The news coming out of Boston is that mayor Martin Walsh has withdrawn his city’s bid for the 2024 Olympics after being denied time to further review the agreement with the I.O.C. We love watching the pageantry and drama (and cool architecture) of the Olympic Games as much as anyone but its been more than clear lately that hosting these sporting events (World Cup included) is not typically a great deal for the host city. Here’s why:
This image shows the Volleyball arena for the 2008 Beijing games – now abandoned, derelict and fenced off from the public just a few years later. Still more depressing is the war torn site of the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics. More images here:
And Sochi – which hosted the 2014 games just a year ago looks the the ghost town it was always destined to be. There was never a population that needed to be served by all that infrastructure BEFORE the games, so finding them grimly deserted afterwards is no surprise. The only way to justify the expense and development and new construction associated with an Olympic event if if it will serve the host city’s residents well after the fact. Can that even be done?
Occasional Positive Olympic Aftermaths
We wouldn’t say that hosting the Olympic games has never been a good bet. Some host cities have, sometimes, turned their event infrastructure to their ultimate advantage.
Barcelona used the 1992 summer games to clear their waterfront of a harshly industrial area and re-structure themselves as a tourist dream and lifted the whole country onto the world stage from an athletic point of view. The cost was high (400% over budget) but the payoff in their case has been significant. The image below shows the miles of new public beach and behind the camera is a thriving port, also a product of games oriented redevelopment. When Atlanta hosted in 1996 they planned for the future, designing the Centennial Olympic Stadium to be transformed into Turner Field, home to the Atlanta braves. The city managed to host the games without debt and was left with a strong collection of new public structures.
However, experts wonder if the long term effect for Atlanta was really as powerful however. Not much was done to improve infrastructure or the lives of every day Atlantans.
Why Does the Public Pay for Private Sporting Venues?
Just last month, John Oliver pointed out the ridiculousness of using public funding to create ridiculously luxurious new stadiums for American professional sports, citing the example of Detroit, which approved paying for 2/3 the cost of new hockey stadium with taxpayer dollars, just days after declaring bankruptcy as a city, even though the team is a financially viable business in its own right and owned by a man worth 5 billion dollars. My question: WHAT TAXPAYER DOLLARS, Detroit? You hardly have any taxpayers anymore.
This is even more crazy when you consider the 90% replacement of stadiums since the 90’s. That is not a very long lifespan for a building that expensive. Although it does manage to be better than many Olympic Games venues – which have a useful lifespan that often doesn’t outlast the TV cameras.
So Is Hosting the Olympic Games Really Worth It … Maybe Not
I’ll admit to feeling a little sad back when Chicago missed the mark for its most recent Olympic bid – mostly because the projected bike racing in Madison, WI would probably have required a high speed rail line to be installed – but I never thought it was a great idea for our city in the long run.
Moss is glad that Boston’s political leaders, as well as the financiers, organizers and designers who advise them, are taking the time to look at the long view before welcoming a challenge like building another Olympic venue.