Cummings: Romney’s critique of Olympic spending makes valid argument

Kelsey Cummings

Last week, former presidential candidate Mitt Romney criticized Russia’s excess spending on the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. He believes the money is being used “so that politicians can be puffed up and can be shown around the world,” according to his statement Sunday in NBC’s Meet the Press. However, allegations are coming out that claim Romney, who helped to host the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, used funds for his own political gain as well. Whether or not Romney’s hypocrisy is revealed to be true, he makes a valid argument.

In a Feb. 11 op-ed for USA Today, Romney argues that the reported $50 billion spent on the Sochi Olympics far exceeded the reasonable budget needed to host such an event. As the CEO of the Salt Lake Olympics, Romney was able to turn out the event for less than $3 billion — substantially less than the budget spent on Sochi this year and Beijing in 2008.

Romney argues that such an important global event like the Olympics is worth spending on; however, the excess $47 billion spent could have gone back to the country, funding efforts to fight more pressing issues like poverty and disease. He calls on the International Olympic Committee to place a limit on the amount that can be spent at each event, which will leave more government funding for those individual countries and will also help to include countries who may want to host the Olympics but lack a substantial budget.

In the last few days though, critics have blasted Romney for using the 2002 Olympics to help jump-start his own platform, “not [hesitating] to exploit the exposure and recognition he got from being parachuted in as chief executive and president of Salt Lake City’s organising committee,” states a reporter from The Guardian.

The criticisms seem to focus on one issue: Romney’s use of memorabilia pins designed to include his image. One former co-committee member went even further, discrediting Romney as a man who was good at “putting himself on a pedestal.” No matter what was Romney’s intended use for these pins, what his critics seem to overlook is one of the main proponents of his argument: he didn’t spend that much money.

Even if Romney’s intentions in approving these pins were less than honorable — using the global event as a means to promote himself and his political prowess — the fact is that Romney still only spent a miniscule fraction of what the most recent Olympic committees have spent. It’s possible that Romney has learned from his wrongdoings and has now come forth to help prevent future politicians from doing the same.

By focusing on Romney’s hypocrisy, we’re avoiding the reason for his article and the real issue at hand here: too much money is being wasted on frivolous purchases. And while arguments can be made that this year’s Olympics required that budget simply to pay for the building necessary to turn the small city of Sochi into a venue capable of hosting such a massive event, the thriving metropolis of Beijing was plenty able to support 2008’s Olympic Games, and yet still managed to cost nearly the same amount as Sochi. In his article, Romney doesn’t argue against Russia in particular but against the increasing amount of money countries are spending to host these games and flaunt their resources.

Being chosen to host the Olympics is a great honor for any country and should be cause for celebration and pride. However, the Olympics was created to bring the nations of the world together in one universal activity in which all competing countries have an equal chance. As it’s becoming nothing more than a contest between politicians to see who can put on the best show, however, there is a serious need to address and implement measures to prevent further corruption.

Romney was not wrong in suggesting a budget cap for Olympic spending. If a cheaper and equally dazzling event can be organized, then it should be. Limiting the budget would allow less economically powerful countries to be eligible for hosting, reinforcing the ideal of equality made so important by the Olympics. It would also allow for the government’s money to be spent on its own people, as it should be. The media shouldn’t focus on the fact that it was Romney who said this; what’s important is that someone said it at all.