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A wise surrender

Giving up on the Olympics avoids an unnecessary risk for a country in crisis

Madrid mayor Ana Botella was never enthusiastic about Madrid bidding for the Olympic Games, but did so anyway after she took over the baton from her predecessor, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón. After three failures, she has now ruled out making a fourth attempt to achieve that goal. Botella took less than a week to turn her back on the challenge, which is the wisest course to take. The extent to which this decision could affect Botella’s electoral hopes is of minor concern — indeed, it remains to be seen if she will head the list of candidates for the 2015 municipal elections. And the effect on her Popular Party, which has also suffered the fallout from the fiasco in Buenos Aires, is also of little importance. The real issue is whether Madrid, given the situation in which it finds itself, can and should continue to pursue what has now become, more than ever, a pipe-dream.

Ana Botella’s predecessor not only left her the Olympic baton, but also the highest debt levels of any Spanish city, which has put a stranglehold on the management of the capital. Like the rest of the country, Madrid is in the grip of a depression due to the state of Spain’s economy and labor market. After five years in crisis with rampant unemployment, being awarded the right to host the 2020 Olympic Games would have been a breath of fresh air for the capital. It was an attractive opportunity to reverse the negative trend and to stimulate activity. In this respect, the infectious idea of achieving this goal after previously being awarded the highest ratings by the experts at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) managed — for a few weeks at least — to unite a country that has been badly affected by the recession. This sense of unity has evaporated in the wake of Madrid’s failure to achieve that goal.

The Spanish Olympic Committee (COE) is drawing up a report on the reasons behind the failure of the Olympic bid, which perhaps can be attributed to Spain’s economy; Madrid’s proposal for an “austere” Games, which the IOC dismissed without much ado; and Spain’s feeble and debatable pursuit of doping cheats. The idea of competing for the Games for a fourth time seems risky, and, what’s more, too expensive. Tackling the debt problem and emerging from the crisis should be the priority not only of Ana Botella, but also of all Spain’s politicians. Diverting attention toward intangible objectives does not do service to the already discredited political class and those they are meant to serve.

The defeat in Buenos Aires last Saturday is a serious setback for Spanish sport, which has already been badly hit by spending cuts. The current government — which blamed Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s foreign policy for the previous Olympic failures, and backed Madrid’s bid to host the Games in 2020 — has drastically reduced state subsidies for sport, and without the Olympics to look forward to, the future is of even greater concern. At the same time, there is a need to review the roles played by the COE, its chairman Alejandro Blanco and the political powers that be, who were unable to unite their forces.

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