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Why Would Any Country Want To Host The Olympics?

Updated on June 6, 2015

Introduction

The Olympics are known for bringing both individual athletes and national teams glory and honor. The Games have produced incredible memories such as the 1980 Miracle on Ice or Usain Bolt dominating the 100 and 200 meter races. People are quick to recall the grandeur of the 2008 Opening Ceremonies and the glory of the podium. What is often associated with the Olympics is the glory and honor brought about to the individual athletes as well as their home countries. What viewers and consumers of the Olympic Games don’t always remember or notice is the massive cost of host countries pay in order to hold this massive mega event. These costs take many different forms whether they are space in the city, money, or environmental. The fact is, there are many costs that come with hosting the Olympics. These costs bring about the question whether or not it’s worth it for countries to serve as the host country of the Olympics.

State of the Bird's Nest...
State of the Bird's Nest... | Source

Financial Burdens

Lets start with the obvious costs, the absurd amount of money that is put into the Olympics by the host country. A working paper by Flyvberg and Stewart shows that spending by host countries has increased every year. Beijing in 2008 spent approximately 5.5 billion USD on the Olympic Games, for the 2006 Olympiad Italy spent 4.1 billion USD, and in 1996, the United States spent a grand total of 3.8 billion dollars on the games. The same report states the 3 billion USD that was sunk into the 2004 Olympics played a role in the eventual collapse of the Greek economy. In fact every country since 1968 has spent more money on the Olympics than the original bid planned them to. Countries spend anywhere from 38% to 1266% more money on the Olympics than they originally plan on doing. That means Olympic hosts have spent up to more than 1000 times more on the Olympics than the original bid had called for. Now that is an extreme case but the median percentage of cost overrun at the Olympics is 150%. This means half of Olympic host countries have spent more than double what they had initially planned when turning in their Olympic bids. That is a lot of money that probably could have gone towards other causes such as education or infrastructure. Let’s also keep in mind these are just the officially reported numbers on the amount spent on the games. Odds are each of these host countries have taken on other costs that are indirectly related to the hosting of the Olympics.

The Bird's Nest, in all its multi-billion dollar glory.
The Bird's Nest, in all its multi-billion dollar glory. | Source

Making the City Look Pretty

However the Olympics don’t just create a financial cost they also place a burden on the people who live in the host city. The construction of arenas and stadiums sometimes force citizens to relocate their homes. During preparation for the Olympic games in 1964 the Japanese government forced some of its own citizens to relocate in order to make way for new stadiums and arenas. People who had lived in the area for years were forced to pack up their possessions and leave at a moment’s notice. The Chinese and Korean governments have also forced citizens to relocate in order to make room for stadiums and other urban improvements. Worst yet the Chinese in its preparation for the Beijing Olympics “renovated” a major slum area in the city in order to make the city more visually appealing. These renovations entailed evicting the slum population, demolishing the area It is doubtful that the original inhabitants of those slums were allowed to return. This is nothing new, often cities hosting the Olympic and other so-called “mega events” try to make their cities more aesthetically pleasing in order to impress visiting countries. After all wouldn’t it be embarrassing if the city didn’t look its best on its big day? By the way, these renovations, another cost that gets tacked on to the overall bill cities need to pay. Another example of this type of renovation would be officials in Sydney giving the green light to Sydney City Council Rangers to remove people who were deemed to be annoying. On top of that residents were evicted from their homes with little warning from the government. In Barcelona the government enacted similar measures in the name of beautifying the city. Even if people weren’t evicted from their homes residents were sometimes unable to afford the higher rent their landlords forced upon them. Due to the renovations and improvements the host cities made, property values rose and opportunistic landlords raised rent at preposterous rates, forcing renters to relocate.

Environmental Damage

As if this wasn't enough, there is also an environmental cost to hosting the Olympics. The additional construction is not always done in a sustainable manner and can be incredibly damaging. Perhaps one of the best examples of this would be Japan in 1964. During the preparation for the 1964 Olympics Japan engaged in several infrastructure improvement projects. These included the construction of the famous Shinkansen, or bullet train. However in order to set up this magnificent example of train technology the government needed to clear out land to set it up. The route happened to take the government across several areas of privately owned land. According to an article by Robert Whiting since the builders did not have the proper funds to buy the land from the owners and continue construction, they decided to build it over public land that wouldn’t need to be bought. Namely the people in charge of construction decided to build the Shinkansen over several rivers and canals, which also resulted in several local fishing cooperative losing their permits.

The first Shinkansen finished on August of 1964
The first Shinkansen finished on August of 1964 | Source

Things Need to Change

The Olympics like everything else in life has its drawbacks. There are numerous costs that any host country must undertake in order to play host to this admittedly awe inspiring global event. Although the Olympics does create a number of great and fantastic memories, these memories come at a price that someone else has to pay. This doesn’t mean the Olympics should be abolished and Rio, Tokyo, and Pyeongchang should cancel all of their plans for the games. What needs to happen is a closer look at how the Olympics are planned and executed. The IOC needs to do a better job of ensuring host countries already have at least some capacity to host the games without having to put too much money into construction. Host countries should not have to toss out billions of dollars in order to ensure the world can enjoy a large sporting event for a month. Although countries may initially benefit financially from hosting the games, over the course of the long term considering all of the other factors involved that initial benefit may end up being relatively insignificant. The Olympics are a fantastic and glorious event, it should not have to occur at the cost of the livelihoods of people who happen to live in the city it is hosted.

Sources

Essex, Stephen, and Brian Chalkley. "Olympic Games: catalyst of urban change." Leisure studies 17.3 (1998): 187-206.

Flyvbjerg, Bent, and Allison Stewart. "Olympic proportions: cost and cost overrun at the Olympics 1960-2012." (2012).

Greene, Solomon J. "Staged Cities: Mega-events, Slum Clearance, and Global Capital." Yale Human Rights and Development Journal 6.1 (2014): 6.

Sadd, Debbie, and Ian Jones. "Implications and Issues of London 2012 for the Sites’ Residents." London Journal of Tourism, Sport and Creative Industries(2008): 22.

Whiting, Robert. “Negative Impacts of the 1964 Olympics Profound,” October 24, 2014. Accessed March 10, 2015, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/sports/2014/10/24/olympics/negative-impact-1964-olympics-profound/#.VP-ng4GUenN.


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    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 2 years ago from Auburn, WA

      Any city that would want to host the Olympics is nuts. Why Boston even made a bid is insane. Getting around there is impossible. L.A. was the last city to make a profit, I think. I admire those athletes who know they will receive almost nothing from their achievements, yet do it anyway (archery, javelin, etc.). Good for them. But it's a bad deal for everyone else. Great topic. Voted up and shared.