Free Minds & Free Markets

Five Cities That Got F*cked by Hosting the Olympics

Brazil, Russia, Greece, and China were all suckers in one of the oldest scams in sports

Every four years with the Olympics, municipalities compete to host the winter and summer games and virtually always plunge their cities and sometimes even their home countries into massive debt and insolvency.

Why? Because host cities inevitably spend double or more over initial estimates, fewer people show up than expected, and the International Olympic Committee, or IOC, takes bigger and bigger cuts of TV and other revenue streams. Sports economist Andrew Zimbalist says that a typical Summer Olympics generates up to $6 billion in revenue, at least half of which goes to the IOC. Winter Games generate even less money despite often being more expensive to host than Summer Games. Cities routinely claim that whatever money they spend on new facilities will stimulate the local economy for decades to come.

With the recent announcement that Paris will host the 2024 Summer Games and Los Angeles will host the 2028 Summer Games, here are five cities that got fucked by hosting the Olympics.

Athens, Greece, 2004.

Athens is the birthplace of the ancient games that inspired today's modern municipal money pits. Its 2004, Games cost $16 billion, or 10 times the original estimate. By 2010, more than half the venues built for the event were underused, completely empty, or literally falling apart.

Sochi, Russia, 2014.

At $50 billion, the Sochi Winter Games cost more than all previous Winter Olympics combined, paid for by a dwindling supply of Russian petro dollars and gold bullion. Boris Nemtsov documented that $21 billion went to "embezzlement and kickbacks" for businessmen friends of Vladimir Putin. Nemtsov was later assassinated.

Rio de Janiero, Brazil, 2016.

Plagued by low ticket sales partly due to the outbreak of the Zika virus, the Rio games ended up costing $20 billion rather than the $13 billion backers claimed. The Olympics were hosted on the heels of the 2014 World Cup, which also cost a ton of loot, and the showplace Maracana stadium, which got a $500 million makeover, was "largely abandoned" soon after the games and had thousands of seats ripped out by vandals.

Beijing, China, 2008.

The Beijing Games cost $42 billion, a record at the time, even though Amnesty International charged that the Chinese government used forced labor to build many of the venues. The IOC didn't mind the stratospheric costs or crackdowns on dissent, though: It awarded Beijing the 2022 Winter Games.

Montreal, Canada, 1976.

The mayor of Montreal declared that the Olympics "can no more have a deficit than a man can have a baby." Unfortunately, it took Montreal 30 years to pay off its debt just for the main stadium built for the 1976 Summer Games.

If there's good news here, it's that cities seem to be wising up: Paris and Los Angeles were the only two cities to bid on the 2024 Olympic Games and IOC was so anxious that there wouldn't be enough applications for 2028, that it pre-emptively awarded it to LA. But just like with professional sports teams that extort tax dollars and subsidies for stadiums that never pay back their inflated costs, it's likely the Olympics will keep finding new suckers for one of the oldest scams in sports.

Produced by Todd Krainin. Written and narrated by Nick Gillespie, and based on an article by Ed Krayewski. Camera by Jim Epstein.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Like us on Facebook.

Follow us on Twitter.

Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes.

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 or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    Well, it was just the taxpayers who got fucked. The politicians did just fine. And we all know those noble public servants did it with the best of intentions, right?

  • MarioLanza||

    This site is, correct? Trash talk for the sake of being hip and edgy is not rational reasoning.

    So let's dispense with the f-bombs and resume the adult conversation.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Few fates are as damning as agreeing to build sporting venues.

  • Stephdumas||

    Detroit had submitted numerous times to the Olympics. We could wonder what if Detroit hosted the Olympics instead of Mexico City in 1968?

  • The Last American Hero||

    If they co-hosted with Windsor, it could have been fun. Windsor would have brought the gaming, legal whores and underage women and Detroit would have brought a big flag or something.

  • The Last American Hero||

    And by underage women, I was referring to the 19 year old drinking age and not anything sexually related.

  • Uncle Jay||

    RE: Five Cities That Got F*cked by Hosting the Olympics

    Well, a fool and their money....


    I know this sounds a bit simplistic, but is there any way we could get the Taliban to host the Olympics?

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Only if we brought back nude Greek wrestling.

  • The Last American Hero||

    Or added that goat stomach game.

  • Citizen X - #6||


  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    My mind went straight to this.

  • Crusty Juggler||


  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||


  • XM||

    LA will find a way to f*ck itself, even though it actually has the infrastructure to host an Olympics.

    You also have to factor in the hordes of antifas who will descend upon the place.

  • BikeRider||

    I was wondering about this. I don't know LA well but if you take a broad view of "Chicago", then most or all of the sports facilities already exist. Along with the arenas for pro sports in Chicago, there are world-class mountain bike trails in Southeast Wisconsin, kayak rapids in South Bend Indiana, velodromes in Kenosha WI, Northbrook IL, and Indianapolis. There are many colleges and universities in the area with pools, tracks, etc. For the summer Olympics, they could even use college dorms and cafeterias for housing and feeding the athletes.

    I assume that there are similar resources in and around LA.

    If a region could apply to host the Olympics and use existing facilities, then the costs shouldn't be crazy.

  • gary47290||

    As I recall, the 1984 Olympics were a relatively sane financial event, because LA did use existing facilities for a lot of the events. Hopefully, they committed to recycling again for 2028 and told the IOC no fancy new single use venues.

    The Velodrome will be a problem though. In 1984, the completed, but not open to drivers I-105 was used for the biking events. There are no unopened freeways this time around.

  • brec||

    Fuck asterisks!

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    F*ck asterisks!

  • Rockabilly||

    Welfare queen

  • miketol||

    The Romans spent a lot of money on bread and circuses too. Look at how that worked out for them.

  • Joaquim||

    You fucked Rio de Janeiro spelling


Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online