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acuity | FEBRUARY 2015
FOCUS SPORTS EVENTS
t might be the most
elephant in history.
Ten years after the
returned to Athens, many of the venues
that bore witness to feats of sporting
prowess now lie abandoned and decaying.
As Greece stumbles through its
sixth year of negative economic
growth, stadiums that hosted cheering
crowds for beach volleyball, canoeing,
swimming and diving are overgrown
with weeds and dilapidated.
As Australia and New Zealand prepare
to host the 2015 Cricket World Cup, the
high-cost legacy of the Athens Olympics is
a salient lesson for those who believe such
mega events will generate endless riches
and transform nations for the better.
The euphoria that greeted the decision
to return the Olympics to its spiritual
birthplace has been replaced by the sullen
reality that Greece has little to show for its
Like so many mega sporting events, the
Athens Games were designed to kick-start
the nation’s economy, showcasing Greece’s
rich history to eager foreign tourists. But
many in Greece claim the massive public
investment instead contributed to the
European nation’s subsequent fall from
Athens is hardly alone in the pantheon
of great cities that have fallen foul of
hucksters who claim that hosting the
Olympics and other tournaments (such as
the FIFA World Cup) will deliver a lasting
and positive legacy.
Thirty years after the winter Olympics
were held in Sarajevo, the capital of
Bosnia-Herzegovina has little to show for its
investment but the empty, crumbling ruins
of long-abandoned ski runs.
Of course the former Yugoslavian capital
went through a terrible war ten years
after the event and, in a horrible twist, the
podium where medals were presented
was later a site used to execute captured
Another city that paid an exorbitant
price for chasing Olympic glory is Montreal,
use, in part because London’s team of
planners learnt from the lessons of the
2000 Sydney Olympics.
In stark contrast to Athens, the Sydney
Olympics showed that good planning and
shrewd investment can pay handsome
dividends. Indeed, the former Olympic
precinct – located some 20kms to the west
of Sydney’s harbourside CBD – is positively
booming 14 years after the Games flame
But it is worth noting that the Sydney
Olympics – declared the “best ever”
by then IOC supremo Juan Antonio
Samaranch – initially failed to deliver on
many of the promised flow-on benefits.
In 1993, KPMG forecast that the Olympics
would add A$7.3b to the Australian
economy and create 156,000 new jobs. But,
instead of acting as economic viagra, the
Games actually had a negative impact.
The most comprehensive study of
the Sydney Olympics, conducted by
the Centre of Policy Studies at Monash
University, estimated the 2000 event
actually reduced Australian household
consumption by A$2.1b.
As the authors – John Madden and
James Giesecke – explain, it was assumed
that the A$6.6b in Games expenditure
would “stimulate the labour market” and
lead to lower unemployment. But the
Games occurred during a period of low
unemployment “meaning that Olympics
activities – the venue construction, event
organisation and sports tourism – merely
acted to displace unemployment in other
economic activities, instead of boosting
The equally bullish forecasts of stronger
growth in tourist numbers, lured by alluring
snaps of Australia’s pristine coastline, also
never eventuated. In fact, the number of
foreign tourists actually declined after
the Games’ torch was extinguished. Of
course Australia was impacted by a series
of extraordinary events in the year after
including the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US
and the collapse of Ansett.
Despite these dismal figures the
planners of Sydney 2000 can take
great pride in how the Olympics has
where costs for the 1976 event blew out
by a staggering 1,250%. So badly were the
city’s finances depleted that a “temporary”
tobacco tax was only scrapped in 2006,
30 years after the Olympic flame was
extinguished at Montreal’s famous “Big O”
While sports-mad Australians and New
Zealanders rejoice when their sporting
teams and elite athletes conquer on the
world stage, there are growing concerns
that the costs of staging such mega events
are beyond most nations’ capacity.
Oxford University academics Bent
Flyvbjerg and Allison Stewart claim
that the Olympic Games stand out in
two distinct ways compared to other
“ The Games overrun with 100%
consistency. No other type of mega project
is this consistent regarding cost overrun,”
Flyvbjerg and Stewart wrote, in their 2012
study, Olympic Proportions: Cost and Cost
Over-run at the Olympics 1960-2012.
Athens experienced a budget blowout
of 97% while the 2012 London Olympics
experienced a doubling of its projected
budget. Sports-related investment clocked
in at a cool US$15b, making London one of
the most expensive Games ever.
Some claim, you cannot measure the
Games “dividend” in economic terms
alone. What about the upswing in sports
participation, for instance?
Well, if the most recent Olympics are any
guide, the “inspire a generation” rhetoric
failed to resonate with England’s youth.
Indeed, official figures released by Sport
England showed regular participation
in sport among 16-25 year olds actually
declined by 53,000, to 3.74 million, in the
year after the London Games.
Games organisers of course can still
boast of the “lasting sustainable benefits”
that London Lord Mayor Boris Johnson (see
page 13) predicted would flow long after
the athletes had departed.
Most of the venues built or refurbished
for London are heavily booked and much
of the infrastructure has been put to good
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