Tuesday. 9/3/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Nic Monisse

Go for gold

In recent years, commentators and community groups in potential Olympic Games host cities have successfully lobbied against holding the event. Citizen activism in Boston and Berlin, for instance, defeated both cities’ plans to stage the world’s biggest sports tournament. Such scepticism about the costs and benefits of hosting means that Queenslanders are now preparing for a fight after the International Olympic Committee selected Brisbane as its “preferred partner” for the 2032 Games.

But the naysayers' often cost-driven criticisms shouldn’t be bought into. Sure, some cities have botched it over the years – Athens and Rio both spent significant sums building white elephants – but many have been left in better shape. Take Seoul, where the Han River got a major clean-up in 1988, and Vancouver, which since 2010 has a transit line that connects downtown, its airport, and a host of neighbourhoods in between. The formula for success is straightforward enough: focus on improving infrastructure that needs a fix and fast track what’s already planned, rather than building anew. Brisbane is already tapping into this approach: almost all sports will take place in existing venues in the city and in nearby regions including Carrara Stadium on the Gold Coast (pictured). The state government claims that 80 per cent of venues are already built. The funding will instead focus on planned infrastructure projects – including, finally, the city’s metro.

From an Australian’s perspective (albeit one from Perth, where parochial attitudes mean that hosting even the Commonwealth Games would be ambitious), having the Olympics at home would be great to see. And perhaps Brisbane could transform its reputation as a big tropical country town into a global force, or at least a city with global-standard infrastructure. For pessimists who complain that the Olympics are expensive: so are the big infrastructure spends that can make a city better. Pegging these to the games is a surefire way to fast-track them.

Image: Alamy

Trade / Switzerland

Votes of no confidence

Two Swiss referendum results this weekend have left the country’s federal council and business community on edge: a ban on full-face coverings including the Muslim niqab and burka, and the less-covered (narrow) approval of a free-trade agreement with Indonesia. Both votes could have economic consequences. The country’s tourist regions largely voted against the burka ban – since 2007, overnight stays of people from Arab nations have risen by 130 per cent across the country but in the canton of Ticino, where a burka ban was introduced in 2016, visitors from Arab nations dropped 30 per cent in the following years. Meanwhile, the trade agreement with Indonesia passed far more narrowly than anticipated, sparking concerns about the viability of future deals such as an upcoming one with the Mercosur states in South America. It’s not the first time that Switzerland has made headlines with its direct-democracy experiment but, taken together, Sunday’s outcome suggests that the Swiss are far more concerned about globalisation than the government thought.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Paraguay

Ill effects

Paraguayans have taken to the streets to protest against president Mario Abdo Benítez in the latest example of fallout for governments that are mishandling the coronavirus crisis. Benítez, an ally of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro in South America’s Mercosur trading bloc, successfully controlled the first phase of the virus last spring but newer variants have sparked a resurgence and placed severe pressure on the country’s healthcare system.

To add insult to injury, just 0.1 per cent of Paraguay’s population has been vaccinated to date. Three cabinet members have now resigned their posts, including the country’s health minister, but it remains to be seen whether Benítez can weather the storm. There have been mixed responses to the pandemic across Latin America, with previously unpopular governments such as Chile’s benefiting from more decisive action. Benítez will need to act quickly with a cabinet shake-up and new measures to combat the virus – or the demonstrations could yet force him from office.

Image: Getty Images

Defence / Japan

Picking sides

Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga (pictured) hopes to be the first foreign leader to visit US president Joe Biden in person. No firm date has been set but US and Japanese officials say that Suga could head to Washington as soon as April. Concerns about China will top the agenda, as they will this Friday when the leaders of Japan, the US, India and Australia – known as the Quad – are due to hold a virtual meeting. Japan is keen to maintain a united front, particularly on the issue of the East China Sea; Chinese vessels have been making almost daily appearances in the waters around the Senkaku Islands – known as Diaoyu in China – which are controlled by Japan but claimed by China. There’s work to be done: although Japan cultivated ties with Biden’s predecessor (former prime minister Shinzo Abe was the first world leader to visit Donald Trump in New York, just days after his 2016 election victory), Trump’s erratic policy in East Asia did little to reassure the US’s allies in Tokyo.

For more on the upcoming Quad meeting, tune in to today’s edition of Monocle 24’s ‘The Globalist’.

Image: Håkon Daae Brensholm

Culture / Norway

Here comes the sun

Residents of the Norwegian-administered Arctic Ocean archipelago of Svalbard yesterday celebrated the sun rising for the first time in 150 days. The occasion is marked by Svalbard’s 2,400 souls (not to mention its hundreds of polar bears) at the week-long Solfestuka festival. This year there is another ray of sunshine to celebrate: coronavirus vaccines are arriving and cases of the virus number zero. Residents of the administrative centre Longyearbyen – the most northerly permanent settlement in the world – gathered in temperatures of minus 12C as solbøllen (vanilla-flavoured “sun buns”) were distributed by the town’s bakery, and a children’s choir, Polargospel, heralded the sun’s arrival. Today a cultural event, Nordting, brings together the art and music of the high north. And on Friday? “I will be jumping into the ocean,” Vigdis Jensen, the festival’s lead organiser, tells The Monocle Minute. “I’m not looking forward to it.” After a long and dark winter, you’ve got to make every celebration count.

M24 / The Menu

A Syrian feast

Why Syria’s food culture deserves much more attention, and how Saima Khan found global success as a private chef.

Monocle Films / Turin

The new urban rowers

We wake up bright and early to meet creative director Luca Ballarini at the Circolo Canottieri Caprera, a rowing club on the banks of the river Po in Turin. We follow his slender boat and glide along the river beside charming palazzi, castles and bridges, while the rest of the city comes to life.

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