Rescuing the Olympic Video games from Their Personal Success

It’s time to contemplate important reforms to the best way the Olympics are pursued, ready for, and hosted

When Tokyo received the best to host the 2020 Summer season Olympics again in 2013, it
was seen as an excellent honor and a possibility to showcase the town to the
world. Celebrations rang out within the streets of the Japanese capital because the
metropolis started to arrange to host the occasion for the primary time since 1964. However
the golden sheen has worn off the approaching video games. The Japanese authorities has
declared a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is able to
lead to most occasions being held with out spectators, and a majority of
Tokyo residents now need the Olympics delayed or canceled altogether. It’s
tempting to say that Tokyo is just a sufferer of dangerous luck associated to the
ongoing international pandemic, however even earlier than COVID-19 struck, forcing the
one-year postponement of the video games, the Tokyo Olympics have been already
affected by huge value overruns and have been effectively on their approach to being
one of the crucial costly on file. With the price of internet hosting the video games now
routinely exceeding any fairly anticipated returns, it’s time to contemplate
important reforms to the best way the Olympics are pursued, ready for, and
hosted, together with attainable everlasting Olympic venues world wide.

For 125 years, the fashionable Olympic Video games have highlighted the height of human
athletic endeavor as mirrored within the Worldwide Olympic Committee’s
(IOC’s) motto—“Quicker, Increased, Stronger.” Host cities have gladly shared
the highlight with the world’s biggest athletes on the world’s premier
athletic occasion, and for a few years, cities competed as vigorously because the
athletes themselves for the perceived honor of internet hosting the quadrennial
Summer season or Winter Olympic Video games. The previous decade, nevertheless, has witnessed
rising widespread backlash in opposition to the Olympics worldwide as exploding prices
and more and more unsure advantages accruing to the host metropolis have
considerably dampened curiosity in staging the video games. With out important
modifications, the IOC could discover itself with few companions keen to undertake the
danger and expense.

From reasonably humble beginnings in 1896, the fashionable Olympics rapidly took on
significance past easy athletic competitors, and because the scale of the
Olympics grew, so did the price to the host metropolis. With a price ticket of extra
than $500 million (in 2021 {dollars}), Adolf Hitler’s 1936 Summer season Video games in
Berlin, which have been clearly designed to focus on the ability and dominance of
Nazi Germany, weren’t solely 10 instances dearer than any earlier
video games, they value Germany greater than each different earlier host mixed
(Matheson 2019).

The 1936 video games set a bank-breaking precedent, nevertheless it was solely the primary of
many trendy video games that spent cash quicker and raised prices increased, however
didn’t depart economies stronger. For instance, regardless of Montreal mayor Jean
Drapeau’s well-known declare that “The Olympics can no extra lose cash than a person
can have a child,” that metropolis’s 1976 Summer season Video games’ huge value overruns set
a doubtful new file, costing practically $7 billion, a file that has been
shattered many instances since. All 5 of the latest Summer season Olympics and
each of the latest Winter Video games have exceeded $10 billion in complete
prices; the 2008 Beijing Summer season Olympics topped $45 billion, and the 2014
Sochi Winter Olympics exceeded $50 billion (Baade and Matheson 2016).

These value figures usually evaluate unfavorably with income projections.
Revenues totaled lower than $9 billion for the 2016 Rio Video games, a major
portion of which was retained by the IOC reasonably than being given to Rio to
assist defray prices. Any web constructive advantages from the Olympics for host
cities should both outcome from enhanced financial exercise through the
Olympics, results usually not supported by goal financial analyses
(see, for instance, Baade, Baumann, and Matheson 2010), or should stem from an
Olympic Video games legacy. Sadly, long-term advantages from internet hosting have
additionally proved elusive, and the few research that present Olympic-size financial
advantages crumble when Olympics hosts are in contrast with in any other case related
nations that didn’t host the occasion (Maennig and Richter 2012).

The escalating prices of the Olympics stem from quite a few elements. First, the
scale of the occasion has elevated over time because the Olympics has turn out to be a
sufferer of its personal success. Over the previous 50 years, the variety of groups,
occasions, and athletes has roughly doubled. Many of those sports activities require
specialised infrastructure that host cities should construct particularly for the
Olympic Video games; few potential hosts have preexisting world-class velodromes,
swimming competitors services, or championship track-and-field stadiums.
And by their very nature, specialised venues usually are of little use
following the video games, leaving a legacy of costly white elephants. It’s
all too simple to search out deserted and crumbling Olympic venues only a few
brief years after the Olympics in host metropolis after host metropolis. After all,
even by way of spending per athlete or per occasion, prices have nonetheless risen
considerably, so different elements have to be at play.

