L.A.’s Olympic Folly

by Andrew Stuttaford

There are a diminishing number of takers for the ruinous ‘honor’ of hosting the Olympic Games these days, so the International Olympics Committee (like the U.N., only worse, or is it the other way round?) has locked in two willing victims at once: Paris for 2024 and Los Angeles for 2028.

The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday:

After weeks of negotiations with the International Olympic Committee, Los Angeles officials have reached a deal to host the 2028 Summer Games under terms they hope will generate hundreds of millions in savings and additional revenues…

Andrew Zimbalist, an economist at Smith College in Massachusetts, believes that L.A. officials “played their cards right.”

“They’ve gotten a bunch of concessions that are significant,” said Zimbalist, who has been a critic of the Olympic movement in the past.

Others questioned whether local bid officials could have bargained for even more, and whether the public should have been given a voice in the recent negotiations.

Yes, they should have been, and that voice should have taken the form of a referendum. In the meantime, the federal government should make it clear that it will not be throwing any taxpayer dollars the Olympics’ way.

L.A.’s bid committee has estimated it would cost $5.3 billion to stage the Games and has predicted it can cover all expenses through revenues such as sponsorships and ticket sales.

I’ll let that estimate just stand there, so it can enjoy its moment before reality intervenes. 

For 2028, the IOC has agreed to advance L.A. a $180-million advance immediately. That is expected to cover the organizing’s committee’s costs for operating an extra four years and pump as much as $160 million into youth sports throughout the city.

Toss the suckers some chump change. 

In Olympic circles, such public benefits are referred to as “legacy” and usually occur only after the Games have finished and left town.

Here (via the New York Times) is Rio’s Olympic legacy:

Less than six months after the Summer Games ended, the host city’s Olympic legacy is decaying rapidly.

Empty Olympic buildings abound, puncturing any uplifting buzz from the competitions last summer. At the Olympic Park, some stadium entrances are boarded up, and screws are scattered on the ground. The handball arena is barricaded with metal bars. The broadcast center remains half disassembled. The warm-up pool is decorated with piles of dirt and puddles…

Olympic officials and local organizers often boast about the legacy of the Games — the residual benefits that a city and country will experience long after the competitions end. Those projections are often met with skepticism by the public and by independent economists, who argue that Olympic bids are built on wasted public money. Rio has quickly become the latest, and perhaps the most striking, case of unfulfilled promises and abandonment.

And London’s.

The Financial Times (from 2016):

The mayor of London has said there is a “big question mark” over the legacy of the London 2012 Olympics because of a failure to regenerate the east of the city with homes that are affordable. Four years after a games whose £9bn cost was justified on the basis it would revive a huge area of polluted post-industrial land, the mayor has been scathing about the plans for the site.

“I thought the Olympics were great. I think there is a big question mark about legacy, or lack of,” Sadiq Khan told the FT. “I am not sure we have got the benefits out of the Olympics we should have done in relation to affordable homes or in relation to the number of homes.

And don’t get me started on Athens.

Meanwhile, writing in the National Post, Tristin Hopper seems less than enthusiastic about suggestions that Calgary should host the 2026 Winter Olympics.

By almost every metric, Calgary’s grand plan to recapture Olympic glory is a stunningly bad idea. For starters, Olympics have become blisteringly expensive since the 1980s. Calgary’s 1988 Olympics cost $829 million — $1.5 billion in 2017 dollars. Now, the estimate is $4.6 billion. And given the recent history of Olympic cost overruns, that figure is virtually guaranteed to swell by at least 20 per cent….

For context, Calgary’s entire municipal operating budget for 2015 was $3.5 billion. If divided equally among Canadians, $4.6 billion is about $131 apiece— enough to give a free off-season Calgary hotel stay to every man, woman and child in the country.

But one reason for the Olympics’ ballooning cost is that the International Olympic Committee keeps grabbing an ever-increasing share of revenues for itself. In 1988, Calgary’s organizing committee had to hand over roughly a third of broadcasting revenues to the IOC. Nowadays, the IOC claims more than 70 per cent. IOC avarice, in fact, appears to have been a major reason behind Norway’s decision to abandon a bid to hold the 2022 Winter Olympics games in Oslo. A leaked 2014 report to a Norwegian newspaper outlined the obscene requests made by IOC officials, including demanding smiles at their hotels, free booze paid for by the King of Norway and a separate Oslo road system….

Olympic Games also consistently fail to deliver on the macroeconomic ripple effects that their boosters promise. The European Tour Operators Association, for one, has consistently campaigned against the idea that the exposure of an Olympics boosts tourism.

“Olympic visitors do not behave like normal guests … They do not come to sightsee, attend the theatre or recreate themselves on a beach. They come to attend a sporting event,” the group wrote in a 2008 report documenting the “post Olympic blight” suffered by host cities…

But even then, a 2014 economic study of the Vancouver games found that they were great at funnelling government infrastructure cash into the city, but had a negligible effect on tourism or economic growth.

Holding another Olympics is not just a financial disaster in waiting, but it’s a pinnacle of uncreative municipal thinking.

Which brings us back to L.A.

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