com/2015/08/14/donald-trump-lawsuits/

Seven of every 10 Americans view Donald Trump unfavorably. abcnews.go.com/Politics/trumps-unfavorables-spike-clintons-challenged-poll/story?id=39856303

Meanwhile a recent survey in Brazil found that nearly two-thirds polled thought the Rio 2016 Games will bring “more harm than benefit.” www.latimes.com/world/mexico-americas/la-fg-brazil-olympics-apathy-20160723-snap-story.html

And in Rio, Trump Towers—five sleek skyscrapers—are slated to be built in the city’s northern zone (apparently he’s going to Make Brazil Great Again). www.trumptowersrio.com/

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