Safety is one other main value. The Olympics have suffered two terrorist
assaults (in Munich in 1972 and in Atlanta in 1996), which spotlight the
extent to which international symbols such because the Olympic Video games present a first-rate
goal for terrorist teams. Safety prices alone for the Summer season Olympics
now routinely exceed $1.5 billion, a determine that has additionally risen as
worldwide vacationers have flocked to the occasion.

Poor planning and price controls or unrealistic projections additionally play an
essential function. As famous by Flyvbjerg, Stewart, and Budzier (2016), between
1960 and 2016, the typical Olympic Video games skilled value overruns of 156
p.c. These value overruns stem from a mix of things, together with
artificially low preliminary value estimates, tight deadlines, mission creep,
and in some circumstances important corruption. In Rio, for instance, the 2016
Summer season Video games have been initially budgeted to value $3 billion and as a substitute got here in
round $13 billion as prices for deliberate infrastructure enhancements,
together with a serious extension to the subway system, skyrocketed. These giant
deficits led to cuts in public providers, together with well being care spending,
training, and public transportation, resulting in widespread public protests
within the run-up to the video games.

With the price of internet hosting the video games now routinely exceeding any fairly anticipated returns, it’s time to contemplate everlasting Olympic venues world wide.

Tokyo’s 2020 Summer season Olympics skilled related issues even earlier than the
one-year postponement as a result of international COVID-19 pandemic drove prices up
and anticipated revenues down. The unique $7.3 billion funds had grown to
an official determine of $15.4 billion and unofficial estimates of over $25
billion in true outlays. The development expenditures for the brand new nationwide
stadium alone, which might be closed to sports activities followers however might be used for
monitor and soccer occasions, totaled $1.4 billion—greater than the price of staging
your entire 1984 Summer season Video games in Los Angeles, even after accounting for
inflation. The ability will even host considerably downsized opening and
closing ceremonies, which themselves have an anticipated price ticket of $118
million. The yearlong postponement, plus the extra
prices of COVID prevention measures, has raised the prices by a further
$3 billion, and the native organizing committee and Tokyo’s hospitality
trade stand to lose effectively over $2 billion from misplaced ticket gross sales, diminished
sponsorship revenue, a ban on overseas guests, and the elimination of
ticketed spectators at most occasions.

With no cheap likelihood of short-term advantages or a long-term financial
legacy, many cities, notably those who depend on public enter in
decision-making, have signaled an absence of curiosity in bidding for the video games.
Within the competitors to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, no fewer than 5
potential host cities, all Western democracies, withdrew from the bidding
course of after voter referendums or polling knowledge indicated an absence of public
help, leaving solely Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan, within the operating.
Equally, Boston, Budapest, Hamburg, and Rome all canceled their bids for
the 2024 Summer season Video games, leaving solely Paris and Los Angeles standing. Confronted
with the very actual risk that no appropriate metropolis would step ahead for
the 2028 Video games, the IOC took the unprecedented step of concurrently
awarding each the 2024 Summer season Video games to Paris and the 2028 Video games to Los

After all, regardless of the dismal economics of the Olympics, the occasion stays
wildly widespread amongst sports activities followers and athletes. As many as 3.6 billion
individuals worldwide tuned in to a minimum of some portion of the 2016 Olympics in
Rio, way over for every other sporting occasion besides the FIFA World
Cup—which faces most of the identical points because the Olympics. Qatar is
reportedly spending upward of $200 billion in its preparations to host the
2022 match. Nonetheless, representing their nation within the Olympics stays
the dream of many prime athletes.

To its credit score, the IOC acknowledges the monetary and social burdens of
competing for and internet hosting the Olympics and acknowledges the necessity for
reforms that mirror all stakeholder issues and pursuits. The
group has proposed as a part of its “Olympic Agenda 2020” that reasonably
than persevering with with its open bidding competitors that rewards cities that
promise the fanciest venues, essentially the most luxurious lodging, and the
most spectacular ceremonies, it can as a substitute consider bids based mostly on
financial (in addition to environmental) sustainability. The IOC has additionally
indicated that it’ll actively courtroom cities that it believes can
efficiently host the video games as a substitute of encouraging entries from any and all
cities—Sochi, for instance—together with these needing an entire civic overhaul
to host an Olympic occasion. The actual fact that the IOC awarded the 2028
Olympic Video games to Los Angeles with out even saying a proper bidding
course of is an encouraging signal that the group is severe about
reining in prices. Sharing an elevated portion of worldwide tv
and sponsorship rights with the intention to assist native organizing committees cowl
their prices of internet hosting would even be a constructive step for the IOC. Of
course, even when the IOC allotted all worldwide media and sponsorship
income to the host metropolis, it will nonetheless not come near masking the
value of internet hosting the occasion in cities reminiscent of Tokyo or Rio.

