Why the Olympics Shouldn’t Move

By Justin Baker

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The Olympic pool at Montreal's 1976 stadium. Photo by Justin Baker.

The Olympic pool at Montreal’s 1976 stadium. Photo by Justin Baker.

Once every four years, citizens around the world get to experience an international athletic competition that draws countries together in a conflict-ridden world: the Olympics.

A seemingly vital part of this global event is the rotation of the host city; every Olympics, a new country shows off its culture and unique take on the games.

While this might be a noble concept, it doesn’t work out well in reality. The Olympics shouldn’t move to cities that haven’t previously hosted the games.

It might seem like this change would destroy the “global spirit” of the Olympics, but they make more logistical sense. Every four years, the hosting of the Olympics inevitably brings with it stadium construction and infrastructure strain that places a toll on both the local economy and on the lives of the country’s citizens.

On a macroeconomic level, FiveThirtyEight reports that most summer games go over budget by 176 percent, and that the large majority of host cities, especially in developing nations, spend more preparing and hosting the games than they earn during the games.

On an anecdotal level, this holds true. Start with Beijing, where the cost of building the “Bird’s Nest” Olympic stadium in 2008 (not even factoring in the cost of actually hosting the games and accommodating thousands of visitors) was $480 million, according to The Atlantic. Now, the massive stadium—whose construction resulted in the deaths of six construction workers—functions only as a museum-esque tourist attraction and costs a hefty $11 million a year to maintain.

But Beijing isn’t the only city in which pre-games preparation has caused problems. In Athens, the New York Times reports that rushed 2004 Olympic construction resulted in the deaths of 14 workers, and in Montreal, hosting the Olympics in 1976 left the city with about $1.5 billion in debt that took 30 years to pay off, according to CNN.

The most recent games in Río cement this trend; concerns about crime and water quality nearly overshadowed the games themselves (which cost Brazil about 25 billion dollars) in the weeks leading up to the Olympic games.

Many opponents of this change would argue that this ruins the spirit of the Olympics. But in reality, the point of the summer Olympics—-connecting countries in a global celebration of achievement—-is not really rooted in what city they end up in. The celebration of international unity has nothing to do with moving the games.

An Olympics in a previous host city like Los Angeles would’ve had all the pomp of the games without the crime, water quality issues and massive stadium costs.

The bottom line is that routinely shifting the Olympics to new places is an economic burden. As Binyamin Appelbaum of the New York Times explains in this article, Olympic games are rarely good long term economic investments for a country’s growth, and consume valuable real estate through the construction of economically-inefficient stadiums.

This massive burden could be avoided by keeping the Olympics in one place, or by locating them in cities that have already hosted Olympics, and already have the stadiums necessary. This would also allow for stadiums that currently are only used for about two weeks to have more longevity.

So let’s be smart and make a change that will save money and lives. Games that bring the nations of the world together shouldn’t tear the host country’s economy apart.

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