Olympic Ruins

The sad afterlife of abandoned stadiums.


The Organizing Committees of the Olympic Games misleadingly claim that since 1984, every host city has broken even. This assertion conveniently excludes capital costs of stadiums, infrastructure, and the Olympic Village—the most expensive part of the tab.

In fact, every modern Olympic games has overrun its budget expectations. Research from Oxford University concludes that the average cost overrun in the last 50 years is 179 percent.

The average summer Olympics generates $5–6 billion in revenue, half of which goes to the International Olympic Committee. Brazil's anticipated budget for the 2016 Rio Games is $11 billion and counting.

Getty Images

ATHENS 2004:
"We want to show Greece's modern face," the chief organizer of the Greek Games, Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, repeatedly declared. And unfortunately, they did.

Instead of boosting a shaky economy, the 2004 Athens Games went 60 percent over budget and are widely considered a major precursor to the Greek financial crisis.

According to research commissioned by the London Assembly: "Immediately following the Games, the positive employment effect moved into reverse. In the three months after the Games, September–November 2004, Greek industry lost 70,000 jobs, the majority in construction."

21 of 22 venues were abandoned, in a state of disrepair, or underused only four years after the Games.

Getty Images

"Seventy years after 1914 we have the Olympic Games, so the world will say 'Sarajevo' again. But this time it will make the world happy," promised Pavle Lukac, the P.R .chief of the Games.

Due to hyperinflation of the Yugoslavian dinar during the planning period, the nominal cost overrun was 1,257 percent. (That's a still-hefty 173 percent in real dollars.)

Just eight years after the Games, most of the hotels and facilities were destroyed during the 44-month siege of Sarajevo in the Bosnian War. Many local mountains and the ski-jumping hills saw heavy combat and are today dotted with landmines, and the bobsled track was used as a Bosnian-Serb military stronghold. The podium once used to award Olympic medals was repurposed for executions. With well over 10,000 citizens killed in the siege, makeshift cemeteries popped up all over the city, including in the middle of the Olympic arena.

Since the end of the war, no serious attempts have been made to revitalize the Olympic facilities, and the city never became the major sports center Games planners once promised.

Matt Gardner

"The Olympics can no more lose money than a man can have a baby," bragged Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau before the opening of the 1976 Games.

Montreal 1976 turned out to be the worst financial disaster in Olympic history, blowing its budget of $250 million and coming in at an actual cost of $2.3 billion.

The city finally repaid its Olympic debt in 2006.

After the Montreal 1976 financial disaster, Los Angeles was the only city to bid for the 1984 Summer Games.

NEXT: Brickbat: Pig in a Blanket

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Does anyone know if Salt Lakers’ widely cited fond regard for their Games has any basis in actual cost-benefit balance? Or is it based largely on misconception and a relative lack of total fiasco, like that of Barceloners and to a lesser extent Atlantans?

    1. Estimated economic impacts of 2002 Olympics on Utah

      Official state estimate of economic impact for the period leading up to and through the end of 2002:

      $4.8 billion in sales

      $1.5 billion in earnings for Utah workers

      35,000 job years of employment

      Approximately $1.02 – 1.25 billion in direct economic impact to Utah from hosting events (in 2002)

      An estimated $210 million value in media exposure from Utah events (in 2002)


      The Olympics yielded about $100 million in profit, which were distributed throughout the local community after the Games:

      $72.0 million endowment to maintain facilities

      $10.2 million for Olympic Legacy Plazas

      $11.5 million charitable donations

      $ 7.0 million in USOC business credits.


      Hotel room rents = 25 percent increase from 2002 to 2009

      Rocky Mountain Lodging Report: Statewide occupancy increased from 58.8 percent in 2003 to 59.7 percent in 2010

      Utah has seen a 42 percent increase in skier visits since the Games.

      Direct expenditures from skiers and snowboarders have increased 67 percent from $704 million in 2002-03 to $1.2 billion in 2010-11.

      Sources: Utah Sports Commission, Salt Lake Chamber

      1. Money aside, based on a few visits I’ve taken to SLC since the games, the Olympics clearly attracted a lot of California locusts that have turned Salt Lake into a progtard haven.

        1. I was in SLC three years ago and I did not come back thinking that it was a progressive stronghold and that was also the same week as Sundance. I didn’t make it to Park City so they may have all been there, smelling each others smugness. I did come back thinking I never want to live in a state that has such absurd drinking laws.

        2. Fun fact: New York and Los Angeles have had Republican mayors more recently than Salt Lake City.

          Immigrants, retired mine workers, retired railroad workers and university professors elect a fairly Democratic city government.

    2. We got a wider freeway, light rail and for 3 weeks; Utah actually looked normal.

  2. I left my office-job and now I am getting paid 99 usd hourly. How? I work over internet! My old work was making me miserable, so I was forced to try something different, 2 years after…I can say my life is changed-completely for the better! Check it out what i do…

    Go to the web++++ http://www.Aspire-Jobs.com

  3. This time it will be different!

  4. Interestingly, when Boston considered the games, city and state leaders were largely for it. It took resistance from taxpayers to set them straight. For a state that is already over-taxed, you’re more likely to say, “enough is enough!”

  5. Any politician who publicly stumps for the construction of a sports stadium with public money should be hung from a lamp post by his genitalia.

    1. Any politician who publicly stumps for the construction of a sports stadium with public money should be hung from a lamp post by his? genitalia.

      Too sexist.

      I prefer “Hang ’em by their eyelids and beat ’em ’til they blink.”

      ?Emphasis mine.

      1. I don’t KNOW of a female politician who has fallen for the “build me a stadium” song and dance. There may BE one, but I don’t know of one.

  6. The Olympics are a disaster, primarily because the Olympic Committee is as corrupt and venal as FIFA. And public sports stadiums never make economic sense. I would like to see the entire Olympic “movement” die as has the old idea of world’s fairs (anyone remember them?).

    But I would say that including Sarajevo as an example of a failed Olympic venue is unfair. They can’t be held responsible for a war.

    1. A few months ago the head of the IOC blasted FIFA for being corrupt. Which was sort of amazing.

      1. Pot, kettle, kettle, pot…..

  7. Best cleaning company in Jeddah with the latest equipment and services and the best imported materials and less competitive prices, which do not only exist in ???? ????? ??????? ?? ???
    our best cleaning company in Jeddah

  8. The podium once used to award Olympic medals was repurposed for executions.

    In fairness, that’s more useful than most venues are following the Olympics.

  9. Well maybe the cities should hire better planners. Throw down a couple of portables and hang some Christmas lights, Olympic village done.

  10. That picture of the Sarajevo Luge Track reminded me of a mission in the single-player campaign in Medal Of Honor Warfighter. In that mission you fight among the remnants of the track which, interestingly enough, have LESS graffiti than in the photo.

  11. I don’t even know why it’s happening. The expenses are really huge, and they will definitely grow in the next years. This is a decent problem and it should be solved. Maybe someone knows some reasons or something? It would be great to listen, thank you.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.