Remember the 2002 Olympics? A lot of people felt that was the moment that put Utah on the world map. Fourteen years later, with traffic woes and population continually increasing, many people probably wish we’d flew a little more under the radar. Yet, it looks like state leaders are ready to champ at the bit again. Governor Herbert in July said, “We are capable of hosting the Winter Olympics again. In fact, I would say we are the best place, not only in North America, but maybe the best place in the world to host a Winter Olympics again.” right before signing resolution that says Utah is ready, willing, and able to host the Olympics again. Jeff Robbins, Utah Sports commission president and CEO said, “Ready, willing and able is our motto. We’re in a great position should a winter bid become available.” And if you don’t think the Mountain Accord’s train concept up Little Cottonwood isn’t tied at all to an Olympic bid, I think you’re missing something.
The question is, does the average Utahn want another Olympics? I realize the Governor does, so he can tout the economic benefits that may (or may not come). I realize those with businesses (or work for businesses) that would benefit from tourism might want another Olympics. I would guess government agencies that would get an infusion of cash to improve infrastructure would probably be all for another Olympics. However, what about you… would it be good for you? Personally, I’m not sure what benefit it would bring me or my family? Most importantly, I can see the downsides.
With that as a backdrop, Outside Magazine has just published an article entitled Why the U.S. Should Never Host Another Olympics. It’s an interesting read that begins with how Boston dropped out of the running for the 2024 Summer Olympics (due to potential costs), touches on the bribery that took place in getting the 2002 Olympics in SLC, and speaks to how petulant the IOC acted when Norway said “No thanks” to the 2022 Winter Olympics due to IOC member demands and the financial cost. Yet, it provides a number of other arguments:
- Olympic building and hosting processes damage the environment.
- “The Games overrun with 100 percent consistency. No other type of megaproject is this consistent regarding cost overrun,” concluded a 2012 study by Oxford University economists Brent Flyvbjerg and Allison Stewart. Think about that for a moment. Every Olympics, from 1960 through 2012—and that doesn’t even count the massive Sochi boondoggle of 2014—has run over budget. And not by just a little.
- With an average cost overrun in real terms of 179 percent—and 324 percent in nominal terms—overruns in the Games have historically been significantly larger than for other types of megaprojects, including infrastructure, construction, ICT, and dams…
- The IOC insists that hosting is a huge honor for any city. The Games, it argues, lead to all sorts of wondrous economic, social, and athletic miracles . This isn’t true. Stephen Billings, an economics professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, who has studied the economic impact of hosting the Games… he says having an Olympics in your city is, at best, “a wash.”
- Even that best-case scenario turns out to be bad for a city and country. When economists James Giesecke and John R. Madden of Monash University looked at the Sydney 2000 Games—with a view toward asking what would have happened if the money had been spent in other ways—they found that “in terms of measurable economic welfare, the Sydney Olympics came as a cost to Australians, reducing the present value of real private and public consumption by $2.1 billion.
- The only Olympics in modern times that officially didn’t lose money were the 1984 Summer Games in L.A. Despite cost overruns, chief organizer Peter Ueberroth sold the hell out of them to TV and corporate sponsors, and L.A. bragged that it made more than $200 million on the deal. But that’s creative accounting. When city organizers tally up costs versus income, they conveniently leave out the government’s—that is, taxpayers’—share.
- They estimate costs for security at the 2022 game in LA will at least cost $1.5 Billion.That money could be used to install solar on 150,000 Los Angeles area homes.
The best quote of the article comes at the end… “Let them [Other countries] have it. Let them build white-elephant stadiums and Potemkin villages. We’ve got schools and bridges to raise, teachers to pay, parks to create and maintain. The United States doesn’t need the Olympics.”
I’ve heard through the grapevine that some of the “powers that be” think Utah may be able to host an Olympics for the “paltry” amount of $1 billion, since a lot of the infrastructure from 2002 still exists. I’ll believe that when I see it (and also remember that every Olympics goes over budget). I’ll also remember that $1 billion is ONE BILLION DOLLARS. Somebody is going to pay for it…and there will likely be a lot of Utah tax dollars in there.
Of course, I never want to speak for everyone. Perhaps the majority don’t care about spending tax dollars on two weeks of Olympic fun, think the benefits will outweigh, or just think it would be neat. Fair enough. What I do hope is that before Utah commits to throwing our hat in the ring, they do a public vote to make sure the people agree. If not, a whole lot of people are going to be on the hook for something they may not want at all.