Nobody Wants to Host the Olympics!

Why would you, TBH?

Last week, Calgary withdrew its bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics after the Conservative Party joined the city’s Progress Party, Centre Party, and Socialist Left Party in a coalition large enough to stop the bid. This was in response to polling that showed support for hosting the Games below 30%, leaving only two cities left as — whoops sorry, that was Oslo, Norway.

Let’s try again. Last week, Calgary withdrew its bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics, the third city to do so after Rome and Hamburg. This followed a group of anti-Olympic activists getting the required quarter million signatures necessary to force a ballot referendum on — wait, that was in Budapest.

Regardless of the details, the story remains the same. No one wants to host the Olympics anymore, and Calgary is just the latest city with withdraw from what used to be a fierce competition to win the right to host a Games. In what political scientist Jules Boykoff called “a serious trend of bidders dropping like flies,” it’s almost become more newsworthy when there is actually more than one city offering to play host.

In the most recent three cycles (2022, 2024, 2026), we’ve seen over a dozen cities withdraw because of strong opposition at home. For the 2022 Winter Games, Stockholm, Krakow, St. Moritz, Munich, and the aforementioned Oslo all withdrew before the bidding officially began, leaving just Beijing and Almaty for the IOC to choose between. For 2024, in addition to the three cities listed above, Boston dropped out, leaving just Los Angeles and Paris. Rather than go through the embarrassment of not having a place to host the Games in 2028, for which no bidder had yet materialized, the IOC broke protocol and named them both winners, sending the 2024 Games to France and the later version to Southern California. And for 2026, Calgary joined Sion, Graz, and Sapporo in the withdrawal of its bid, leaving just Milan and Stockholm — with plenty of time for that number to dwindle even further before the host city is officially announced in September 2019.

It’s entirely rational for cities to reject hosting the Games. Activists have been more aggressively organizing against the Games in recent years and have made the populace much more aware of the human cost attached to them. And like with sports stadiums (but on a much larger scale), economists have shown clearly that cities always end up investing much more in the Olympics than they ever make back. Yet invest they do. To find the last Olympic Games that didn’t blow past it’s budget, you’d have to go back 50 years to Mexico City in 1968. And as the organizers of those Games would tell you, all it took was a despotic government and an army willing to gun down a few hundred protesting children!

More recently, Montreal just finished paying off its own Games — which it hosted in 1976. London 2012 ended up costing almost double what was expected (a multi-billion dollar miscalculation) while Sochi blew past that, running over its budget by a breathtaking 280%. The upcoming Tokyo 2020 Games were projected originally to cost $7.3 billion, but now organizers are saying the final figure will be more in the ballpark of $30 billion. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Perhaps this will be the impetus for the birth of a more just, more economic era of the Olympic Games. Already, the lack of competitive bidding seems to have given cities more leverage in terms of what they have to promise the IOC. No more should you see cities razing entire neighborhoods to make room for miles and miles of new arenas. More recent bids prominently feature the use of existing infrastructure to host the Games, something that would have been anathema to an earlier generation of IOC bureaucrats. Additionally, Olympic officials have begun promising to help pay the way for whichever city hosts the Games, hoping that defrayed costs will encourage more municipalities to apply. Thus far, it doesn’t appear to have made much of a difference as cities continue to drop out — when they apply at all. But hopefully this will encourage the IOC to dig even deeper into their pockets and make larger concessions, creating an Olympic model where hosting the Games isn’t a death knell for a city.