The International Olympics Committee (IOC) announced this week that the 2024 Summer Olympics would be awarded to either Paris or Los Angeles, the only two cities bidding for the games. The other city would be awarded the 2028 Summer Olympics.
It's a far cry from the 1990s, when the IOC had six cities to choose from for the 1996 Summer Olympics and five for the 2000 Summer Olympics. City residents, especially in democratic countries, are starting to figure out what a rip-off hosting the Olympics can be.
Every Olympics games since 1960 for which data is available has faced cost over-runs, with the Summer Olympics costing an average of 176 percent more than the original estimates. Additionally, as a 2015 paper in World Economics points out, "short-run costs for venue construction and operations invariably exceed Games-related revenues by billions of dollars and long-term gains are elusive." The IOC has also squeezed host cities out of other ways to make money off hosting the Olympics. In the 1990s, for example, the IOC took just a 4 percent cut of the revenue from the TV rights, but now it takes more than 70 percent.
It seems the best way for a city to win on the Olympics is to decline to bid. Here are five cities that will be better off for not hosting an Olympics in the next decade:
Boston's bid had the support of local and state government when the U.S. Olympics Committee (USOC) chose it as the American city that would bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. The state legislature had set up a "feasibility commission," members of which were appointed by the state governor, state senate leaders, and the mayor of Boston. The commission concluded that hosting the Olympics was a "monumental" but "feasible" task that the region was better prepared to handle than other parts of the country.
In 2015, the organizers of the Boston bid released the salaries of its executives. The public thus learned that former Gov. Deval Patrick, who had been involved in the feasibility commission, would be paid $7,500 per day of travel on behalf of the bid, and that Boston 2024 would be spending at least $120,000 a month on consulting firms.
Public opinion had already been turning on the Olympics bid, with complaints that there had been no space for public input before the USOC selected Boston as the American bid city.
When the decision was announced in January 2015, polling found support in Boston for hosting the Olympics at 51 percent and opposition at 33 percent. By the end of March, support had plummeted to 33 percent. As Boston.com explains in a detailed timeline, this reflected not just the salary revelations but the heightened sensitivity to government incompetence in the wake of crippling winter snowstorms.
Eventually, Mayor Marty Walsh admitted he hadn't read the entire bid proposal before pitching it to the USOC. In July, two members of the city council threatened to issue subpoenas to get copies of two redacted chapters of Boston 2024's bid books. By the end of the month, Walsh had withdrawn his support for the bid, saying he would not sign the host city contract. The USOC in turn withdrew its support and backed Los Angeles instead.
The grassroots campaign No Boston Olympics was also crucial to the bid's failure. Its activists campaigned against the bid after it became official, and they declared victory when the bid was withdrawn.
"Boston is a world-class city," a statement from the group read, adopting a phrase frequently used by the bid's supporters. "We are a city with an important past and a bright future. We got that way by thinking big, but also thinking smart."
When deciding whether to back Berlin or Hamburg for the 2024 games, the German Olympics Sports Confederation surveyed residents in both cities. It found higher support in Hamburg, but by the time the decision was brought up for a referendum the city's residents had reconsidered. In the November 2015 vote, 51.6 percent of Hamburg voters rejected the Olympics bid.
Hamburg estimated the cost of hosting the Olympics at $12.6 billion, with taxpayers expected to pay $8.3 billion.
"The result is a bitter pill for us to swallow, but a democratic decision must simply be accepted," Nikolas Hill, the head of the Hamburg bid, said after the referendum. "The attacks in Paris, the soccer crisis, the refugee situation, the doping scandals—they did not have anything to do with this but it has been irritating and disturbing people."
But such factors are relevant to an Olympics bid. The security theater demanded at mega-events like the Olympics, the corruption surrounding sports governance, and controversies like doping all make hosting the Olympics even less attractive.
A few months later, activists in Budapest would start their campaign for an Olympics referendum of their own.
Political leaders in Hungary have been mulling an Olympics bid for Budapest for years, and the Hungarian Olympic Committee approved the official bid in 2015. By late 2016, Rome and Hamburg had already dropped out of the running, so Budapest was competing only with Paris and Los Angeles for the 2024 Olympics.
In January, youth activists under the Momentum Movement launched a grassroots campaign to force a referendum on whether Budapest's bid should move forward. They collected 10,000 signatures on the first day alone.
The bid was supported by the government of Viktor Orban, a strongman who has thumbed his nose at the EU while happily taking its money; the bid's opponents were concerned about corruption around the games, and more broadly about the misprioritization of government spending.
In about a month, the Momentum Movement gathered more than 260,000 signatures for an Olympics referendum, dooming Budapest's bid. The city withdrew its candidacy, with the IOC complaining the process had been "overtaken by local politics."
The Momentum Movement parlayed its victory on the Olympics issue to start a new youth-oriented political party aimed at challenging Orban's dominance in national politics.
Rome tried to bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics, but Prime Minister Mario Monti announced the day before the application deadline that he would not support the bid. The IOC requires written commitments from government officials, so that was that. Monti argued it was unwise to commit to a project of uncertain but high cost in the midst of a national fiscal crisis.
Supporters of a Rome bid tried again for 2024, but the idea didn't get as far as the prime minister's office this time. In June, Romans elected Virginia Raggi of the populist Five Star Movement to be mayor. Raggi believes it would be "irresponsible" for Rome to bid for the Olympics, saying there are more important issues, such as trash collection and corruption.
"In ancient times here, Roman emperors offered the thrill of bread and circuses to appease and divert a restless population," the BBC reported after the decision. "That tactic, it seems, no longer works. These days, Rome is a city which can barely pick up its own rubbish."
Before Guadalajara, Mexico, hosted the Pan American Games in 2011, construction costs were estimated at $250 million. They ended up at over $750 million. The city was also expected to host the World Aquatics Championship this year, and in 2014 Mexico mulled an Olympics bid, reportedly focusing on Guadalajara and the infrastructure it would already have.
A study led by the president of the sports commission in the Chamber of Deputies—Felipe Muñoz, a former Olympic-winning swimmer—concluded that the idea wasn't feasible. The problem, Inside the Games reported, was "the lack of suitable economic or infrastructure conditions." The next year, the Mexican government withdrew Guadalajara from hosting duties for the 2017 World Aquatics Championships, saying it could not afford the expected $100 million price tag. Those games went to Budapest, where they start today.