When it comes to hosting the Olympics, more cities are saying, ‘Hold that thought.’


One of the Olympic rings fails to open during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

What do you do when you’ve spent billions building bobsled tracks and ski jumps no one will use, save for the few weeks you host the biggest international party in sports?

You let them become overgrown, unattended relics, that’s what.

It appears that nobody wants to be Athens. Or Beijing. Or Sarajevo.

Athens hosted one heck of a party when the Olympics returned to its birthplace in 2004. It’s still nursing the hangover: upward of $11 billion spent for what’s turned into dandelion-pocked modern ruins.

Jon Frankel, a reporter for HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” recently did a report on the “white elephants” left behind after a country hosts an international sporting event such as the World Cup or the Olympics.

“You don’t have to obtain a post-doc in finance to understand that this is a white elephant,” Rena Duru, who is running for mayor of Athens, told Frankel.

“There was no plan,” said Spyros Capralos, president of the Greek Olympic Committee. “Nobody has thought about post-Games usage of the facilities. And this, together with the not having more temporary facilities, was the biggest problem of Athens.”

Now, it appears that more countries are saying “no thanks” to the chance to own the world’s biggest stage in sports.

Krakow, Poland, Stockholm, St. Moritz and Davos, Switzerland, and Munich, all former candidates to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, have taken themselves out of the running. Munich’s no surprise, given that it has yet to deal with the weed-infested, graffiti-marked architectural tattoos that followed when it hosted the 1972 Olympics. Why would it sign up to build another round of useless stadiums when Germany’s chancellor was one of the ringleaders calling for austerity in Greece after it splurged billions to host the games?

Stockholm just came out and said it: “Arranging a Winter Olympics would mean a big investment in new sports facilities, for example for the bobsleigh and luge,” Sweden’s Moderate Party said in a statement to Reuters. “There isn’t any need for that type of that kind of facility after an Olympics.” St. Moritz and Davos, which were going to host jointly, and Krakow cited similar reasoning.

A Greek sports writer told Frankel: “The Greek economy couldn’t stand the Olympic Games. I’m not saying the crisis was caused by the Olympic Games, but the Olympic Games has a part of responsibility for the Greek economic crisis.”

Yahoo’s Jay Busbee noted the astronomical costs of hosting — money that cities are finding they don’t recoup:

Why the sudden mass exodus from hosting? Because cities with an eye for financial reality have seen the results: Russia spent $51 billion on the Sochi Olympics, an incomprehensible sum for any nation but particularly one teetering on the edge of political turmoil. China spent $40 billion for the 2008 Beijing Games. Montreal lost nearly a billion dollars hosting the 1976 Games, and it took 30 years to pay off that debt. Nagano, Japan, which hosted the Olympics in 1998, apparently still hasn’t paid off its debt.

Last month, Vietnam withdrew as host of the 2019 Asian Games, saying that the country’s economy is still recovering from the global financial crisis.

Flavorwire has a gallery of past Olympic white elephants, not just from Athens, but from all over the world. It’s a sobering look at hosting hangovers.

h/t Business Insider

Soraya Nadia McDonald covers arts, entertainment and culture for the Washington Post with a focus on race and gender issues.
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