What's the value of hosting the Olympic Games?

More and more, it's about the intangibles-something Calgary needs to think about as it mulls over whether or not to bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics.

Tia Lalani - 28 February 2018


Calgary's Canada Olympic Park played host to the world for the 1988 Winter Olympics. The existing facilities could give the city an edge if it decides to bid for the 2026 Winter Games, but organizers need to consider whether the intangible benefits outweigh the steep costs. (Photo: Lienyuan Lee via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 3.0)

When the Olympic cauldron was extinguished yesterday, South Korea pulled off what was, by most scorecards, a successful Olympics for about $13 billion.

And while no two economists are sure to agree on what constitutes a direct Olympic expense, or a revenue for that matter, what they will certainly agree on is South Korea's Olympic losses will be measured in the billions.

"The research shows the benefits of hosting the Olympics have been vastly overstated, and if the Olympics are going to continue, it's the intangible benefits related to nation-building and cultural identities that will have to justify moving forward with the Games," said Stacy Lorenz, sports historian at the U of A's Augustana campus.

In fact, rather than showing a nation in its very best light, modern Olympic games seem to open a Pandora's box of ballooning budgets, ill-fitting legacy projects and worsening social conditions of host cities, all while organizers cling to the hope that a series of pride-related intangibles will win the day.

An arm's-length look at the costs shows some of the bigger-ticket items purchased by South Korea Olympic organizers include a US$3.7-billion express train linking Seoul to PyeongChang, a US$2-billion invoice for South Korean taxpayers for simply running the games, and a dozen new or refurbished venues.

It is the billions spent on venues, championed before the Games as legacy investments, that often become symbols of Olympic decadence and waste afterward. South Korea built a US$109-million stadium for the Games, which will have been used just four times, only to tear it down to avoid the millions in ongoing utility and maintenance costs. That would be considered good planning by critics of the 2016 Games held in Rio de Janeiro, which is watching many of its venues disintegrate.

Read more on folio.ca.