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Olympics update: Beijing in, Boston out (Part One)

We learned Friday that Beijing will host the 2022 Winter Olympics, and that Boston withdrew from the 2024 race. From a corruption standpoint, there’s a lot going on here.

China’s selection completes a fascinating ten-year stretch:  2014 (Russia), 2016 (Brazil), 2018 (South Korea), 2020 (Japan), 2022 (China).

Notice two trends here.

First, the BRIC nations have arrived on the scene: within ten years, three of the four will host Olympic Games. (The outlier, India, suffers from serious collective action problems that may doom its candidacy in the foreseeable future).

Second, notice the focus on Asia, which claims four of these five hosts. (Japan is the only host country in this stretch that is not a developing country; but it is a conspicuous under-enforcer of its obligations under the OECD Convention Against Corruption).

Notice also that the only two finalists for 2022 — Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan — are authoritarian regimes. Oslo and Stockholm withdrew from that race, and Boston has just followed their lead. Generally, the more democratic (and less corrupt) nations are disinterested in large measure due to fears of incurring public debt.

Where politically unaccountable governments with relatively high levels of corruption are tending to seek the Olympics, in the face of reliable economic data forecasting economic losses, a thorny and rather unpalatable question arises:  could the decision to bid for an Olympic Games be inherently corrupt?

Let’s first define corruption as the abuse of public office for private gain. Then let’s define gain as the original political scientists did, to include both financial and “status” gain. Some political leaders may anticipate personal financial gain here, but I’m going to suggest it’s a minority. However, any government official seeking to host the Games anticipates status gains.

But is the status associated with hosting with hosting these almost-certainly-unprofitable Games itself corrupt? That is, does it constitute personal glory-seeking at the expense of the people?

I don’t think so, and I’ll explain why in the next post.


Andy Spalding is a Senior Editor of the FCPA Blog and Assistant Professor at the University of Richmond School of Law.

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1 Comment

  1. Hi Andy,

    I would say the decision to bid for Olympic Games is not inherently corrupt, but it is highly susceptible to corruption.

    That is because the Olympic Games allow many layers of intransparency to veil the actual interests at hand (mostly being allowed to channel public money into private coffers) and gloss them over with public enthusiasm. (Just like FIFA … or Blackwater …)

    I'm looking forward to your next post – in particular why you think it's not so much financial gain that's at hand …


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