Death of the Olympics? Reconsidering the Value of Hosting the Olympics.


Olympics Commitee

The Opening Ceremonies of the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics

Hosting the Olympics has always been an honour. The sight of enormous grandstands, the best athletes in the world and the patriotic crowds present a prestigious sense of accomplishment for host cities. However, it appears that this prestige is no longer enough to attract bids to host the Olympics from cities around the world.

Recently, cities such as Krakow, Munich, Rome, and Boston have all expressed interest in hosting the Olympic Games but later withdrew their bids. On January 8th, 2015, for instance,
Boston was chosen as the host for the 2024 summer Olympic games. While wealthy Boston residents celebrated, others protested. Eventually, mayor Marty Walsh announced that he would not sign the Olympic Host City Contract, saying “I cannot commit to putting the taxpayers at risk.”

Boston is a good example of a pattern that we see with many potential hosts in the world today. Cities are starting to realize that there are much more beneficial ways to spend their money instead of pouring billions into Olympic venues.

The Protest Group “No Boston Olympics”                                City of Boston

The fact that every Olympic game in the last fifty years has gone over budget is definitely not an appealing statistic for potential hosts. Indeed, during the first ever international Olympic game in modern history, the 1896 Summer games in Athens, the city spent six times more than its intended budget. More recently Sochi ended with a bill of 51 billion dollars after hosting the 2014 winter games.

The long-term economic issues of hosting the Olympics cannot no longer be overlooked. Greece’s economy has free falled after hosting the Olympics in 2004. The general attitude is often that host cities make lucrative profit from hosting the games. However, in depth research suggests otherwise. For example, London had an income of $5.2 billion but spent $18 billion on the 2012 Summer Olympics – a loss of nearly $13 billion. Similarly, Vancouver lost $4.8 billion from hosting the Winter Olympics in 2010, and Beijing lost a whopping $36.4 billion during 2008 Summer Olympics. (See graph below.)

Cities used to benefit from hosting the games as they collected a steady revenue from television; however, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has been asking for larger percentages – the IOC took 70% of TV revenue in 2016, compared to the 4% they took in 1992.


Estimated Vs. Final Costs for Hosting the Olympics

Another common conception is that hosting the Olympics provides jobs for the local economy. While this is true, the job opportunities are always short-term, and do not dramatically decrease unemployment rate as the workers are often employed already.

The enormous costs of hosting the Olympics normally leads to other issues. Public infrastructure built exclusively for the games, such as the Olympic Golf Course in Rio and the Helliniko Olympic Complex in Athens are all abandoned today, and are all falling apart due to the lack of funding and maintenance. They are simply too costly to maintain. Even the iconic and legendary Maracanã Stadium in Brazil has become the Tiger Woods of sporting infrastructure – a shadow of what it once was.


The Maracanã Stadium in Brazil is Falling Apart                                                        CNN                    

So could we be witnessing the death of the Olympics? We will probably never see the end of the Olympics as a world sporting event, but the Olympics as we know it today (and for the past century) is in jeopardy. Many citizens are now well aware of the issues regarding host cities and will continue to pressure against their city bidding for the Olympics.

Actions have been taken. IOC President Thomas Bach proposed forty actions in 2014 to “shape the future of the Olympic Movement.” He suggested ideas such as reducing the cost of bidding and increasing sustainability. These proposals all seem ideal, but it is another question as to whether the IOC can execute on these proposals.

A permanent host of the games could be beneficial as well. Los Angeles would be a great candidate for this situation as it is currently the only city to pocket a steady revenue from hosting the games; the city’s existing infrastructure and other assets for accommodation are perfect for hosting the games. Would bringing the games back to Athens where it all started be a good idea? Could this perhaps rejuvenate the heartbreaking state of Greece’s economy?

Regardless of the solution, the hope is that the pressing issues surrounding host cities will be resolved. The Olympics, after all, is still a crowd pleaser and an important piece of international power dynamics that unites the best athletes; and as we just saw in PyeongChang, may even have the potential to unite countries that are traditionally enemies.

The Olympics may not be dying any time soon, but it is imperative for the International Olympics Committee to work out a solution for the issues with host cities in order to keep the games as a fan-favourite sporting event for the world.