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OPINION | The Olympics need to change


The Olympics are a way for the world to unite once every four years and revel in the common enjoyment of high level sports. Unfortunately, they have also become grossly over-commercialized events that often leave host cities with insurmountable debt and utterly useless infrastructure.

Rio Olympic Stadium [Photo courtesy of IAAF]
The most prominent example of this wasteful phenomenon, is, of course, the Rio Olympics. Believe it or not, the Rio Olympics were held less than two years ago. Yet somehow, venues from this event, such as the Olympic Stadium and a warm-up pool, have already been the subject of posts on the subreddit /r/AbandonedPorn on popular social news site Reddit, which is dedicated to sharing photographs of abandoned man-made structures.
Other Olympic hosts, of course, have to watch their facilities fade into obscurity too. In Sarajevo, Bosnia, which hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics, the demand for a war-damaged bobsled track only accessible by foot through overgrown bush is unsurprisingly low. Similarly, the kayaking course for the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens hasn’t quite been a popular sporting destination–it’s only been used once, in the year immediately following the Summer Olympics. In short, it’s ludicrous to expect there to be a high demand for niche sport facilities like top-of-the-line Taekwondo stadiums or field-hockey venues.
Athens 2004 Kayaking Course [Photo courtesy of Olympic Games Athens 2004]
What really makes this ruin so inexcusable is the prohibitively high costs required to build these facilities. For example, the bobsled track previously mentioned cost a whopping 8 million US dollars to build–yet after that 1984 Winter Olympics it was never used again, except as an artillery bunker during the Bosnian Civil War. Likewise, a state of the art velodrome that hosted the world’s finest cyclists in Rio cost the Brazilian government a gargantuan 43 million US dollars. However, the citizens of Rio, an economically struggling city, have neither the time nor the inclination to make use of this high-quality indoor cycling track, let alone a 19 million US dollar golf course.
But, you say, doesn’t the International Olympic Committee help cover these costs? And don’t these host cities receive a massive influx of foreign money from the broadcasting rights to these events in addition to the huge live audiences that travel to watch these events live? Yes, in theory, the host cities do recoup the costs of hosting the Olympics from the resultant tourism revenue, but the hard numbers just don’t back this narrative up. Historically, Olympics hosts have almost always come out of hosting with financial losses. One of the major reasons for this is that the money from the international broadcasting and licensing rights doesn’t go to the host city at all, rather, it goes completely to the IOC.
Indeed, citizens in prospective host cities around the world seem to have realized that massive amounts of public money go into hosting the Olympics – never to be seen again. And, they’re fighting back. Take, for example, the bids to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. Boston was the initial United States candidate to host the Olympics, but after polls repeatedly showed an engaged and vocal opposition, the city dropped its bid. Los Angeles replaced Boston as the US nomination, joining Hamburg, Rome, Budapest, and Paris as the five initial candidates. However, similarly strong grassroots opposition–as evidenced by public referenda – forced both Hamburg and Budapest to withdraw from the bidding process, while Rome’s city government made the similarly prudent decision to withdraw their bid. In the face of this growing opposition, the International Olympic Committee made the unprecedented decision to award both the 2024 and the 2028 Summer Olympics simultaneously – the logical inference being the IOC fear they will have trouble finding a willing host for 2028.
Los Angeles Stadium [Photo courtesy of NBC Los Angeles]
It’s clear that the Olympics need to change. Perhaps the most viable change is to simply rely on a semi-permanent rotating cast of past hosts who have proven they have the ability to not only avoid financial ruin, but to even turn a profit from the Olympics. For example, Los Angeles, which hosted the Summer Olympics in 1984, actually came out of the games with a $220 US million surplus, thanks to sound financial planning. One of the main reasons Los Angeles is a prime candidate for hosting the games is its extant collection of sporting facilities–such as Staples Center, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the Stubhub Center, and the newly-built Los Angeles Stadium at Hollywood Park, to name but a few. Los Angeles represents the ideal Olympic host–one with sound financial planning, private sources of financing, and pre-existing sporting venues–but it is a rarity.
It remains to be seen what, if any, changes the International Olympic Committee will make. But, unless steps are taken to protect prospective hosts from financial loss, taxpayers in democratic countries will continue to reject the idea of hosting the bonanza that is the Olympics. And if that’s the case, where does high level sports go from here?

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