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Portland Tribune (Oregon)

Both Trump, Rio Olympics Earn Gold in Hyperbolic Hurdles

Trump has been called an "imperial CEO," but the International Olympic Committee shares his penchant for onerous demands. (Image: vectoropenstock)

If Twitter-sphere trash-talking were an Olympic sport, Donald Trump would be a legitimate contender for gold.

When the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics commence on Friday, Trump will be consumed with campaigning. But it turns out the Olympics and “The Donald” have a whole lot in common. Like Trump, the modern-day Olympics are a tempting blend of spectacle and speculation. But behind the shimmering scrims sit some brutal truths.

The cosmopolitan luminaries who run the International Olympic Committee inhabit the world of helipads and caviar, a zone of privilege where Trump would feel at ease. The IOC’s Olympic Foundation reserve fund sits at about $1 billion. The IOC and its “Olympic Partners” — the Who’s Who of the corporate world, including Coca-Cola, GE and Visa — could comfortably rub shoulders with Trump and his ilk. When these corporate partners jet into the Olympic host city, they don’t pay a dime in taxes. The last time Trump made public his income-tax returns, he had forked over a grand total of zero dollars to the feds. 

Both Trump and the Olympics position themselves as philanthropic, donating to both charities and fulfilling grandiose promises to the host city. But as with Trump, whose donations have proved to be more phantom than opera, the great benefits that the Games supposedly bestow on everyday people in the host city have turned out to be more aspirational than inspirational.

Look no further than Rio de Janeiro. Hosting the Olympic Games was supposed to jumpstart the cleanup of the city’s waterways. But today Guanabara Bay and the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, which will soon host Olympic water events, are plagued by massive fish die-offs and sludgy carpets of trash clogging the shoreline.

According to lore, the arrival of both Trump and the Olympics are supposed to float all economic boats. But with both there’s a gulf between reputation and reality. Trump’s businesses have left a sketchy record in their wake. Exhibit A: Trump University. Exhibit B: his Atlantic City casinos hemorrhaged money. And while Trump himself did not go belly up, his shareholders did.

Similarly, the Olympics have become infamous for fudging the numbers. Every single Olympic Games since 1960 has catapulted over budget. This puts host cites on the hook for cost overruns, which average a whopping 156 percent. Meanwhile the IOC jets off to the next Olympic venue.

In truth, research by academic economists has shown that for host cities, the Olympics are less “The Art of the Deal” and more “The Art of the Steal.” Taxpayers in the Olympic city pay a sizable price.

Trump has been called an “imperial CEO,” but the IOC shares his penchant for onerous demands. Host cities are forced to harmonize their local laws with IOC dictates to prevent ambush marketing. This can lead to ludicrous outbursts of brand protection. During the London 2012 Olympics, one local café was strong-armed into removing its “flaming torch breakfast baguette” from its menu.

Trump could surely relate. After the ghostwriter of Trump’s blockbuster autobiography, “The Art of the Deal,” publicly dubbed the book a work of fiction that the Republican presidential nominee might not even have read from cover to cover, Mr. Trump’s chief legal counsel sent him a cease-and-desist letter.

Beyond the bluster, Trump shares similar favorability ratings with the Olympics. Seven of every 10 Americans view Donald Trump unfavorably. A recent survey in Brazil found that nearly two-thirds polled thought the Rio 2016 Games will bring “more harm than benefit.”

Trump actually has historical links to the Olympics. In the lead-up to the 2004 Athens Games, Trump carried the Olympic torch as it passed through New York City. Previously he led an unsuccessful campaign for New York to secure those same Games. And in Rio, Trump Towers — five sleek skyscrapers — are slated to be built in the city’s northern zone. Apparently he plans to Make Brazil Great Again. 

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Jules Boykoff

Jules Boykoff teaches political science at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon. He is the author of "The Suppression of Dissent: How the State and Mass Media Squelch US American Social Movements" (Routledge, 2006), and "Beyond Bullets: The Suppression of Dissent in the United States" (AK Press, 2007). Boykoff is a former professional soccer player who represented the US Olympic Team in international competition.

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