Modi’s 2036 Olympics Wish: Sporting Ambition or a Spectacle of Soft Power?

India are looking to exhibit a spectacle by hosting the 2036 Olympics. But the question is – can we afford it?

5 min read

Hosting the Olympics is sport’s version of the once-in-a-four-year prom. But the Games, which usually bring a nation to its knees – ask 76’ Montreal, 2004 Athens and of late, 2016 Rio and 2020 Tokyo – thanks to ballooning expenses and eventually grinding debt, is also considered by many, a fragile and dying cultural expression of soft power.

So, when the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at the inauguration of the 141st International Olympic Committee (IOC) session held at the Jio World Centre in Mumbai on October 14th, said: “India is very excited to organise an Olympics. India will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to organise the 2036 Olympics. It’s the dream of 140 crore Indians," it was a proclamation of the country signalling its right to a seat at the table.

For India, providence and fate had already laid out what should be the ace in the hole – the 107 medals at the Hangzhou Asian Games, the first time India had crossed the century mark, which IOC President Thomas Bach, alluded to in his address.

That, Mumbai hosted it and not the nation’s capital, also reinforces the inclusive capitalism theory that hosting the Olympic Games really requires.

Mumbai is the financial capital with the IOC session being held at the Jio World Centre with Nita Ambani, IOC member, Chairperson and Founder of the Reliance Foundation and the wife of Mukesh Ambani, Chairman and Managing Director of Reliance Industries, leading the welcome of the IOC delegates. Both Mukesh and Nita Ambani had hosted Thomas Bach for dinner at their residence ahead of the IOC session.

The Cricket Factor

Two days later, on October 16th, India celebrated the news of cricket being included in the 2028 LA Olympics, catapulting a multi-billion-dollar sport into the Olympic Arena. For the IOC, new revenue streams opened and as the Washington Post had headlined in August “In cricket, Olympic officials could add one sport and 1.4 billion people” came true.

Sources inside the ICC say that the broadcast deal from India’s rights could be as much as $260 million. With the IOC hunting for new markets, and a younger population base, India is like the Arabian Nights bazaar with an ever-solidifying GDP, and larger sports mapping which is slowly paying dividends with the IOC believing that India will increase its footprint on the medals tally from the 7 (1 gold. 2 silver and 4 bronze) at Tokyo to at least cross 25 by the time the Olympics come to India; provided India ticks off all the boxes by then.

BCCI secretary Jay Shah’s words after it was confirmed that cricket was at the 2028 Olympics carry significance – “This initiative aligns with the idea of India hosting the 2036 Olympics, as envisioned by our Hon’ble Prime Minister.”

Shah also spoke about the impact on cricket’s stakeholders after its inclusion into the Olympics. “The inclusion of cricket in the Olympics is set to open new frontiers for the sport, providing unparalleled exposure in untapped global markets.” The ‘unparalleled exposure in untapped global markets’ will be a windfall for most IPL teams with owners pushing to enter and create new markets beyond India. Close to 4 billion people watch the Olympics. The exposure goes much beyond what the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games throw up.


Can India Afford To Host Olympics?

In all the hoopla, and hype of cricket being added to the Olympic Games, won’t it be wise to understand the REAL question: Can India afford to host the Olympic Games?

To analytically answer that, one needs to go back 49 years when Jean Drapeau, the mayor of Montreal, famously stated: ‘The Montreal Olympics can no more have a deficit, than a man can have a baby.” Drapeau was wrong. Three decades after 1976 Montreal, the city kept paying off the debts which had an overrun of more than 400 percent.

In fact, a 2012 University of Oxford study estimated an average cost overrun of 252 per cent for every summer Olympics since Montreal. Not many would remember that Denver became the only chosen host city (winter Olympics) that served notice to the IOC that it won’t be able to host the Games due to a lack of available funding.

The 76’ Winter Games went to Innsbruck, Austria. Colorado state representative, Bob Jackson, said then, “We’re sorry. We made a mistake. Take the Games elsewhere.”


Millions have now become billions. The Sochi Winter Olympics which was a $12bn cost wound up with anything around $23bn to more than $50bn.

Yet, LA 84’ is still considered an example of how to host the Olympic Games. Thirty-eight years ago, Los Angeles held the entire Games at existing venues. Nothing new was built. In this the IOC couldn’t do much as LA was the only host city to have bid apart from Tehran, who quickly went out of the picture after the overthrow of the Shah of Iran. LA finished with a $215 million operating surplus.

L. Jon Wertheim author of the GLORY DAYS: The Summer of 1984 and the 90 Days That Changed Sports and Culture Forever, wrote in his book on China coming into the Olympic fold in 84’: “China’s first full Olympic delegation yielded 32 medals, including 15 golds. While sports had already been used as a crowbar to pry open diplomatic relations with China, the success of 1984 did something else: It changed China’s self-perception.”

Sports Illustrated wrote on cheering Chinese athletes happy with their success: “The lid has been torn off the cheerless world Mao made. Life is full of change, full of wonder, full of promise.”

Financial Implications Should Be Considered

A point to consider for India, if they get the 2036 Olympics, is not only to follow the principles of what Peter Ueberroth brought to the table as the Chairman of the LA Olympic Organising Committee but to also follow the financial templates marrying technology strictly with sport.

Fans don’t get enamoured with shiny, spanking new stadia; they come inside the stadium to watch athletes perform. They sit on the edges of their seats, cheer, cry watching sportspersons conquer and be conquered. If ever there was real-life drama, it’s at the Olympic Games.

But, beyond the drama, after it ends, it’s the financial implications that the taxpayer is saddled with. India is unlike Europe or the USA where the local city civic body can make amends or be critical of the financial outlays.

Maybe, for those creating 2036 as a successful bid to bring the Olympic Games to India, beyond the soft-power theory, the creation of a nation that is dreaming of sport supremacy beyond cricket, shooting and javelin podiums, it will be good to take note of what Terence Burns, Chairman of the T Burns Sports Group which works with the IOC and several bid cities said to The Guardian, especially on cricket being added to the Games: “What it’s going to come down to is, can LA make money off this?”

In the end, it’s also true that the Olympic Games, even though a commercial entity but at times, nations, especially like India, who would be hosting for the first time, would want a show. Apart from the political implications, it’s like the marriages in India – you may not be able to afford it, but you must put on a show.

Even though hosting the Games is a hard row to hoe, the IOC and the Indian counterpart would hope to invoke the nation’s youth into following sport, like the impact of the LA 84’ Games was the National Junior Tennis and Learning, bringing in kids from low-income neighbourhoods. Two sisters brought into the programme would become legends, Venus, and Serena Williams, also winning Olympic gold.

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