Commentary: Coe's advice for Portland hosting Olympics

Commentary: Coe's advice for Portland hosting Olympics

Credit: Getty Images

Joaquim Cruz #093 of Brazil races to the gold medal against Edwin Koech #584, Sebastian Coe #359 and Earl Jones #903 during the final of the Men's 800 metres event at the XXIII Summer Olympics on 6th August 1984 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California, United States.(Photo by Tony Duffy/Getty Images)


by Michael Berk, KGW Staff

Bio | Email | Follow: @KGWNews

Posted on February 20, 2013 at 9:53 PM

Updated Thursday, Feb 21 at 9:52 AM

PORTLAND -- British royalty, in a manner of speaking, graced the chambers of City Hall in downtown Portland on Wednesday.

One day after learning Portland would be one of 35 cities asked to consider a bid to host the 2024 summer Olympics, Lord Sebastian Coe spoke from the heart, and from experience; he served as Chairman of the London games organizing committee.

"I saw the London games as something much more than something we would deliver for four weeks," Coe told the council members. "In the history and life of our nation, it had to have a lasting legacy."

It had better, because London's taxpayers shelled out more than $14 billion in contributions to make London "Olympics-ready." And for that, their games broke even. Didn't make a dollar of profit from hosting the world during the summer of 2012. Coe loves the Olympic games. And why wouldn't he? Between 1980 and 1984 he won four Olympic medals including gold in the 1,500 meters. Or shall we spell it "metres" as they do overseas?

Lord Coe's view of the games is seen through gold, silver and bronze lenses. His pitch was smart and sincere.

"First figure out why you want to host the games" he said.

Translation: Make sure you move forward for all the right reasons. I don't know what the "right" reasons are for hosting the Olympics. That's for Portland Mayor Charlie Hales to determine with this help of his staff and City Council members.

Coe is currently working directly for the British Prime Minister to determine exactly how much value there was in hosting the games. Translation: How much bang did they get for their multi-billion dollar buck?

"The real challenge," Coe said, "was leveraging every ounce you possibly can, in economics, spiritual and sporting." Translation: the jury is still out on exactly how beneficial the games were to London, and the nation. Deliberations are likely to continue for years, if not decades.

So now the question becomes, does Portland want to make that sort of financial commitment? Can a city and a state that doesn't offer a full day of kindergarten to its public school students justify a more than $3 billion dollar operating budget?

Can an area whose schools are cutting programs and teachers afford such a financial hardship? Can a city whose potholes are becoming as famous as its reputation for being weird, move forward with hosting the games in 2024? Or could all of those problems listed be rectified, with the financial windfall the city could conceivably generate?

Not every Olympic games is a losing or break-even proposition. Beijing in 2008 made $146 million dollars in profits. Salt Lake City's games in 2002 generated a profit of $101 million dollars. But Utah also had help from taxpayers to the tune of $600 million dollars.

Is that a bet we can place right now? I don't know that answer to that. But then again, I'm not the Mayor and I don't have to make that choice. Mr. Hales will have to decide if going forward with the bidding process makes good financial and civic sense.

We know how Lord Coe feels about it.

"Smart people," he said, "can figure out how to do it. But the real challenge is figuring out why you want to do it."

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