Some people argue that money spent on celebratory events such as the Olympics would be better used for public services such as health care and education.
To what extent do you agree with this viewpoint?

With countries the world over struggling to create fair societies that provide an adequate safety net to the poorest, budgeting large amounts of money on marquee events such as the World Cup and Olympics can seem perverse. Recent protests in Brazil about the spiralling cost of stadia built in areas mired in poverty prove that not everyone is enamoured with celebratory events. Evidently changes needs to be made to justify continuing this spending.

I do not generally believe that such events should be cancelled: they provide a level of intrinsic happiness, can highlight excellence, and can actually lead to global achievements (such as athletic records and, to a certain extent, the moon landings). Yet the recent trend has been for events to become bigger, bolder and brighter, meaning costs multiply and people suffer in the name of organisers’ ego trips. Vanity projects invariably leave grand empty structures (‘white elephants’) that eat into public funds for years. Scaling back extravagance is the first alteration that should happen.

A second change should be the demise of large scale celebrations of leaders, people in power, and the military, as this is crass. It is impossible to condone the use of public funds on the promotion of those already in the elite, and in many cases the public only begrudgingly accept the event rather than find any heartfelt joy. Such a change is unlikely to happen in many places – authority often feels the need for worship – but ideally there should be no place in a national budget for such pomp.

Finally, I believe that more should be done to make better use of money that does arise from events. Although the bills are often enormous and take generations to pay, there does exist a spike in revenue for some. Rather than simply going to local merchants, business deals, and increasingly as rewards for sponsorship, the public would be happier to give up state funds if it meant genuine regeneration through long-lasting institutions (rather than mere gentrification). A hospital or university built with Olympic money would appease some of the disquiet about how budgets are used.

In short, my belief is that large events such as the Olympics can be stupendous occasions but they require intelligent and long-term thinking that does not leave locals and services ‘carrying the can’. To achieve this requires that officials and authorities place ego to one side and instead work with a long-term vision of improvement rather than short-term grandstanding. Only then can the reduction of budgets for public services be justified.