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Fireworks shoot out of the CN Tower during the closing ceremony for the 2015 Pan Am Games.Tom Szczerbowski

Is there any spectacle more grotesquely misshapen than the Olympic Games?

No one does fantasy accounting better than the Olympics. Every one of the Games goes over budget, sometimes absurdly, laughably so, with taxpayers picking up the tab.

That's not the only problem with the Games. Another is that they've become glorified with all the same rich athletes you see in the weeks and months leading up to the Games and all the same athletes you'll see after the games. Do you really want to see zillionaire Rory McIlroy play golf in the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro when you've watched him all year in the Masters, PGA tours and European tours? Or NBA players dunking for gold?

Toronto is thinking hard about competing for the 2024 Summer Olympics. While it would be going up against a few heavyweight competitors, including Paris and Rome, and possibly Los Angeles, it has a fair chance of bagging them even though a Toronto win would mark three successive Summer Games outside of Europe. The IOC has never been keen on long absences from Europe, its home turf.

The Pan Am Games in Toronto were a good, if not spectacular, sporting and logistical success, and Toronto is in the right time zone for NBC, the American broadcaster that has wired up the Games through 2032. The success of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics would also work in Toronto's favour. The IOC would have little doubt that the Canadians are competent enough to pull off a global, mass market event (we'll forget about the disastrous 1976 Montreal Games for a moment).

The question: Why would Toronto or the other cities want the Olympics?

There was a time when the Games were cheap (even if they went over budget) and fairly tight, in the sense they were largely limited to the classic sports – synchronized diving and beach volley ball hadn't made cut yet.

They were also momentous geopolitical events, in the sense that they coincided, or were made to coincide, with a country's arrival on the world stage. Take the 1960 Rome Games. As Andrew Rose, professor of business at the University of California, Berkeley, noted in an essay posted on, the Rome games told the world that Italy was open for global trade. The Games were awarded in 1955, the year Italy joined the United Nations and began negotiations for the Treaty of Rome, which begat the European Economic Community, the forerunner to the European Union. In 2001, Beijing won the right to host the 2008 Games. In the same year, China completed negotiations to join the World Trade Organization, launching it into the ranks of the trading superpowers.

What geopolitical honour would be bestowed on the winner of the 2024 Games? Rome has already hosted the Olympics, as have Los Angeles and Paris (although the Olympics last appeared in Paris in 1924). Toronto has never played host to the Games and winning them would be little more than an ego massage. It's not like Toronto needs a coming-out party. While not a "world-class" city on par with London, New York, Tokyo or Hong Kong, Toronto certainly needs no introduction in the way that, say, Barcelona did in 1992.

What Toronto or any wannabe Olympic city does need is a way to avoid milling out blank cheques to pay for a three-week party. Toronto may promise a bargain Olympics, but so did every bidding city and, without exception, they were all dead wrong. The overruns have generally been outlandish – last year's Sochi Winter Games cost $51-billion (U.S.).

Here is what Brent Flyvbjerg and Allison Stewart of Oxford University said in a landmark study on the cost of the Games between 1960 and 2012: "The Games overrun with 100 per cent consistency.… Other project types are typically on budget from time to time, but not the Olympics. With an average cost overrun in real terms of 179 per cent – and 324 per cent in nominal terms – overruns in the Games have historically been larger than for other types of megaprojects, including infrastructure, construction … and dams."

No wonder Boston just pulled out of contention for the 2024 Summer Games, and no wonder the competition for the 2022 Winter Games, awarded to Beijing last week over Almaty, Kazakhstan, was so pathetically thin. Oslo, Krakow and Stockholm, cities that actually get snow, unlike Beijing, withdrew their bids after having been declared finalists. To them, the cost-benefit analysis did not work.

Toronto will be no different. The Pan Am Games infrastructure is too small for the Olympics and would have to be replaced. A monster Olympic stadium would have to be built and the price tag for that alone could be $1-billion (Canadian). Dubious dealings are virtually guaranteed. Watch the nice men who cherish an NFL franchise in Toronto, but can't get one without a dazzling new stadium, hijack Toronto's Olympic stadium plans. What better than to get three levels of government to subsidize the stadium's construction, then take it over for football?

There is a way to make any Olympics work. They would have to be austerity games, relying heavily on existing and temporary structures. The events would have to be scaled back and concentrate on classic sports, not just TV-friendly sports that you can see every day of every week. They would have to appeal to local audiences, not just wealthy international visitors. In 2012, Londoners found it almost impossible to get cheap tickets for the top events. None of this will happen, of course, which is why the Olympic Games will remain money-sucking boondoggles.

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