Sochi has been in the news a lot recently, and not in a good way. Countries that host the Olympics do it for the fame and prestige that comes with the athletes and media attention. Unfortunately for Russia, so far, Sochi is causing worldwide disgust over poor conditions that the athletes, journalists, and other guests of the games are facing.
People are left wondering how the games can be costing roughly $50 billion when there seems to be little show for the astronomical tab. Despite Russia’s incredible spending habits resulting in the most expensive Olympic games ever, the event is never really an affordable venture. Since the start of the modern Olympics in 1896 in Athens, which cost 740,000 drachmas (approximately $448,000), many host countries have amassed huge debts, most of which fall on taxpayers. Here is a list of some of the most expensive Olympic games in history.
As expensive as $50 billion sounds, $40 billion doesn’t seem much cheaper. The 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing cost roughly that much, although the country was able to escape the drowning debt that many other host countries have faced. As of 2012, China was still benefiting from the Olympics, with the majority of the facilities still being used. The Olympics also modernized much of the city, including roads, telecoms, and subway lines. Tourism also remains steady thanks to the success of the games — the city tried hard to reinvent its image and seems to have succeeded in many ways. Of course, not all changes have been positive. The modernization of Beijing has displaced many people, and pollution remains high.
The 2004 Olympics in Athens cost an estimated $18 billion-plus (although some experts put that number closer to $11 billion to $15 billion). This final cost was twice the original budget, and $1.2 billion of that budget was spent on just security measures. Since the Olympics ended, most of the sites have remained unused, with many of them completely falling apart.
Some of the neglected sites include a baseball diamond, a massive manmade canoe and kayak course, and arenas built for sports like table tennis, field hockey, and judo. Several offers have come in to use the sites but have been unable to move forward due to legal issues or other regulations. Due to the high cost of the games and the inability of these expensive sites to be used, Greece is having a difficult time financially. As of 2012, Greece had a gross domestic product of 217.81 billion euros ($306.48 billion).
The Nagano Olympics in 1998 cost more than $17 billion, but because officials apparently spent so much that they destroyed their financial records, that number can only be a guess (some claim the tab was over $30 billion). Some of the costs that went into these figures include a $127 million mammoth ice track for bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton sports; a $450 million skating arena that rises 40 meters and looks like a mountain; a main stadium; and ski jumps. The skating rink, called the “M-Wave,” costs $2.5 million to maintain each year. However, Japan seems to hold an overall positive view of the Olympics, with most officials believing that the Olympics helped Nagano become known worldwide.
In 1992, the Olympics in Barcelona cost over $15 billion. Again, this figure is debated by many, with some experts saying it cost much less or much more. However, Barcelona made an estimated $5 billion in profits, which certainly beats the hefty debt that many other less fortunate cities accrued. Barcelona has also seen an improvement in the life of locals. Before the Olympics, 2 miles of beachfront were created on the waterfront by demolishing industrial buildings, and this beachfront is now enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. The Olympics also helped travelers to see Barcelona as a great place for business. Between 1990 and 2004, the number of hotel rooms there more than doubled.
The 2012 Olympics in London cost $15 billion. According to a 1,000-page study, as of last summer, Britain had already earned at least $1 billion more than the $15 billion it spent on the 2012 Summer Games. However, media outlets have been quick to point out that this study was an independent audit commissioned by the government. Regardless of what financial outcome has come from hosting the games, it seems that British citizens are glad that they did host.
A 2013 BBC poll indicated that 74 percent of U.K. citizens would welcome the games back to Britain. The poll also indicated that locals exercise more than they did before the Olympics, with 11 percent saying they exercise more than in the previous year. Twenty-two percent of those polled also said the games had improved their local economy, and 21 percent said the games had resulted in improved public services. While it may be too soon to tell the long-term effects of the games, it certainly seems that Londoners are happy about the results.
In addition to the five cities mentioned above, the games in Seoul, Sydney, and Moscow each cost several billion dollars. By comparison, the U.S. spends more than $50 billion on the war on drugs per year and over $37 billion on foreign aid annually. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, it would cost $20 billion to end homelessness.
Still, the games provide the best in sports and are widely popular and appreciated, so whether the cost is worth it isn’t clear. It is difficult to come up with exact numbers regarding the cost of various Olympic Games, and when you factor in hidden bribes and “lost” expenditure sheets, it seems nearly impossible to get a perfect number. Still, even without knowing the exact numbers, we can see that some cities are flourishing because of their spending while others might be asking themselves why they ever signed up in the first place.