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An Olympic hangover: how do the host cities fare after the Games?

Konstantin Sheiko
April 27, 2018

The biggest key to setting up success for a city after an Olympic closing is simply having a plan for years ahead. After the Games are over, the most pressing challenge is how to breathe second life in this expensive infrastructure. For example, only six months after hosting South America's first-ever Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Rio de Janeiro venues sit mainly idle and already in disrepair. The iconic stadium has fallen into a state of abandonment and has been closed to tourists due to a dispute between the stadium operators.

With a significant drop in tourism and rising crime rates, more critical voices in Brazil condemn the government’s inefficiency, claiming that the money should have been spent on civilian infrastructure and the housing. Winter Olympic venues, in particular, run the risk of becoming white elephants, thanks to their high price tags.

The 2004 Summer Games in Athens are often cited as having built some of the biggest post-Olympic venue failures. Greece built nearly two-dozen facilities for the Games. Ten years later, many of them have been abandoned or are rarely used. According to documentary project The Olympic City, most of the objects have chain-linked fences around them and they are covered with graffiti. It was a waste of billions of dollars. Shortly after the Athens Games, Greece plunged into a deep economic recession that further stoked public anger over the government’s lack of foresight. After the downturn, the Olympics became very symbolic of the government’s waste.

In Beijing, host to the 2008 Summer Games, the Chinese government struggles to fill its “Bird’s Nest” stadium, which cost $480 million to build and $11 million a year to maintain. Now seating 80,000 (after 11,000 temporary seats were removed following the 2008 Games), the site has become a tourist attraction, but lacks a regular tenant. Nearby at the city’s National Aquatics Center, the "Water Cube” now partly houses a public water park. One part of it was turned into a slide area, and hundreds of kids arrive to play here on a daily basis. 

Adults have to pay 200 yuan (30 USD) to enter the park, and a ticket for children will cost 160 yuan, a high price in a city where the minimum wage comes to 960 yuan (145 USD) a month. The most haunting former Olympic site is in Sarajevo, which hosted the Games in 1984 in what was then Yugoslavia and what is now the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. A decade after the Games, many of the venues were destroyed or left to fall into disrepair as a result of the Bosnian war. The podium for the medal winners is riddled with bullet holes and was the site of executions. Some of the mountains that hosted Alpine skiing races are believed to still contain land mines, and bombs destroyed Zetra Olympic Hall, which hosted the ice skating events.

But many host sites, especially those cities that needed the infrastructure buildup triggered by Olympics-related development, have turned the Games to their advantage. Barcelona, home of the 1992 Summer Games, wanted to revitalize its run-down industrial waterfront for decades before it won an Olympic bid, and they did a great job improving it for a long term. 

The venues in Turin, Italy, from 2006 have continued to be in use for events like the World Figure Skating Championships in 2010. The Games helped make Turin one of the top tourist destinations in Italy, and its Olympic facilities have hosted events like the 150th anniversary of Italy’s unification in 2011 and a display of the Shroud of Turin in 2010 that attracted more than a million visitors.

Venues like the Bolshoy Ice Dome and Fisht Stadium dazzled athletes and fans alike during the Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The arenas, ice rinks and ski slopes, which took years and cost billions to construct, are used in sporting events and concerts. For example, 40,000-seat Fisht Stadium, the site of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, will serve as one of the sites during the 2018 World Cup soccer tournament in Russia, as well as a training center for future Winter Olympians and a concert venue. As for the Alpine village of Rosa Khutor near Sochi, Russia it has become a domestic ski destination for tourists.

Host cities could take a lesson from the organizers of the Games in Chamonix, France, in 1924: Though the bobsled track and other tracks are no longer in use, the Olympic Stadium that housed sports like figure skating, hockey, curling, and speed-skating, as well as the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, still stands today and holds 45,000 spectators. 

In all likelihood, Pyeongchang, South Korea, will have a bright future. In transportation terms, it is very well connected to the rest of Korea. The country is very small, with a dense, primarily urban population. Millions of Koreans and foreign guests will continue to enjoy visiting Pyeongchang for years to come. 

Photo via Wikipedia Commons / AtlerEgo