With the International Olympic Committee (IOC) set to announce the site for the 2024 and possibly the 2028 Olympic Games later this year, here’s to hoping this is one of the last announcements that the IOC has to make. While it is the tradition for different cities around the world to host the games every four years, it’s now time for them to be continuously hosted by one city for each of the Summer Olympics and Winter Olympics due to runaway costs, wasted venues and worker fatalities.
We all see the opening ceremonies that are complete with lavish new stadiums, the latest entertainment technology and a world-class firework displays; what we rarely notice is the cost it takes to put such an event on. Have you noticed that cities have been increasingly dropping their bids to host the games? A factor in those decisions is the harsh reality that Los Angeles was the last city to turn a profit while hosting the Olympics — this was in 1984. In fact, the games have put some cities in terrible financial situations, the most notable being the city of Montreal in 1976.
Following the games that year, Montreal was burdened by a debt of $1.5 billion, which took the city 30 years to pay off. In addition, Lake Placid (1980) and Lillehammer (1994) had to be bailed out by New York's state government and Norway's government, respectively. It is also widely considered that the 2004 Games hosted by Athens, Greece, was one of the contributing factors to the country falling into economic disaster and needing a bailout from the European Union, as it cost the city nearly $11 billion. In total, Japan spent $10.5 billion on the 1998 Nagano Games, London coughed up $18 billion for the 2012 event and there are reports that Russia spent as much as $50 billion hosting the 2014 Sochi Games.
If you are wondering how on earth the Olympics could cost this much to put on, look no further than some of the illustrious venues that we’ve seen over the years. Possibly the most famous venue in recent Olympic history — the Bird’s Nest in Beijing — ran up a bill of $480 million. Besting that is Maracana Stadium in Rio, which was renovated for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympics to the tune of $500 million. The worst part about building these massive structures is the fact that they are of no use once the games leave town.
The Bird’s Nest currently costs $11 million a year to maintain and now sits vacant, with the exception of a Segway track that goes around the stadium. The Olympics left Rio not quite seven months ago and the power has already been turned off to Maracana Stadium, while a million dollar power bill remains unpaid.
Further, photos have recently come out that show the stadium stripped of seats and a separate venue home to a practice swimming pool full of unpleasant orange water. If these games were held at the same venues year after year, they would always be in use with only minimal costs needed to maintain them from one games to the next.
While leading up to the games, fans around the world hear about the records that could be broken by Michael Phelps or Shaun White, but what we hardly ever get coverage of is possibly the most disturbing trend coming from the Olympics — the increasing amount of workers killed while constructing the venues.
For instance, the 2004 Athens Games resulted in at least 13 documented deaths, the 2008 Beijing Games cost the lives of six individuals and the most recent Rio Games resulted in the death of 11 workers. The unfortunate outlier to these harrowing statistics is the fact that it is reported that 120 lives were lost in constructing the Sochi venues for the 2014 Winter Olympics. However, this number is in question due to the reluctance of the Russian government to admit to any wrongdoings.
The astonishing number of construction workers killed comes back to a two-fold problem. First, the countries and the IOC place such tight deadlines on the contracted companies that they push their workers to their physical limits in order to get the jobs completed on time. Secondly, Russia, China and Brazil are countries with noticeably weak or sometimes non-existent safety measures compared to more developed nations like Great Britain (London 2012) where there were no reported fatalities.
In contrast, if the Olympics were held in a permanent location, these issues could be mitigated or eliminated. Costly, abandoned venues could be a thing of the past as they would be in constant use every four years. Following their initial construction, they would only require maintenance in between Olympics to both remain functional and stay up to date with upgrades for the newest technologies. Hopefully, this solution would lead to a dramatic reduction or elimination of worker deaths as well, as the host city would presumably be in a country with strict worker safety regulations that would help prevent the atrocities listed above.
Lastly, the Olympics is missing a special aura. You know, like the Kentucky Derby, the Master’s and the Rose Bowl. Churchill Downs, Augusta National and the Rose Bowl are hallowed grounds for those lucky enough to ride, walk or play on them. The Olympics could definitely use this tradition and continuity. Wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to walk on the track where Usain Bolt set a world record or see the pool in which Michael Phelps won eight gold medals?
Everything about the Olympics is big: the ceremonies, the celebrations and the competition; so it’s no surprise that the IOC has a big decision to make. Choose wisely, the world is waiting.