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Why Are Cities Backing Away from Hosting the Olympics?

28 Nov, 2018

By: Michael Popke

It’s official: Calgary has pulled itself out of the running to host the 2026 Winter Olympics after the city council’s unanimous vote.

The news comes one week after the Reno-Tahoe Winter Games Coalition in Nevada declined a 2030 Winter Games bid invitation from the United States Olympic Committee to participate in an accelerated process to decide the next U.S. city to host.

What’s going on? Why are cities snubbing the world’s largest sporting event? As BBC.com notes, Calgary’s rejection —motivated by cost concerns and questions about economic benefits — came after three other cities also withdrew from bidding on the Winter Games: Sapporo, Japan; Sion, Switzerland; and Graz, Austria.

Additionally, more cities dropped out of bidding for the 2022 and 2024 Games than actually stayed in, while others took themselves out of the running before the official bidding process even began.

Fewer and fewer cities around the world want to host; the 2004 Summer Games, ultimately held in Athens, attracted 11 bids while the 2024 event generated two.

“I think that people had enough of the establishment telling us what to do, what to think,” Sean Chu, a Calgary City Council member adamantly opposed to an Olympic bid by that city, told the Calgary Herald. “They tell you to spend millions, billions, it’s good for you.”

The reality might be that it’s not so good for cities — at least some cities.

“There is good reason for cities to be concerned,” Bent Flyvbjerg, a professor who has studied decades of Olympic budgets, told the website. “The general trend is that costs have been going up and governments are anxious about spending too much money. It’s a multibillion dollar budget that you will need to host the Games, and that’s only covering the direct sports-related costs. There are also the indirect infrastructure costs such as improving transport systems.”

Flyvbjerg added that every Olympics since 1960 has exceeded its budget.

“We know the cost of the Games is a concern,” Christophe Dubi, the International Olympic Committee’s executive director of the Olympic Games, told the BBC, adding that the committee has pledged $1.8 billion to the organizing committee for the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. “I feel that we have to make all efforts to contain the costs and complexity.”

That hasn’t stopped organizations from protesting the L.A. Games. “Esperanza Community Housing, which partners with community members and organizations to promote affordable housing and equitable development in South L.A., believe[s] the 2028 Olympics could displace South L.A. residents and increase gentrification in the area,” reports the Daily Trojan, the University of Southern California’s student newspaper.

What’s more, results from a recent survey commissioned by NOlympics LA — an organization that attempted to keep the Games out of Los Angeles — revealed that 47 percent of more than 1,000 respondents across California opposed bringing the Games to Los Angeles, with 26 percent supporting the move. Only nine percent of respondents strongly supported bringing the Games to Los Angeles.

Examples from recent host cities don’t paint a promising picture for potential future Olympic cities.

“The graft and corruption that was part and parcel of the Rio 2016 has worsened Brazil’s economy,” notes USA Today.com. “Meanwhile, the Olympic park is a graveyard of crumbling venues, and the waterways that were supposed to be cleaned up remain cesspools. The flame was barely out at the PyeongChang Games in February when civic leaders suggested they might have to raze some venues because they couldn’t be repurposed and there wasn’t money to pay for the upkeep of empty buildings. Never mind the environmental damage done to build a ski venue that lasted only as long as the Olympics did.”

So, where we go from here? Daniel Ritterband, who worked in marketing for the London 2012 Olympics and on the unsuccessful Budapest bid for 2024, argues to the BBC that the Games can make a positive impact on less-developed cities. “It needs to be part of a 20-year plan of how to move the economy onwards, where you build up the infrastructure and support,” he says. “[T]hen it’s totally worthwhile. It’s the greatest moment of national pride a country can have.”

At least one other solution has been proposed: permanent locations for the Games, with venues that could be kept up to date, rather than built from scratch. Once, it was laughed off as a crazy idea. Now, it’s starting to make a bit more sense.

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