Hosting The Olympics: Cons Of The Olympics Coming To Your City

By | August 14, 2020

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Glory of holding flaming torch. (Getty Images)

The Olympic Games began over 2,700 years ago in Olympia, Greece, where locals met every four years to play a number of athletic games in honor of the ruler of all Greek gods, Zeus. In its original form, the Games were more of a religious festival. The Greeks highly revered athleticism, so participation in exercise and sports was an expected part of being a good citizen and worshiper.

Unlike today, these early competitors were ordinary citizens; the first-ever champion on record was a cook by the name of Coroebus of Elis. The most popular games were chariot racing, foot racing, javelin throwing, and of course, it just wouldn't be Ancient Greece without naked olive oil wrestling. While the festival grew in popularity over the next 1,000 years, the last official Olympic Games were held in 383 A.D. before their return at the end of the 19th century.

At the urging of a French historian named Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the games were brought back to Athens with the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. Hardly the global affair that we know today, only 13 countries from Europe and North America participated in the '96 Games. As with the ancient Games, only men were invited to participate. It was a smash success, however, and Paris quickly grabbed the opportunity to host the next Summer Olympics in 1900. Hosting the Olympic Games soon became both an international honor and a moneymaker for the cities that won the right from the newly formed International Olympic Committee.  

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Olympia in Ancient Greece. (Pierers Universal-Lexikon/Wikimedia Commons)

Hosting The Olympics

As more and more sports were approved, the Olympics evolved a good deal over the next century. While the 1896 Games only included nine sports, the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games boasted 28 sports across 306 events, and the number of participants skyrocketed to 207 nations. Perhaps the two biggest changes, however, were the inclusion of women in 1900 and the allowance of professional athletes in 1986. But as its popularity grew, so did the cost, and over the past several decades, more and more host cities have seen their initial budgets burst and debts soar.

Often, host cities have to build large arenas to accommodate the very specific requirements of the myriad sports in the Olympic Games. While tourism and job growth are guaranteed to boom during the event, both are temporary, and too often, a city is left with giant multimillion-dollar sports venues with nothing to put in them. The 2008 Beijing Olympics, for example, cost an astounding $40 billion and brought only $3.6 billion in return. Although the famous Beijing Bird's Nest is still in use as an attraction and set for reuse for the 2022 Olympics, most of the other stadiums have been all but abandoned. Likewise, Russia is still paying off a billion-dollar annual debt because of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, and Greece's decision to host the 2004 Olympics only exacerbated their serious debt crisis.