The Future of the Olympics Must Be Fiscally Sustainable
Hosting the games makes less and less economic sense
Opinions / March 15, 2018
With the winter games now over, Pyeongchang will destroy a $78 million USD stadium which was built specifically for the Olympics. In a town of 45,000 people, a 35,000 seat stadium makes very little economic sense.
Though there have been many reasons for locals to raise an eyebrow about hosting the games over the years, the economic barriers are becoming increasingly important.
Vancouver has fared much better than most other cities that ‘ve hosted the Olympics. One of the biggest project for us was surely the Richmond Oval, which cost $178 million. The Oval was designed to be used even after the games were over, and it now holds numerous sporting facilities under one roof. Eight years later the stadium still stands—though without any speed skating tracks—and several of my friends work out at the gym to this day.
A similar project to the Oval is the Whistler Sliding Center, which cost $105 million. Many upgrades were also made to stadiums throughout the city, such as Rogers Arena and Pacific Coliseum, to prepare for the Winter Olympics.
Granted, our expenditures for hosting the games still went over budget. It was projected to cost $1.9 billion and auditors of VANOC declared the games debt-free in 2014. However, that number doesn’t reflect contributions made by government. For instance, the Canada Line was built for around $2 billion.
Ultimately, around $7 billion was spent on the Vancouver games. This is if you consider the cost of security—which was $1 billion on its own—paid leave for government workers, infrastructure, and so on.
That isn’t to say that spending this much on the games was a waste. I’m certain that most Richmondites will agree with me that life has gotten much, much better with the opening of the Canada Line. Travelling downtown used to take 45 to 90 minutes and now only takes 25.
Vancouver’s only real waste of resources was likely the Olympic Line streetcar, which ran between Olympic Village Skytrain station and Granville Island. The short route was meant to be a proof-of-concept for possible LRT in Vancouver, and there were talks about extending this streetcar line further into Kitsilano and north towards Gastown. Today, the two stations and track are overgrown in foliage.
Rio de Janeiro was much less fortunate. The Brazil games had a final operating budget of $13 billion USD, though some believe that, especially with government corruption charges being laid around the same time, the money may have been used wrongfully.
The Maracanã Stadium, which was built in 1950, was used for the 2016 Olympics and is currently in a state of disrepair. It has been vandalized heavily, the grass left to die, and someone owes the power company $970,000 USD. Many other facilities were meant to be turned into public spaces after the games, but ultimately were left to ruin.
Fortunately, not everything was a complete waste in Rio. The Olympic Aquatics Stadium was always intended to be a temporary structure, and after the games were over the building materials were used to build new facilities.
Despite what the Olympic committee claims about the profitability and security of the games, the trend thus far has been that, where the Olympics go, debt and poorly planned construction projects follow. Nearly everyone has caught on to this, as can be seen by the fact that fewer and fewer cities are bothering to make a bid to host them.
In an unusual move, the international Olympic Committee chose Paris for 2024 and LA for 2028. Beijing will be hosting the winter games in 2022, and will presumably be using some facilities it built for when it hosted the 2008 summer games. 12 cities vied to host the 2002 games, but only two wanted 2024 and 2028. Boston was, at one point, in the bidding race for 2024, but public pressure led them to withdraw.
The Olympics are sure to remain as we know them, but they will have to adapt to a world where cities are much, much more skeptical about the risks associated with hosting the games.