Winter Olympics: What About The Warmer Countries?

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Within all the breathless coverage of the Winter Olympics, there’s one glaring issue that always seems to get lost—namely, the fact that the games are so skewed toward cold-weather countries, particularly the northern ones. A quick glance at the list of historic host countries reveals the astonishing truth: Other than the U.S., Canada, and Japan, no country outside of Europe has ever hosted the games. There are obvious logistical issues with hosting the games in warm climates, but there are an incredible number of nations that have plenty of snow and mountains but which typically do not even enter the running for host nation.

And when you look at the competitors and medal winners, the disparity is glaring. Outside of Europe, the U.S., Canada, and northeast Asia, Australia had the largest contingent in 2010 with 40 athletes. Beyond that, there were a few cursory representatives from South America, Africa, Southeast Asia, and South Asia, but the non-Northern world was woefully underrepresented.

Is there a solution to this disparity, or are we just going to have to accept the fact that the Winter Olympics are for northerners, while the Summer Olympics are for everyone else? This wouldn’t be an issue if the Olympic Committee didn’t ostentatiously represent its event as a grand coming-together of all the world’s peoples for the peaceful competition of sport. In practice, it’s more a coming-together of privileged and well-funded athletes from rich, snowy nations.

There may be no easy answers, but there are some easy starting points toward a solution. For starters, the Olympic committee should seriously consider taking the games to a southern country in 2018 or 2022 (with 2014’s host, Sochi, Russia, already being decided). Take Australia, for example. Those of us who are not from there tend to think of it as a largely arid country without substantial mountain ranges. But try telling that to residents of the hilly states of Victoria and New South Wales, where there are thriving skiing and snowboarding communities.

Some may point to the fact that the winter months in southern countries like Australia, New Zealand, and Argentina fall during northerners’ summer months—to which we might answer, “So what?” Would it really be such a big deal to have the games in July or August instead of January? The Olympic Committee may say that this would go against tradition, but isn’t it time to start a new tradition? In the long run, bringing the Olympics to the rest of the world will only be a good thing for the games.

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