Permanent home needed for future Olympics
Hosting the Olympics is a boondoggle no city should want.
Is it worth it? Will the cities really find adequate use for the numerous new venues to justify their construction? And are the dollars spent in advance really recouped during the 17-day run of the Olympics?
In 2004, Holy Cross professor Victor Matheson did an analysis of Olympics-type events, titled “Economic Multipliers and Mega-Event Analysis.” Matheson concludes that hosting huge events is a losing proposition.
“Cities routinely offer to spend large sums of money in order to attract these events in large part based upon ... exaggerated claims of an economic bonanza,” he concluded. “But a skeptical public should beware of economists bearing reports showing great benefits from mega-events.”
That’s why it would be best for the International Olympics Committee to permanently place the games in a single city and, at least for the time being, subsidize that city for acting as host. A good place to start would be Athens, Greece, the historic birthplace of the Olympics.
Recent history shows this isn’t a bad idea.
Cities are spending billions of public dollars building venues that, chances are, soon will fall into disrepair. There is a long list of Olympic venues that have become a burden and occupy usable real estate. The infrastructure that leads to those venues often isn’t usable for general purposes. The discarded remains at Sarajevo are the best example. Even the main stadium used for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics is slated for demolition, just 20 years later.
Countries are overspending on the belief that there will be some great economic payoff in the future. Brazil — host of the 2016 Olympic Games now underway — has spent an estimated $20 billion. A story earlier this week by ABC News quoted Andrew Zimbalist, a Smith College professor of economics, as saying that the return on that $20 billion probably will only be around $4 billion. The story notes that it’s a steep price to pay for a notably poor country.
Since the Olympics generally are thrown together at the last moment, construction costs often skyrocket beyond expectations. A study by the University of Oxford this year showed that cost overruns at each Olympics since 1960 averaged 156 percent.
Rio’s Olympics are destined to be considered a failure. Brazil is in economic turmoil, Rio’s streets are gridlocked and the outbreak of the Zika virus is causing fear among health officials. Body parts washed ashore this summer on a beach where volleyball will be played. Chances are, Brazil will not see a reasonable return on the dollars spent to bring the Olympics to Rio.
Even the process for awarding the Olympics is controversial. In 2002, for instance, IOC officials were accused of taking bribes.
In the future, just locate the Olympics in one city. For the Summer Games, the logical choice is Greece. The venues there could be kept useful; wasteful spending on infrastructure would be eliminated.
Naturally, when money is involved, even the most obviously needed changes come at a snail’s pace. Consider college football’s postseason bowl series, for example.
But finding a permanent home for the Olympics is a no-brainer whose time has come.