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The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

Deford On South Africa: The Big Stage Is Pricey

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Cape Town Stadium undergoes a test of its lights as construction nears completion, Oct. 22, 2009. i

Big-Ticket Items: The new Cape Town Stadium (above, during a light test last fall) was finished at the end of 2009; King Shaka International Airport (below), which cost an estimated $1 billion, opened in May. South Africa is also completing a high-speed-train line for the World Cup. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Cape Town Stadium undergoes a test of its lights as construction nears completion, Oct. 22, 2009.

Big-Ticket Items: The new Cape Town Stadium (above, during a light test last fall) was finished at the end of 2009; King Shaka International Airport (below), which cost an estimated $1 billion, opened in May. South Africa is also completing a high-speed-train line for the World Cup.

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Every time I hear another dismal report about how Greece is going to drag the whole world into an economic abyss, I ask out loud: Does anybody remember that it was only six years ago when Athens was the proud host of the Summer Olympics?

And: Does anybody remember that when somehow Athens borrowed the scratch to put on those games, the price tag ended up in the realm of $15 billion, way above projections — and a lot of the magnificent facilities are sitting there now, rotting away as the streets run to riot?

The newly built King Shaka International Airport opened on May 1. i
Rajesh Jantilal/AFP/Getty Images
The newly built King Shaka International Airport opened on May 1.
Rajesh Jantilal/AFP/Getty Images

No, Greece would surely be a financial disaster whether or not it had paid through the nose for the honor to stand in the world spotlight for two weeks one summer, but as Vancouver goes about the nasty business of trying to pay off this winter's Olympics, and as we approach the World Cup and South Africa sees its bill soar toward $5 billion, it's worth reminding cities and countries that think they can be the apple of the world's eye just by hosting a sports spectacular, that there are only two words you can be guaranteed will always highlight every Olympics and every World Cup nowadays, and those are: over budget.

Likewise, expectations that the big event is going to make a huge positive impact are always the stuff of dreams. Estimates of almost a half-million international visitors to South Africa have already been substantially cut, and hopes that the World Cup would put a quarter of the country's unemployed to work were obviously grossly inflated.

Yes, it was benevolent to award the cup to Africa for the first time. And yes, it's only fair that South America should finally get its first Olympics, when Rio hosts the 2016 games, but, really now, in an age of global television, is it necessary to induce individual countries to pony up for these extravaganzas?

As gorgeous as Cape Town is, is it necessary to pay billions to show it off to the world with fleeting halftime beauty shots? Somehow I have the feeling that if tourists don't already know about the attractions of Rio from seeing those spicey Carnival photographs every Mardi Gras, the billions of dollars spent to showcase gymnastics and field hockey really isn't money wisely spent.

The World Cup and the Olympics belong to us all, and so wouldn't it be more appropriate to spread them around? Why not split them up and play games and events in different cities spotted about a whole continent –– Europe one time, North America next, Asia and so on. It's time to stop suckering places that can't afford it into believing that they'll miraculously change their fortunes just by paying to be the world's TV studio for a few weeks.

Instead, the games end and everybody forgets who just incidentally paid to build those superfluous stadiums until, like with Athens, something else expensive puts it back on the map.

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Sweetness And Light

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The Score On Sports With Frank Deford