With the 2018 Winter Olympics now over and the world’s curling addiction having to wait for years for its next fix, it’s a good time to look back on some of the legacies of Pyeongchang Games. Most famously, once the Paralympics are over on March 18, the main Olympic stadium will be torn down after hosting just four events, at a total cost of $10 million per hour of use, as Michigan sports economics researcher Judith Grant Long told WBUR radio.
This, though, is actually a good thing, argues Quartz’s Josh Horwitz, because it enabled Pyeongchang to keep its construction costs low (a mere $75 million for the stadium structure itself, compared to $600 million for the Sochi main Olympic stadium that currently serves as a mostly empty soccer venue. And at least South Korea won’t be on the hook for maintaining the place once the Olympics are over.
All of which is true, but even $75 million for a building that only opened its gates four times is a pretty flagrant waste of money — unless the revenues from the Games were enough to pay for it, which they’re not. The bigger problem here is the requirement to keep building new venues in new cities every two years, which Horwitz acknowledges could be solved by just sticking the Olympics in one place and leaving them there, before dismissing that idea as unpalatable to the IOC:
“If you look at events like the Tour de France that are put on over and over by the same organizers, they get very good at doing it,” [Oxford University professor Bent Flyvbjerg] says. With the Olympics,”you’re always giving it to beginners that have never tried it, or if they’ve done it before, it’s so many decades ago that the experience they gained is not relevant.”
The International Olympic Committee is unlikely to welcome this solution. Keeping the Olympics in a single host would potentially give local organizers more control over the games than the IOC itself. It could also leave the games vulnerable to the political or economic problems a country faces at a given time.
To be honest, neither of those seem like huge obstacles — plenty of Olympics have ended up plagued by political and economic problems anyway, and more control by local organizers is only a bad thing for the Olympics if you take it to mean “can’t get billions of dollars in subsidies every other year to help fund fancier and fancier venues.” But certainly the IOC doesn’t want to consider a permanent host (or even a rotating set of permanent hosts), and is instead encouraging “sustainability” ideas like popup stadiums, which are at least somewhat less costly and embarrassing when they sit around rusting later.
The only way any of this will change is if cities stop bidding on the Olympics, and as Vox notes, things are starting to head in that direction. There are still plenty of candidates to host the 2026 Winter Games, though, so unless a whole lot of them drop out before the winner is picked in fall of 2019, it’s unlikely the IOC is going to see this as an existential crisis. It definitely helps that there’s more reporting going on of how hosting the Olympics is an incredible money suck for cities — this certainly wasn’t the case when I first wrote about it 18 years ago — but as long as there are still a few suckers out there, the IOC is extremely unlikely to significantly reform its act.