Caribbean Idea: Could the Caribbean Host the Olympic Games?

By: Caribbean Journal Staff - February 13, 2014

WHILE THE Caribbean has become relatively accustomed to dominating at the Summer Olympics, this year’s crop of Caribbean winter athletes has us thinking.

With all of the Caribbean’s continued success in international athletics, why couldn’t the region (or one of the countries in the region host the Summer Olympics?

The Olympics has been held in the US, Asia, Australia, Europe and (soon) South America, but never in the Caribbean.

So we looked around the region to think about which countries could, at least hypothetically host the Games.

The Games must be based in a single city; given much of the region’s size, the Games would likely need to be held across an entire island, though perhaps nominally based in a city.

A potential Caribbean host country would also need several major qualities: a large enough territory to host the myriad events held in the Summer Games; a high enough level of infrastructural development; a big enough airport and a hotel stock large enough that it could expand without too much difficulty to meet the needs of the Games.

We isolated several Caribbean islands: Jamaica, Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), Trinidad and Tobago, Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico.

Jamaica is large enough and its hotel stock is big enough, but its infrastructural development would need work; given Jamaica’s brand equity around the world (and its athletic dominance), this could be a natural choice, with Montego Bay being the best fit for a single city given its topography.

Hispaniola would be the most provocative choice: could two neighbours that often have a stormy relationship bridge their divides and come together for international sport? Lack of infrastructure, particularly on the Haitian side, would be an issue, but adding that infrastructure would also enormously benefit the western half of the island. Could the Games be held in Port-au-Prince and Santo Domingo together?

Trinidad and Tobago has the infrastructural development, the territorial size, and the airport, but a small hotel stock. Could Port of Spain host the Games with many events held in Tobago? A system of fast ferries and increased flights would make for an entertaining twin-island Olympics.

Guadeloupe would be a bit of a wild card; its roads and infrastructural development far outpace much of the region; it has enough undeveloped land and a relatively large size. Could the Games spread across each of the islands of the archipelago?

Puerto Rico is large, with developed infrastructure, and it’s part of the United States, with a relatively robust hotel stock and strong existing sports infrastructure. Of course, its debt problems would pose a significant hindrance to hosting the Games in the next few decades.

Cuba is another option, although the continued embargo from the United States would likely be a significant stumbling block. Otherwise, the island has the size, infrastructure and level of development to be considered.

There’s another option — what about a regionally-hosted Olympics? Would the IOC ever support something like that? Would the Caribbean grant temporary approval for foreign airlines to operate regional service? Would a fast-ferry company seize on the opportunity?

If the region could source the majority of the funding from sponsorships and other external sources, the benefits of new hotels, infrastructure, investment and prestige could be significant.

But the Caribbean would need to ensure that the foreign money was enough that it didn’t put it any further into already-crippling debt.

Ultimately, the question is this: instead of spending billions on developed countries hosting the Games, why not spend the same money for an Olympic Games that actually leads to development?

Imagine a Trinidad or a Jamaica or a Hispaniola with fresh, modern hotels, large stadia and, crucially, sparkling new roads (not to mention the vast tourism marketing potential of hosting the Games).

Of course, there’s another major issue: the weather. Summer in the Caribbean means the risk of hurricanes. But with major storms popping up across the globe, is the Caribbean really alone in that risk anymore? And couldn’t Olympic development be done at a hurricane-proof standard?

What do you think? Could the Caribbean ever host an Olympic Games?

Tell us in the comments section.

— CJ

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