Olympic Debt Left Over

In the lead-up to the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games, there's a sense of uneasiness surrounding the costs and repercussions of hosting the elite sporting event.

Olympic debt

In the lead-up to the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games, there’s a sense of uneasiness surrounding the costs and repercussions of hosting the elite sporting event.

It’s likely the sentiments are similar in London, where they’re already reporting a cost of £9-billion, almost four times the initial figure of £2.35-billion for the 2012 Summer Olympics. They’re now planning to slash spending by downgrading the £400-million media center to a mere ‘giant tent’. The dollar-value of Olympic legacies is one debate, while measuring the intangible benefits is another. But it’s been said and done every four years, the baton gets passed from city to city, so how detrimental can the Olympic hangover really be? BCBusiness Online looked at five recent Olympic games to see if their legacies are dollar and podium-worthy.


Beijing, China (Summer Olympics, 2008)

Olympic Slogan: “One World, One dream”

Price Tag: With a ‘go big or go home’ attitude, China spent a whopping $43-billion.

The Good: China made a strong come back as the “Middle Kingdom” they once were, showing their proud post-Mao transformation as a global economic power. Making a bold statement about the achievements possible from the strengths of uniting 1.3 billion people, Beijing staged the most extravagant Games in Olympic history. Moments moving the entire world, including Michael Phelps “8 golds in ’08” and Usain Bolt’s inhuman like speed, as well as victories capturing Canada’s heart, like B.C.’s Carol Huynh winning our country’s first-ever wrestling Olympic gold, will forever belong to the legacies of the Beijing Olympics.

The Bad: The 500-million dollar iconic centerpiece of the Beijing Olympics, the National Stadium or better known as the “Birds Nest,” is empty nested.


Some sources report the stadium only has one event booked for 2009 – an opera on the one-year anniversary of the opening ceremonies, and it’s planned the 91-thousand seat stadium will be transformed into a shopping center. Beijing has little use for the state-of-the-art ‘Water Cube’ facility, and other unused venues will likely be demolished, while massive commercial and residential developments built for the Games are empty.

Obstacles: – Socio-political disruptions: Human rights activists, environmental critics, and “Free Tibet” protesters didn’t make it easy for the Chinese to enjoy their moment of glory. News of China’s questionable relations with Darfur was punctuated with Steve Spielberg withdrawing from his role as artistic adviser for Beijing 2008, stating “China is not doing enough to end human suffering.” The Torch Relay, an element of the Olympic Games traditionally symbolizing peace, was also met with violent protests en route Beijing. – Environmental– The city was brought to a virtual standstill in order to reduce air pollution in the city to manageable levels to accommodate the athletes. Factories were shut down, and over one million cars were banned for the duration of the Olympics. China was also faced with some of the most horrific natural disasters of 2008, most notably, the earthquake of Sichuan province just three months before the big show.

Overall Standing: Gold for presentation, putting on one heck of a show. But the lustre of Olympic gold is quickly fading with extraordinary costs of the lavish spectacle lingering and lack of re-use strategies for venues, putting sustainability of Olympic Games into question. [pagebreak]


Torino, Italy (Winter Olympics, 2006)

Olympic Slogan: “Passion Lives Here”

Price tag: The Games were forecast in 1998 to cost $616 million US, but ballooned to more than $3 billion US. The national government helped bail out the 2006 Torino Winter Games by covering $159.11 million US of a $195.82-million shortfall.

The Good: The Olympic Pedestrian Bridge was one many structures built for the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy. Olympic facilities have helped propel the city’s long-time effort to redevelop itself into a vibrant, post-industrial metropolis. (Below: Olympic Pedestrian Bridge)


The Bad: Plagued by managerial difficulties less than a year before the start of the Olympic Winter Games, the Torino Olympic Organizing Committee replaced its chief executive officer. The committee asked Paolo Rota for his resignation and appointed Cesare Vaciago as its new CEO. Major construction delays were a sign there was absolutely no solidarity in the organization– Torino committee (TOROC) president, Valentino Castellani, shrugged off construction delays saying,”Perhaps a little bit we are people of the last minute.” The metro was delayed by 45-days and didn’t reach any of the Olympic venues. Finally, nature added to the tragedy by playing its game of punishment on the ill-prepared city; unideal conditions lead to the delay of several Alpine competitions.

Overall Standing: Something odd, like a 17th place finish. In short, the Torino Games were tainted with positive doping tests and met with disappointing attendance. To make matters worse, and embarrassing, American Idol fever crushed NBC’s Olympic coverage on television. And their doughnut-shaped medals? Maybe Italy should to stick to its original plans: designing fabulous shoes and sexy cars. On a side note, Canada took home 24 medals, finishing fifth place for the total medal count – Canada’s best performance ever at the Winter Olympics.


