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Here’s Why Almost Nobody Wants to Host the Olympics Anymore

In September, the various international delegates to the International Olympic Committee will meet in Lima, Peru, to decide the host cities for both the 2024 and 2028 tournament of nations.

On Twitter, President Trump boasted of his intention to win the games for Los Angeles, and his odds are pretty good. For 2024 and 2028, there are only two cities up for consideration, and Los Angeles is one of them. The only question is whether Paris will get 2024 and Los Angeles 2028, or vice versa.  It will be the third time hosting the Olympics for both cities.

This is a relatively recent development. Hosting the Summer Olympics has long been a highly competitive process. It’s the biggest prestige prize a city, and a nation, can achieve on the world stage.

But that competition has bred its own demise. As cities made ever-more-extravagant bids, and authoritarian regimes muscled in on the process, the games became a financial burden and often a politically-unpopular boondoggle.

Since the global financial crash in 2008, more and more cities have considered bids only to reject them, sometimes after voters rebuke their starry-eyed mayors in a referendum.

A tale of two cities

For every Summer Olympics from 1992 to 2012, five or six candidates cities were approved by the IOC for the shortlist that was to be voted on at the committee’s full meeting, itself a minor international event. That shortlist had been winnowed down from a larger pool of applicants who failed to qualify, usually for having insufficient host facilities.

The 2008 Olympics, for example, were awarded in 2001, and winner Beijing competed against Istanbul, Osaka, Paris, and Toronto. For the 2012 games, chosen in 2005, London bested Madrid, Moscow, New York, and Paris.

The scandal-plagued and financially ruinous games in Athens in 2004 and Rio de Janeiro last year titled the scales against bids, and more cities have opted out. Additionally, fears of terrorism and the extreme security-state presence associated with hosting the Olympics has become increasingly unpopular.  The 2020 Summer Games will be in Tokyo, its second-turn after 1964.

For the 2024 Games, Berlin, Boston, Hamburg, Rome, and Budapest all had bids canceled after political support collapsed and the public turned against the idea. That left only two perennial contenders: Paris and Los Angeles.

The IOC quickly floated the Solomonic solution of giving the games to both. By awarding 2024 and 2028 simultaneously, the IOC also takes the question off the table altogether for an extra four years.

The benefits of commercialization

The most recent time Los Angeles hosted the Olympics, in 1984, offered a ray of hope for those concerned with costs. Heavily utilizing existing facilities, and commercial sponsorship, the 1984 L.A. Olympics did something almost unthinkable today: it turned a massive profit.

This happened in spite of a Soviet-led boycott by most of the Communist bloc. Paris also features plenty of existing sports facilities with which to host a top-tier international event like the Olympics.

The disaster behind Athens and Rio was in massive government expenditures for new facilities. Now they are burdened with massive over-capacity. In Athens, stadiums and other venues have sat empty and abandoned, eventually falling into ruin. Further, the property rights of local residents were also trampled in these fiscal disasters, with large-scale and controversial land seizures by the government.

Are the taxpayer subsidies over?

Perhaps the race-to-the-bottom on taxpayer subsidies for the Olympics is finally over, and Los Angeles and Paris will provide a paradigm for future events. The reality is the games have become so large that only some of the world’s largest cities in the world’s richest nations are realistic possibilities.

The 2012 Olympics in London were also widely-regarded as a success, for many of the same reasons as Paris and Los Angeles. The Winter Olympics have also been more successful as they focus more on picking locations that already have suitable facilities, or can feasibly expand their capacity with modest building costs, such as Salt Lake City in 2002, Turin in 2006, and Vancouver in 2010.

This development doesn’t mean the games will forever be cloistered in a few Western mega-cities. Urban dominance can change dramatically. By 2032, cities that are not currently on the radar may be in contention. Cities in India, Southeast Asia, and Latin America are all growing substantially, and they might be able to make more suitable bids for the Olympic Games that will take place a decade-and-a-half from now.

Interestingly, the most populous metropolis on the North American continent is not New York or Los Angeles, but Mexico City, which did in fact host a games, in 1968. And a joint bid from Singapore and Malaysia might be an interesting possibility to bring the Olympics to their first-ever Muslim-majority host nation.

(Photos of derelict buildings at the Helliniko Olympic complex in Athens, Greece in July 2014, 10 years after the 28th Olympiad was held in Athens, and of the Olympic Aquatic Center, by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images.)


Andy Craig

A writer and political consultant in Milwaukee, WI, Andy Craig is active in several roles within the Libertarian Party, including two campaigns for public office, re-establishing official party status in Wisconsin, and receiving over 11% of the vote for Congress. He works with candidates on recruitment, strategy, messaging, ballot access, and endorsements, overseeing the latter for the Johnson/Weld campaign.

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