A permanent home for the Olympics
Stop the endless cycle of wasted billions and corruption.
By Georgia Logothetis, Managing Director, HALC
The athletes have claimed their medals, the magnificent closing ceremony has taken place, and now, for the next step in the Winter Olympics…tearing down one of the venues. Yes, that’s what South Korea is planning to avoid the dreaded host city curse:
After the closing ceremony for the Paralympic Games in March, the Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium will be torn down.
It will have been used a total of four times — once for each of the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Victor Matheson, an economics professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., says that’s probably the best way forward.
“The only thing worse than this is … spending tens of millions of dollars a year trying to upkeep a facility that essentially never gets used,” he tells Day 6 host Brent Bambury.
South Korea’s plan always included a “disposable” venue, and it’s also still trying to figure out what to do with the rest of the venues as well:
South Korean officials have ruled out turning a state-of-the-art Olympic skating arena into a giant seafood freezer. Other than that, not much is certain about the country’s post-Winter Games plans for a host of expensive venues.
As officials prepare for the games in and around the small mountain town of Pyeongchang, there are lingering worries over the huge financial burden facing one of the nation’s poorest regions. Local officials hope that the Games will provide a badly needed economic boost by marking the area as a world-class tourist destination.
But past experience shows that hosts who justified their Olympics with expectations of financial windfalls were often left deeply disappointed when the fanfare ended.
The cost of hosting the Olympics costs usually cities tens of billions of dollars (PyeongChang, on a shoestring budget, spent some $13 billion). Ever since the modern Olympics began, cities have battled with massive cost overruns, corruption, and inefficiency. A study by Robert A. Baade and Victor A. Matheson in the Journal of Economic Perspectives found that “the overwhelming conclusion is that in most cases the Olympics are a money-losing proposition for host cities; they result in positive net benefits only under very specific and unusual circumstances. Furthermore, the cost–benefit proposition is worse for cities in developing countries than for those in the industrialized world.”
It’s time to find permanent homes for the Winter and Summer Games.
Greece, the birthplace of the Olympics, is a natural choice for the Summer Games, and a location in the Eastern hemisphere could be selected as a permanent location for the Winter Games. One idea that is gaining popularity is having the production of the Olympics — the branding, the production, the opening and closing ceremonies — rotate from country to country, which would then allow for the chance to have those countries showcase their cultures to the world.
A permanent location for the Games means that we abandon this inefficient cycle of building up cities for temporary use then struggling to repurpose them later. It means that a modern, eco-friendly Olympic Village could be built that would serve as an Atlantis for travelers and athletes the world over. And it means that the efforts of host committees could be focused on communicating the spirit of the games rather than the grimy process of bidding for the games, building cities under incredible financial and timeline pressures, and dealing with the consequences of their costly upkeep.
Building permanent Olympic Cities makes sense. Will the organizers of the Games finally acknowledge that it’s the only sensible way forward?