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Making the Olympic Games truly global, fairer and cheaper to run

By Chris Lewis - posted Wednesday, 21 July 2021

I think that most fans of sports such as athletics, swimming, rowing and track cycling (and many others) would love the Olympic Games (OG) to long survive.

Whereas various football codes and cricket/baseball reign supreme each year in the leading Western sporting nations, only challenged by a few months of tennis and golf, it is really only at the OG that the sports like athletics and swimming get their greatest attention and biggest audience.

While sports such as athletics, swimming, rowing and track cycling now have regular world championships, many athletes and fans of such sports still recognise the OG as the highest achievement.


OG exposure is also the best path to such athletes getting lucrative sponsorship deals given the public has much less interest in such sports during non-OG years.

However, many critics of the OG are right to express concern that the OG has become one huge circus that benefits the International Olympic Committee (IOC) most while costing the successful host city a fortune for just two weeks activity and not much long-term benefit.

As noted in 2016, hosting the Olympics is indeed a money-losing proposition for most cities with the cost–benefit equation worse for cities in developing countries than for those in the industrialised world. 

The authors (Baade and Matheson) suggest a number of reasons why cities still bid for the OG:

The first reason is that certain bids are heavily supported by certain sectors, as seen by Boston’s unsuccessful 2024 bid which “was spearheaded by leaders in the heavy construction and hospitality industries” but was not supported by the public.

The second reason is that some national leaders, namely those in countries where the government is not accountable to voters or taxpayers, seek to demonstrate political and economic power. This was seen by Russia’s $51 billion expenditure on the 2014 Sochi Winter OG and China’s $45 billion investment in the 2008 Beijing Summer OG.


In contrast, Western bids can be halted by public opposition to high costs, as seen by Oslo, Stockholm, Krakow, and Munich withdrawing from their bids for the 2022 Winter OG which was awarded to Beijing.  

The third reason can be opportunism created by previous expensive and costly bids as was the case when Los Angeles was the only bidder for the 1984 OG and used its existing infrastructure to deliver a profitable OG by spending one quarter of what Montreal had eight years earlier.

But with later bids again becoming expensive, with only public anger forcing Tokyo to abandon its very expensive Olympic stadium plan, the authors discussed possible solutions that included one city permanently holding the games, or a few permanent locations hosting them on a rotating basis (say four Summer and three Winter OG venues).

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About the Author

Chris Lewis, who completed a First Class Honours degree and PhD (Commonwealth scholarship) at Monash University, has an interest in all economic, social and environmental issues, but believes that the struggle for the ‘right’ policy mix remains an elusive goal in such a complex and competitive world.

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All articles by Chris Lewis

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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