Sunday, September 08, 2013

Thieves Like Us: Madrid's failed Olympic bid

Third time is not always lucky. The tears of those gathered at Madrid's Puerta de Alcalá told us that the luck had run out. In truth, it had never started. Luck does not play a part in the decision-making of the International Olympic Committee. More than luck had been needed.

Third time. Try, try, try again, and it might have been assumed that it would have been third time lucky. It had been close before, hadn't it. Last year's Olympics could have been held in Madrid if it hadn't been for ... . Hadn't been for what is now lost in the mists of Olympic politicking and prime ministerial intervention in Singapore. Possibly. It doesn't matter what happened eight years ago. Buenos Aires 2013 was what mattered. This was Madrid's time. But it wasn't.

"Disappointment." This was the word that headed the news reports as soon as Madrid was eliminated. It had been thought that Madrid was the favourite, the potential gold medallist. Disappointment in Spanish is "decepción". It is a false friend for English speakers. It doesn't mean what it seems. But it could mean what it seems. The deception of expectation. Of belief. Of hope. Of the presence of Prince Felipe. Of Mariano Rajoy. Of thousands by the Puerta de Alcalá. It was all a deception, one cruelly made by the tie for the first elimination and the resultant tie-breaker. Bronze medal for Madrid. But no bronze medal. There is no medal for coming third and for missing out for the third time. The dream was over.

Dream for some but not for others. Spanish sportspeople, among them Mallorca's Sete Benavides, expressed what was more than disappointment. There was anger. But opinion polls, rapidly taken via websites, suggested otherwise. A majority felt that it had not been unfair. Madrid was unlucky, but it hadn't deserved the Games.

That is unfair, though. Madrid may well have deserved the Games. It had been trying so hard for so long. Much of the infrastructure was in place, though not all. Perhaps, though, this was part of the reason for the decision going against Madrid. A new stadium on which work had stopped. All the work that needed to be done to build an Olympic Village. Seven years to do this, but maybe these counted against Madrid.

Finance was one reason. But there was another. It won't be stated, but there was. It has to do with Spain's image. Of all those projects built over the past years. Of vast amounts of money wasted. Of innumerable allegations of corruption. Create something in the name of the Olympics, and the Olympic movement, hardly one familiar with total transparency, would have worried about that image. About how projects for the Olympics would benefit whom and in what ways. 

And there, in Buenos Aires, capital of the country with which Spain has sought a new Hispanic alliance against the imperialism of Great Britain but with which Spain has its disputes because of Argentinian nationalist nationalising of Repsol interests in the country, was Mariano Rajoy. Prime minister. Suspected of less than honourable dealings. Listed by Barcenas. Alleged recipient of illegal payments.

Rajoy offered a guarantee that there was political and social support for the bid. He dismissed concerns about Spain's financial capabilities. The adjustment in public finances has been better than any other advanced country, he said. And the IOC may have believed him. But they might have worried about him, as there is still good reason to worry about him. Barcenas hasn't finished yet.

Prince Felipe looked shocked. Poor Felipe. Madrid 2020 could have been his crowning glory as he will surely have assumed the crown before then. But it's that image again. Felipe, brother-in-law of Urdangarin, the accursed Urdangarin, former Olympian and in the eye of a corruption storm for so many years now.

The financing of the Games, one feels, was not the deal-breaker. Madrid was to have been an austerity Games. It would have been tough, but the IOC is aware that it is tough for whichever city stages the Olympics. The deal-breaker was not the money, other than a concern as to where the money might go and into whose pockets it might end up (which is not to say that the Turks or the Japanese aren't equally capable and so potentially culpable in this regard). It was the image. That of Spain. It was not Madrid's image so much as that of the country's. And to corruption can be added a Spanish sporting legacy of recent years, that of a rather different form of corruption - doping. The IOC takes the moral high ground when it suits the IOC to do so.

Madrid has failed. It isn't Madrid's failure, though. It is a Spanish failure. There will be recriminations. This was to have been third time lucky. Madrid was favourite. How could it possibly have failed? There need to be honest answers as to why. As one of those at the Puerta de Alcalá observed, "this is a country full of thieves; it is better not to give it to us". 

Any comments to please.

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