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The Olympics are no longer worth the cost

Updated: Jul 24

How the IOC can fix the Olympic selection process.


"Citius, Altius, Fortius" is the Olympics’ motto, Latin for “faster, higher, stronger” than the competition. But its new motto should be “Non Valet Pecuniam.” Not worth the money.

According to Andrew Ross Sorkin and Sarah Kessler of the New York Times, every Olympics has run over budget at an average of 172 percent in inflation-adjusted terms since 1960. The Tokyo Games initially cost $7.3 billion, but the actual amount was around $28 billion, while Rio de Janeiro budgeted $14 billion, but spent approximately $20 billion in 2016. The same story applies to the 2012 Summer Olympics and the 2014 Winter Olympics, and it’s likely to apply to China after the 2022 Winter Olympics.

“It's really a high risk, high reward (to host the Olympics),” senior writer at Front Office Sports Michael McCarthy said. “You're taking the life of your city in your hands, and you're potentially saddling it with debts that will take decades to pay.”

Cities invest enormous amounts of money to make bids to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), to create and enhance sports venues and facilities and to upgrade the region’s infrastructure. These steep costs have long-lasting effects.

For example, white elephants, or expensive facilities that have limited to no use after the Olympics, have become common. Beijing built a stadium that cost $460 million, but the country has rarely used it since 2008. For the 2004 Games, nearly all the facilities that were built in Athens are in poor condition and are rarely used.

These cities fall into immense debt because they don’t make a return on their investment. Montreal, the host of the 1976 Games, did not pay off its debt until 2006, while Athens’ debt forced Greece into bankruptcy.

This is the best solution for cities to get a bang for their buck: only select cities should host the Olympics.

“There should be a rotation, four to five cities, every four years,” NBC Olympic researcher Jared Carver said. “Places like Oslo could host it, (but) cities don't want to bid for the Olympics anymore because it costs too much.

“We wouldn’t have issues of countries pulling out at the last second. We would know where (countries are) going, and it would just be a more sustainable operation.”

While this idea will exclude copious cities, it works. Only allow cities with proven venues, facilities and infrastructure to host the games. This proposal route protects cities from themselves.

“It's probably something that a lot of (developing) countries or smaller cities don’t want to hear, but I think (it would) be better off in the long run,” McCarthy said. “(Cities are) trying to say, ‘hey, we're sophisticated, come visit us (and) ski here,’ but if you don't have the infrastructure built, you look (naive).”

The 1984 Olympics was a success because Los Angeles relied on existing venues and infrastructure versus building new facilities. This strategy made the 1984 Games the first Summer Olympics to make a profit since 1932.

For the Summer Olympics, the rotation can be Paris, Los Angeles, Sydney and Barcelona, while Salt Lake City, PyeongChang, Turin and Vancouver can be the cities for the Winter Olympics. The rotation can resemble what the College Football Playoff does as it alternates the semifinals games between the New Year Six’s bowl games.

When other cities prove they can adequately handle the steep cost, they should be allowed to make bids to the IOC, which can then vote to add them.

When the IOC adopts this proposal, it should update the Olympics’ motto to “Citius, Altius, Fortius, Magis Statutum'” - “Faster, higher, stronger, more proven” than the competition.


Derrian Carter is a graduate student pursuing a master's degree in sports journalism, who is enrolled in MCO 598 – Opinion Writing in the Digital Age at Arizona State University. Email Derrian at:

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