Host cities additionally bear a number of the duty for altering the dynamic.
Too usually internet hosting a serious sporting occasion might be seen as an arrogance venture
for native politicians or an financial boondoggle pushed by leaders in
explicit industries (reminiscent of hospitality and heavy development) who
stand to learn. Host cities additionally usually focus too particularly on the
sporting venues and the pageantry of the occasion reasonably than utilizing the occasion
as a catalyst for broader financial change. For instance, the latest Olympics
most generally praised as being an financial success is the 1992 Barcelona
Video games. Whereas the occasion total was among the many costliest in Olympics
historical past, topping $17 billion (in 2021 {dollars}), many of the cash was spent
on bettering vacationer facilities all through the town reasonably than on
services and operations through the three weeks of the occasion. These
investments generally infrastructure have paid long-term dividends, and
Barcelona has steadily climbed within the rankings as one among Europe’s prime
vacationer locations.

Nevertheless, many economists recommend that extra radical modifications could also be wanted to
assure the long-term survival of the video games with out imposing huge
burdens on host cities. First, the Olympics might merely encourage internet hosting
by area reasonably than by metropolis. Even a big metropolis like Paris or Los Angeles
could not have the infrastructure to stage competitions in 33 separate sports activities
or accommodate the anticipated inflow of vacationers, so increasing the Olympics
to a number of cities can enhance the accessible venues and vacationer capability.
Worldwide soccer occasions are already transferring on this course. UEFA
Euro 2020 was hosted in 2021 for the primary time by cities throughout Europe
reasonably by a single nation. In contrast to particular person nations, Europe as a complete
already has sufficient giant stadiums for your entire match with out
requiring any new venue development, which diminished the price of staging the

After all, the answer that seemingly makes essentially the most sense economically it to
merely set up a everlasting web site for the Olympics. (Given the historical past of
the video games, Athens is commonly prompt for the Summer season Video games.) Such a transfer
would permit one-time development of everlasting venues as a substitute of Olympic
hosts making an attempt to rebuild Shangri-la in a brand new metropolis each 4 years (Matheson
and Zimbalist 2021). Other than eliminating white elephants, a everlasting
location would additionally permit the Olympic host web site to retain the human
infrastructure of expert occasion managers with the data and expertise
to maintain prices down.

Whereas cities have competed for years for the chance to seize Olympic
gold, short-term and long-term advantages typically have proved insufficient to
justify the price of internet hosting the video games. Skyrocketing value tags and
disproportionate income sharing have generated Olympic resentment reasonably
than reward. With no sustained dedication by the IOC to supply cities a
cheap likelihood to learn, the way forward for the Olympic Video games is in



is a professor of economics on the Faculty of the Holy Cross.


is a professor of economics at Lake Forest Faculty and former President of
the Worldwide Affiliation of Sports activities Economists.


Baade, Robert, Robert Baumann, and Victor Matheson. 2010. “Slippery Slope?
Assessing the Financial Impression of the 2002 Winter Olympic Video games in Salt Lake
Metropolis, Utah.” Région et Développement 31:81–92.

Baade, Robert, and Victor Matheson. 2016. “Going for the Gold: The
Economics of the Olympics.” Journal of Financial Views 30
(2): 201–18.

Flyvbjerg, Bent, Allison Stewart, and Alexander Budzier. 2016. “The Oxford
Olympics Research 2016: Price and Price Overrun on the Video games.” Saïd Enterprise
Faculty working paper, Oxford, UK.

Maennig, Wolfgang, and Felix Richter. “Exports and Olympic Video games: Is There a Sign Impact?” Journal of Sports activities Economics 13 (6): 635–41.

Matheson, Victor. 2019. “The Rise and Fall (and Rise and Fall) of the
Olympic Video games as an Financial Driver.” In

Historic Views on Sports activities Economics: Classes from the Area

, edited by John Wilson and Richard Pomfret, 52–66. Northampton, MA: Edward

Matheson, Victor, and Andrew Zimbalist. 2021. “Why Cities No Longer Clamor
to Host the Olympic Video games.”Georgetown Journal of Worldwide Affairs, April 19.

Opinions expressed in articles and different supplies are these of the authors; they don’t essentially characterize the views of the IMF and its Govt Board, or IMF coverage.

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