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  • Deepanshu

The Olympic Games - A Fading Prestige?

Fewer and fewer cities are clamouring to host the Olympic Games. The reasons for this are manifold, but one thing is clear: hosting the Olympics has become a costly and complicated affair that few cities are willing to undertake.

The situation has become so dire that the 2028 Summer Olympics games were awarded to Los Angeles without a proper bidding process.

So, can Olympics really become a thing of the past?

The Cost of Hosting the Olympics

First and foremost, the cost of hosting the Olympics has skyrocketed in recent years. According to a study by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the average cost overrun for Olympic Games between 1960 and 2016 was a staggering 156 percent. This means that the final cost of hosting the Olympics was, on average, 2.56 times the original budget.

Such cost overruns can have a devastating impact on a city's finances and can take decades to pay off. It took Montreal until 2006 to pay off the last of its debt from the 1976 Games. The overspend on Athens Olympic Games in 2004 was a significant contributing factor Greece’s debt-crisis.

But surely the cost of hosting these games is offset by the benefits such as infrastructural development and increased tourism that accrue from hosting these games! Right? Well, not so much.

The (truth about) Benefits?

The benefits are often overstated. Supporters of hosting the Olympics argue that it can bring increased tourism, economic growth, and infrastructure development to a city. However, the evidence suggests otherwise. A study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley found that "there is no evidence of increased tourism during or after the Games." Another study, by the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, found that "hosting the Olympics does not seem to have a significant impact on economic growth."

Another major issue is the so-called “white elephants,” or expensive facilities that, because of their size or specialized nature, have limited post-Olympics use. These often impose costs for years to come. Beijing’s famous “Bird’s Nest” stadium cost $460 million to build and $10 million a year to maintain and sits unused. Almost all the facilities built for the 2004 Athens Olympics are now derelict, leading many experts to conclude that the Olympics too often lead to wasteful spending on unnecessary infrastructure.

Beijing's Nest Stadium

Why host Olympics at all?

So, if hosting the Olympics is so costly and the benefits are so overstated, why do cities continue to bid for the Games? Part of the reason may be prestige. Hosting the Olympics can be seen as a sign of a city's status and influence on the world stage.

But even this argument is losing its appeal. As The Economist explains, "the cachet of hosting the Olympics is waning as the event becomes more divisive and less inclusive."

All these factors have contributed to a decline in interest in hosting the Olympics. In fact, the Olympics Committee only received 2 bids for the Summer Olympics of 2024: Paris and Los Angeles. The committee did something unprecedented by allocating the Summer Olympics of 2028 to Los Angeles without even making a call for other bidders. This lack of competition is a worrying trend for the future of the Olympics. Without cities willing to host the Games, the Olympics may become a thing of the past, in democratic countries at least…

Moving away from Democracy?

In the bidding to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, at least five potential host cities, all Western democracies, withdrew from the bidding process after voter referendums or public polling indicated a lack of local support, leaving only the notably non-democratic cities of Beijing, China and Almaty, Kazakhstan in the running. Similarly, in the process to select the 2024 Summer Olympics host, numerous potential cities including Boston, Budapest, Hamburg, and Rome, withdrew their applications leaving only Paris and Los Angeles in the final pool.

The modern Olympics has become an exceptionally expensive affair. Each of the past five Summer Olympics and both of the most recent Winter Games have resulted in total costs for the host cities of over $10 billion with the 2008 Beijing Summer Games exceeding $45 billion in total costs and the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics topping $50 billion. Such costs often face a backlash from the residents of democratic cities as authorities find it difficult to justify such expenditures to the population.

In conclusion, hosting the Olympics has become a costly and complicated affair that few cities are willing to undertake. The benefits are often overstated, while the financial burden can be devastating. It remains to be seen what the future holds for the Olympics, but one thing is clear: unless something changes, the number of cities willing to host the Games will continue to decline.



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