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