Enjoy Rio's Olympic Venues Now. In a Few Years, They Will Be in Ruins.

Few boondoggles are bigger, more costly, and less permanent than Olympic infrastructure.


Sarajevo bobsled run
Getty Images, Reason magazine

Time and again, a big selling point to cities and countries hosting the Olympics is that the games create economic development that pays for itself. Come on, folks, if we shell out a billion dollars in scarce capital and taxes and build new stadiums and facilities, we'll make it all back! At the very least, booster say, we'll have great new world-class facilities to show for our bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy yes, facilities not so much. The August-September issue of Reason featured a photo spread on "Olympic Ruins: The sad afterlife of abandoned stadiums." Like Ozymandias' shattered visage though, Olympic infrastructure more often than not disintegrates more quickly than youth, leaving only an ironic statement in its wake. To the right, gaze upon Sarajevo's bobsled run.

Just eight years after the [1984 Winter] 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.

Getty Images, Reason magazine

It's not civil war that typically destroys Olympic venues, though. Athens, Greece hosted the 2004 Summer Games, which "went 60 percent over budget and are widely considered a major precursor to the Greek financial crisis." And go tell the Spartans: "21 of 22 venues were abandoned, in a state of disrepair, or underused only four years after the Games."

The poster child for how the Olympics kills economies is Montreal, which hosted the 1976 Summer Games. Somehow costs ballooned from a planned $250 million to $2.3 billion, a sum that the Quebecois city only finished paying 30 years later, in 2006.

As Jim Pagels notes in the Reason article, Brazil and Rio are spending about $11 billion to host the Olympics, which has an anticipated haul of between $5 billion and $6 billion. Half of that money goes directly to the International Olympic Committee. So good luck maintaining the facilities, which are already plagued with maintenance issues. And that's on top of all the problems left behind by Brazil's hosting the 2014 soccer World Cup.

Related: "Hosting the Olympics Is a Huge Money Suck" and "An Incomplete List of Why Nobody Really Gives a Shit About the Olympics Anymore."

On the upside? Brazil's libertarian movement is alive, well, and deposing corrupt politicians.

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  1. And by “in a few years”, you mean “by 6 o’clock in the afternoon the day after the Closing Ceremony”, right?

    1. C’mon man. It’ll be different this time.

      I hear they’re planning on housing all the people they displaced while bulldozing the favelas to build the venues in the venues once the Olympics are done. See – these people get shiny new homes!

      1. And yet cities line up for this ass rape. For those that don’t understand why any city or nation would do this: it’s about the opportunity for graft.

    2. I’m making $96 an hour working from home. I was shocked when my neighbour told me she was averaging $120 but I see how it works now. I feel so much freedom now that I’m my own boss.
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  2. Selecting the Olympic city is a exercise in corruption… Payoffs to Olympic Committee Members and then Billions paid to the well connected people who are doing the building of the sites.

    1. The Olympics will endure because they are practically a perfect way to legally transfer money from a country’s workers to its business and political elite. Plus, you’re a politician with a worthless relative? Put him on your Olympic committee for a high salary.

  3. Why don’t any of the countries hosting ever just say “Fuck you, you take what we give you”. If you don’t let the Olympic’s committee know in time to find another sucker to be the venue, then you could make a profit off the event.

    1. Because you’re not getting the Games unless you pay the proper bribes when they announce the host city, and that’s years in advance.

      1. Bribes are cheap in comparison to facility building. If all the important people get paid you should be able to skimp on the pomp.

        1. As Russia and Brazil have shown – that’s certainly true since the actual construction skips over steps like ‘ensure the toilet drain on the second floor is not connected to the first floor cold water piping’.

  4. *sigh*

    Yet another right-wing propaganda piece from Reason, this one lamenting the joy and beauty that is created when nations gather together and share their culture and athletic prowess with the world.

    1. Right wing, you say? So this piece is racist too? Gillespie might well be leaving a Gadsden flag.

  5. Brazil may have gotten rid of Dilma, but the USA is about to elect someone much worse than Dilma, and she has nuclear weapons and a brain disorder.

  6. Look, I find the Olympics uninspiring, but if they hired me as a “consultant” I might find some positive things to say…

  7. Apparently, at least some of the venues are going to be taken apart and re-purposed elsewhere.

  8. Hmm! Wikipedia actually has an article on the cost of the Olympic games.

    It looks like the Olympics from 1984, 1988, 1992 (Summer only), 1996, 2002, and 2008 actually turned a profit.

    This is funny:

    The full cost of the Nagano Olympics is unknown, due to Nagano Olympic Bid Committee vice-secretary general Sumikazu Yamaguchi ordering accounting documents burned

    1. “ordering accounting documents burned”

      The sweet smoky smell of success!

    2. I have many questions about the accounting. Let’s start with

      (1) Who, exactly, profited? And is that the excess of revenue to that who, exactly over the “operating budget” of that who?

      (2) Where are the capital costs reflected in this calculation of profit? Who carried those costs?

      1. Good questions!

        I would wager that everyone ? that is, everyone important ? made their money back and then some while the city and the politicians took the bulk of the profits.

    3. I am absolutely certain that every Olympics ever has turned a profit . . . for the Olympic Committee.

  9. Like Ozymandias’ shattered visage though, Olympic infrastructure more often than not disintegrates more quickly than youth, leaving only an ironic statement in its wake

    Excellent reference, Nick. You inspired me to link (the second time within a week, I believe), Joanna Newsom’s wonderful song which also reference’s Shelley’s poem, and deals with the same subject.

  10. RE: Enjoy Rio’s Olympic Venues Now. In a Few Years, They Will Be in Ruins.
    Few boondoggles are bigger, more costly, and less permanent than Olympic infrastructure.

    This is true.
    But at least the powers that be and their cronies made a fortune at the taxpayer’s expense.
    Someone has to come out ahead.
    It might as well be ruling elite and their pals.

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  12. Look, the Olympic games are always a success. Just ask the good folks in Brockway, Ogdenville, and North Haverbrook.

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  14. Watched PBS’s “The Nazi Games” this morning. The IOC- you will not find a more wretched hive of scum & villainy.

  15. Ella . you think Victoria `s storry is astonishing… on saturday I bought themselves a Car after bringing in $7899 this – 5 weeks past and-more than, 10-k last munth . it’s by-far the best-job I have ever had . I began this 8-months ago and almost straight away started to earn minimum $77
    ?????????? http://www.factoryofincome.com

  16. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go to tech tab for work detail.
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