Athens, Greece (2004 Summer Olympics)

Olympic Slogan: “Welcome Home”

Price Tag: About $12-billion, which is equivalent to five-percent of Greece’s national GDP, sending the city into massive debt. It was one of the most expensive games ever, which turned out to be an overwhelming economic burden on the smallest country to host them since Finland, 1952. Cost of security alone, in the post September 11th era, rocketed to $1.5-billion.

The Good: Greece was in dire need of a infrastructure face lift. New roads, a new sub-urban transit system and a new airport will benefit the citizens of Athena for decades to come. Many consider these structural achievements the true legacy of the Games, as they probably would’ve never been started, let alone completed, if it weren’t for the strict Olympic deadlines.

The Bad:Greeks were hoping for the 1992 “Barcelona effect” – where the Olympics helped transform the city into a tourist destination and inspired growth of sports in the area. A surge of tourism helped offset Barcelona’s Olympic spending, but Athens ended up with something more like the “Montreal effect” – the city that plunged into such a slump after hosting the 1976 Summer Games, they didn’t pay off their debt until nearly three decades later in 2006.

Overall Standing: Silver. The 2004 Summer Olympics is no gold, but is well-deserving of the second standing for bringing the Games back to its ancestral home. Low ticket sales can be attributed to the global-reluctance to travel in the post 9-11 era. But setting aside all imperfections, can we simply appreciate the Athens Games for its historic symbolism?




Salt Lake City (2002 Winter Olympics)

Olympic Slogan: “Light the Fire Within”

Price Tag:$2–billion. While private sources such as TV networks covered most of the bill, federal, state and local taxpayers pitched in about $625 million, roughly $1 of every $3 spent.

The Good: Salt Lake City hosted the first Olympic Games in the wake of the September 11th (2001) attacks. With a level of security much higher than previous Games, costing $312-million, the U.S. city welcomed the world, showcasing American nationalism.

The Bad: Controversy, bribery…yes it was quite the ‘scandalicious’ Games. Prior to this Olympic Winter Game, a number of International Olympic Committee (IOC) members were forced to resign after it was uncovered that they had accepted bribes in return for voting for Salt Lake City to hold the Games. IOC President Dr. Jacques Rogge and new CEO of the Salt Lake Games Mitt Romney then staged the Games and contended with the public backlash due to the scandal. Drama also hit the ice involving Canada’s figure skating darlings, Jamie Salé and David Pelletier, ending in the suspension of two International Skating Union (ISU) members, and the arrest of Russian organized crime boss Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov. The scandal led to the revamping of the figure skating judging system.

Overall Standing: Bronze. Domestically, the Salt Lake City Olympics were a confidence boosting event, courageous and patriotic, the Star-Spangled banner was raised 34 times at medal ceremonies – but critics were taken back by its jingoistic nuances.



Sydney, Australia (2000 Summer Olympics)

Olympic Slogan: “Share the Spirit”

Committee CEO: Sandy Hollway

Price Tag:When Sydney bid for the 2000 Games, the committee estimated a total cost of $AUS 3.0 billion, of which just $AUS 363.5m would be borne by the public. By 1998, however, when the Auditor-General of New South Wales was called in to review the Games’ budget, it became clear that this figure was a huge understatement. He estimated that the true cost of the Games was more like $AUS 5.9 billion, of which the public would be paying $AUS 2.3 billion (Source: www.liebreich.com)

The Good: Sydney’s use of infrastructure in the post-Olympics era should put doubtful thoughts, questioning the viability of overly ambitious Olympic projects, to rest. The 83,500 seats of the landmark stadium of the Sydney Olympics, now called Telstra (Australia’s largest telecommunications company), are selling out for rugby matches, and Sydney Olympic Park is now a site of budding life thanks to conventions and new commercial and residential construction. Occupancies at the Novotel Sydney Olympic Park complex average 76 percent. In 2003, convention attendance hit 1.5 million. By upgrading housing that served 17,000 Olympic athletes and building new town houses and apartments, developers sold about 80 percent of the 2,074 units that were to be on the site by 2006. The evolution of the Olympic site into a new urban community reflects the committee’s planning, and affirms Sydney’s cosmopolitan status.

The Bad: By now it’s obvious every Olympics comes with a set of problems, and Sydney is no exception: ticketing controversies, labour disputes to budget problems to threats of violent protests by Aboriginals. And it turns out, opening ceremony lip-syncing and pre-recorded pyrotechnics weren’t exclusive to the Beijing Olympics – Sydney organizers confirmed, they too, mimed its entire orchestral performance at the opening ceremony. Ironically, the backing tape was recorded, in part, by its domestic rival, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. Organizers say they “wanted to leave nothing to chance”. (Source:www.smh.com.au/news)

Overall Standing: A lasting gold! The legacy of the Sydney Games are the state-of-the-art facilities, propelling athletes to the podium for years to come. Continued maintenance and use of the sites as a training ground for amateur athletes, shows commitment and a bright future for sports in Aussie land. At Athens, Australia won 49 medals, including a record 17 gold, finishing in fourth place again on the medal table after winning 16 gold and 58 medals in total in Sydney.