THE REAL COST OF A GOLD MEDAL
Is hosting the Olympics a waste of money?
Well, UK Prime Minister David Cameron apparently thinks not.
He’s hoping London’s Olympic spectacular will deliver Britain a 13 billion pound boost over four years.
He better be right, given the angst no doubt felt by Britons who’ve watched publically subsidised Olympic expenditure blow out (as they always do) whilst they endure a double dip recession and all the cuts that have come with it. The upside blip in employment is of course only fleeting.
But what about the long-term economic benefits? Did Sydney, for example, experience a significant and enduring upside after it hosted the 2000 Olympic games?
As it turns out, after the Olympics audits are few and far between. So even as cities are bidding themselves crazy to get the Games, they are doing so with little hard data on what the long-term financial benefits might be. In any event, positive economic impact for Atlanta might be very different to positive economic impact for Sydney.
Different cities. Different offerings. Vastly different geographic locations.
And it’s probably important to know that cities tend to outbid themselves in their quest to win the Games. They keep upping the offering until they get to the expected return. Politicians are usually so intent on winning, they don’t tell us those returns could be negligible.
The cost of building all those stadiums, swimming centres and other infrastructure needed for Sydney to host the 2000 Olympics was approximately $2.2 billion.
Balance that out against the gains from Olympic television rights, and the 700,000 visitors (including athletes and Olympic officials) who flocked to Sydney, along with the extra 340,000 visitors who headed here in the immediate aftermath as a result of all the hoopla and the small increase in the export of Australian manufactured goods as well. It was good news. For NSW. But only in the short term.
In the long term, the picture was less rosy.
The UK’s Institute for Public Policy, which put together a paper as London was bidding for the games, found that for there to be a long-lasting upside from all the necessary expenditure of hosting such a huge event, “The Olympics must be embedded within existing mainstream programs and policy agendas that start well before 2012 and continue well after.”
There’s no doubt that London, like Sydney before it, will look more spruced and sparkly when the athletes and spectators leave than before they arrived. But whether this effect lasts longer that a year or so, and whether the host city’s showing off leads to greater international investment which benefits communities is another question altogether.
Unlike Greece, host of the 2004 games, where most of the Olympic infrastructure now costs the austerity-crippled Greek government more to maintain than its populace is happy to support, the Homebush site still looks remarkably clean.
Even better, it’s still used. Although every time I’ve been there I am overwhelmed by the vast expanse of concrete buildings and the remarkably few humans I see walking the site’s wide avenues.
But in terms of widespread, lasting economic benefit, it seems the Sydney Olympics weren’t all they were cracked up to be.
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