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A bridge too far: Are the Olympics becoming too costly to host?

Published time: May 28, 2014 15:01
Fireworks explode around the Fisht Olympic Stadium at the end of the Closing Ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 23, 2014 at the Olympic Park in Sochi. (AFP Photo / Jonathan Nackstrand)

Fireworks explode around the Fisht Olympic Stadium at the end of the Closing Ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 23, 2014 at the Olympic Park in Sochi. (AFP Photo / Jonathan Nackstrand)

The Polish city of Krakow has become the latest city to pull out of the race to host the 2022 Winter Olympics. With two of the remaining four city’s also having doubts, is one of the world’s most iconic sporting events losing its appeal?

Krakow was largely seen as the favorite to win next year’s bid, after the front runner, Stockholm pulled out in January. However after a referendum, 70 percent of the residents of the Polish city decided against holding the Winter Olympics, which the country has never held in its history.

“Krakow is closing its efforts to be the host of the 2022 Winter Games due to the low support for the idea among the residents. … I regret that the referendum has put a definite end to … the project that I considered to be very important for the development of the whole region,” the city’s Mayor Jacek Majchrowski said in a statement.

This means there are four cities remaining in the running for the 2022 games: Oslo, Norway; Lvov in Ukraine; the former capital of Kazakhstan, Astana; and Beijing. Lvov’s problem is obvious being in a country undergoing political turmoil, while Oslo’s bid is being undermined by opposition from a large number of residents as well as one of the two parties which makes up the country’s coalition government.

"Believing that the Oslo Olympics would cost under $8.5 billion is like believing in Santa Claus, when the Sochi Olympics cost $85 billion,” said Atle Simonsen, head of the youth wing of the right wing populist Progress Party, who was speaking to Norwegian television. The actual cost of the Sochi games was $51 billion dollars.

That in effect would only leave Almaty in Kazakhstan and Beijing, which hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics games, left to fight it out and try and win the International Olympic Committee vote on July 31, 2015.

Delegations gather at the centre of the stadium as fireworks light up the sky during the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games in Beijing on August 8, 2008. (AFP Photo / Joe Klamar)

Hosting an Olympic games has often been seen as a way of generating extra income, or rejuvenating an area. This year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi transformed a sleepy seaside town into one of Russia’s most modern city’s, with facilities which will help train future Olympic champions for decades to come. The 2012 Olympics in London, not only helped to swell national pride, but also transformed a derelict waste site in Stratford, into an Olympic Park, which now provides low cost housing as well as a number of sporting facilities.

However, these benefits seemed not to appeal to Stockholm. ''To organize Winter Games would mean a big investment in new sports facilities, for example for the bobsled and luge,'' said Regina Kevius, the mayor in charge of sports events. ''There isn't any need for that kind of facility after an Olympics.''

The example of Montreal, which hosted the Summer Games in 1976, would be enough to put off any city ever wanting to host the Olympics in the future. The capital of Quebec went into massive debt, with the athletics stadium costing $770 million to construct, a cost which had risen to almost $1.5 billion by 2006, as poor initial construction and design led to numerous alterations having to be made. It took taxpayers 30 years to eventually pay the total cost of the arena.

Athens also suffered after holding the games in 2004, with many of the stadiums now derelict due to the high running costs of keeping them open, especially with the financial crisis the country has experience over the last five years.

However, on the bright side, one can look at the impact Barcelona 1992 had on rejuvenating the Catalan city. The games were hailed as one of the best ever, and despite going over budget, it was money well spent as Barcelona has become one of Europe’s top tourist destinations. In preparing for the Olympics, over three kilometers of beach front was created from what used to be a rubbish tip, while the marina was created to host the sailing events and is still in use today.

So have the Olympic Games now become a test of who can pay wins? Both Beijing and Almaty, which has a number of winter sports facilities already in place after co-hosting the 2011 Asian Winter Games with Astana, will have no shortage of funds available to fund their Olympic ambitions. China’s capital spent $42.5 billion on holding the 2008 summer games, and if Beijing wins, it will become the first city in the history of the Olympics to host both the Summer and Winter Olympics.