Hosting a huge party takes a lot of work and money, but it’s definitely fun. Those hours with friends and family are great. But the joy is fleeting, and hangovers are inevitable.
That doesn’t mean it’s foolish to invite everyone over. But it’s important to remember there is a price to pay before the guests arrive and after they leave.
The Olympics are exactly like that. Remember the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics? Yeah, it poured rain in the early going, but then the skies cleared and Canadian athletes won gold medal after gold medal – a record 14 in all. It was an awesome party.
It was also an expensive one. The organizing committee claimed it broke even on a $1.9-billion budget. But that included about $200-million in public money, and it didn’t include the $600-million taxpayers spent on venues, and the almost $1-billion they spent on security. Plus, the City of Vancouver lost more than $100-million on the Olympic Village in a real estate deal gone wrong.
Once the party fades into history, only the good times are recalled, and the costs are forgotten. So don’t let the golden glow of 2010 cloud the full memory as promoters push for Vancouver to host the 2030 Winter Olympics. This new bid follows an attempted one by Calgary for the 2026 Winter Games. Organizers there planned to reuse old venues and had a proposed budget of $5.1-billion – half of it public money. A majority of Calgarians rejected the plan in a 2018 plebiscite.
The Vancouver 2030 plan is likewise staked on savings from using old venues. Don’t forget, however, that the main venues for Vancouver 2010 – the hockey rink, the stadium for the ceremonies, the mountain resorts for skiing – all existed before the Olympics. This old-is-new-again sales pitch is not original, but it’s very much in vogue as cities around the world shy away from the gargantuan costs of hosting a Games. The International Olympic Committee has somewhat pared back the rigmarole in order to keep cities interested.
And with good reason. The IOC rakes in millions while host cities/countries foot the bill.
The Vancouver 2030 promoters published their initial financial estimates in a slim 14-page report earlier this month. The Games are forecast to cost $4-billion, of which $1.2-billion would be public money for venues, housing, and security. The promoters say all the costs of the organizing committee, to stage the Games, will be privately funded. The 2010 promoters said the same thing.
Then there’s the vagaries of winning a bid. Who’s on the hook if things go sideways, as they inevitably do, whether it’s extreme – Tokyo 2020 and the pandemic; or typical economic gyrations – inflation and supply chains squeezing Paris 2024; or the global financial crisis ahead of Vancouver 2010?
The 2030 promoters dutifully include one brief page on “deficit mitigation.” Item No. 4, insurance, does not sound good. The insurance market has “heated up significantly” but, rest assured, “there remains a strategy” to find insurance that mitigates “some risks.”
This is all happening in a rush. The bid must be finalized this fall, and the IOC decides on the 2030 host next spring. The British Columbia government wants more answers, and a better framework. It has told organizers it is “impractical” for host regions to “bear the full costs and risks” of unexpected events and suggested the IOC had “to reconsider its requirements.”
A unique element of the 2030 plan is Indigenous involvement. One call to action in the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission report said spectacle events like the Olympics should involve local Indigenous people “in all aspects of planning and participating.” This Games proposal is billed as Indigenous-led, with four first nations in the Vancouver-Whistler region at the helm.
But what has not changed is the math. Among the many studies on such things, new work from University of Lausanne professors on the fiscal history of the Olympics said the Games are “very much” profitable – for the IOC. For organizers? “Not very often.” For taxpayers? “Hardly ever.” Conclusion? Always beware promises of an economic windfall.
This page has consistently expressed skepticism about spending tax dollars on the Olympics. That position is unchanged. It’s simply not a wise place to invest public money.
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