What do artificial snow in cities and casinos in deserts have in common? Largely they share the bizarre and often controversial nature of attractions being plonked in unnatural environments. In trying to rationale the recent International Olympic Committee (IOC) decision to award Beijing the hosting of the 2022 Winter Olympics, the theme of compassion came to mind. Compassion or the ability to be empathetic means to me to evaluate a situation once you have considered the perspective and actions of both yourself and the other involved. It is eloquently described here as:
You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.[i]
Atticus gives this piece of moral advice in To Kill a Mockingbird, literally asking to wear someone else’s skin. I am not going to conclude that the IOC should be wearing various skins, but more so in popular opinion there should be greater empathy to why more unusual locations are bidding and being chosen to host sport mega events.
In August of this year Beijing won the bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics- odd as they hosted the 2008 Summer Games. It appears the Chinese capital is swapping the iconic summer Olympic venue of the Bird’s Nest for Igloos… Media and popular opinion has heavily criticised this decision:
You do have to laugh a little bit at the concept of a winter Games in a place that doesn’t get snow but I think they have the technology, the money and the manpower. They will solve it.[ii]
It’s a sad day when the International Olympic Committee cannot even clear one of the lowest bars for choosing the host city for the Winter Games: snow.[iii]
This is part of an emerging trend as it is comparable to the dominating discussion of how apparently preposterous it is for Qatar to host the 2020 FIFA World Cup. Air conditioned stadiums in the desert and the prospect of the final in Christmas week has well and truly rocked the boat:
Qatar’s shock victory in the race for the 2022 tournament was achieved in defiance of warnings about the extreme summer temperatures in the country, which can exceed 50 degrees.[iv]
I’m going to go home and tell my turkeys, it’s not Christmas, we’re moving it – it’s all right, you’ve got some respite! I’ve had a word with FIFA and we’re going to move Christmas, it’s no problem.[v]
The responses and debates around unnatural and unconventional hosts is what has triggered my thoughts around empathy, as there are many examples of bizarre events or places in European and Western locations. The one that springs to mind immediately is Las Vegas. The world famous casino city located in the Nevada desert where the average temperature is similar to that of Qatar, and rainfall barely tops 4 inches or 10cm.[vi] It is a very popular tourist destination, for example, in 2013 it hosted just under 40 million visitors, a significant amount being from the British Isles.[vii] In sporting terms, Las Vegas does not simply offer world class casinos but also two 18 hole golf courses. On top of the basic matter that a permanent golf course in the desert is excessive, this also contributes to a wider golfing statistic where over 2 billion gallons or 9 billion litres of water are used to irrigate golf courses across America in an average year.[viii] Yet the environmental and unnatural factors of Vegas or golf are rarely discussed or challenged in the context of America.
Consequently, awarding a Winter Olympics with the hosts relying on artificial snow, and a football World Cup in the desert all of a sudden is not so bizarre or worthy of such criticism. In fact I would like to know how many of the people I quoted with opinions above have played golf in America or visited Las Vegas, where the reality of up keeping such places is somewhat questionable. Granted you may not agree with the comparison, but I encourage you to have empathy when judging why cities and countries are bidding to host sport mega events. There are of course a number of other positive and negative factors around Qatar or Beijing, alas that would involve me writing a book rather than a blog post.
My summarising thought is that judging and assuming the worst will reduce the understanding that could be gained from climbing into the skin of another. Consider that next time you read about sport travelling to an unusual corner of the globe.
[i] Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, 1960