Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Thirty years later it’s delivery day!

The Montreal Olympics can no more have a deficit than a man can have a baby.- Mayor Jean Drapeau of Montreal, 1976

It was perhaps one of the most famous quotes in Canadian history, a rather optimistic proclamation by the Mayor of Montreal as questions swirled about the state of finances of his dream to bring the 1976 Olympics to Montreal.

As it turned out there must have been a lot of pregnant men rambling around Montreal between 1976 and today, as history has shown the Montreal Olympics were not to cost effective blue print for a successful games.

Cost over runs, questionable construction procedures and profiteering were the rule rather than the exception as Montreal made their preparations to welcome the world in 1976.

The centre piece of the Mayor’s grand ambitions was always the east end tribute to cement mixers known as the Olympic Stadium. A controversial structure that never quite resembled it’s original design, didn’t quite work as designed, is all but abandoned now and finally as of today, is debt free.

Montreal has finally announced, that the 1.5 billion debt to host the 76 Olympics and build the Big Owe is now retired, probably just in time for the powers to be of today to decide to tear the thing down.

The stadium which at one time was the home to the Montreal Expos and Montréal Alouettes, has suffered more than a few indignities over the years, an original roof that never worked properly, a replacement roof that collapsed and showered debris onto the field within and falling chunks of pavement that almost made wearing a construction helmet to events mandatory.

Drapeau’s edifice has become the thing of legend, of dreams run amok and bank accounts drained all in the chase to impress the five ring circus masters of the Olympic movement.

Montreal 76 was probably the last of big state sponsored Olympics, Los Angeles eight years later would turn the Olympics into a commercial cash cow and change the dynamic of financing for the next thirty years. There have been reports however, that both Greece and Italy may have returned to the profligate ways of the Drapeau design with recent Olympiads.

What remains to be seen is how China fares when they welcome the world in 2008, we’ll no doubt never see the books, nor will we hear of any cost over runs, shady construction deals or bloated budgets with no sound financial plan in place. Secrecy is the nature of the host’s way of doing business, all part of the price of the giant coming out party that China has plans.

However, a sharp observer might wish to look for men with a sudden weight gain, Mayor Drapeau’s quote of thirty years ago, may still resonate in the Olympic movement, an bureaucratic industry to itself, always living in a world that the rest of us probably don’t recognize and surely can’t relate to.

As for Montréalers, they can now puff away on their cigarettes without guilt. It was a thirty year tobacco tax that serviced the debt. (Which perhaps explained Rene Levesques addiction, he was merely doing more than his share) Very much a fortunate thing for the Olympic Installation Board, as Quebecers never quite reached the manic devotion to kicking the weed that other provinces did through the years.

With each puff they came a day closer to clearing the title on the Big O, with a deep breath they can now put away the smokes until the next mega project comes along that needs a rescue.

Perhaps another Olympics bid, they do have a cost free stadium looking for an event.
Let the labour pains begin anew!

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