Hosting the Olympic Games – Top 3 Pros and Cons

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The Department for Culture, Media and Sport, “Olympic Rings,”, July 28, 2012


The Olympic Games were first held in Olympia, Greece, in 776 BC as a religious festival to honor Zeus. The first Olympic Stadium was in an area thought to have been cleared when Zeus hurled down a lightning bolt. When not in use as a stadium for the Games the area (which never contained an actual building) was a wheat field. [1][33][34]

The early games included sports for male athletes only such as pankration (a combination of boxing and wrestling with only two rules: no biting and no gouging), along with boxing, chariot racing, running, wrestling, and field events. [51]

Paul Christesen, PhD, Professor of Ancient Greek History at Dartmouth College, stated, “It is hard for us to exaggerate how important the Olympics were for the Greeks. The classic example is that when the Persians invaded Greece in the summer of 480 (BC) a lot of the Greek city states agreed that they would put together an allied army but they had a very hard time getting one together because so many people wanted to go to the Olympics. So, they actually had to delay putting the army together to defend the country against the Persians.” [51]

The Games occurred every four years for 1,168 years from 776 BC to 393 AD, when they were ended by Emperor Theodosius I. [35]


A French nobleman, Pierre de Coubertin, revived the Games after becoming interested in physical education. The first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens in Apr. 1896 and included 241 athletes from 14 countries competing in 43 events. [36] [52]

The Games have been held since, with five canceled due to the world wars. The first modern Winter Games were held in 1924 in Chamonix, France. Beginning with the Lillehammer Winter Olympics in 1994, Games were held every two years, alternating between Summer and Winter. [33] [37] [38]

The 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, Japan, were originally scheduled to begin on July 24, but were postponed due to COVID-19 (coronavirus) concerns to July 23 to Aug. 8, 2021 and were still referred to as Tokyo 2020. The Games were closed to foreign and domestic spectators and played under a COVID-19 state of emergency. [54] [55] [56] [57] [58] [63]

The 2020 Games were the first time the Olympics were rescheduled in peacetime. The Games were previously canceled in 1916, 1940, and 1944 due to world wars. [54][55]

Despite the delay, the 2020 Games debuted four new sports: karate, skateboard, sports climbing, and surfing. Baseball and softball returned for the first time since Beijing 2008. [58]

On Dec. 6, 2021, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki announced a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics: “The Biden administration will not send any diplomatic or official representation to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympic games given [China’s] ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses.” Australia, Canada, Lithuania, and the United Kingdom have also announced diplomatic boycotts. [64] [65]

The Beijing 2022 Winter Games are scheduled for Feb. 4 – Feb. 20, 2022 and will debut seven new sports: freestyle skiing: mixed team aerials; freestyle skiing: men’s big air; freestyle skiing: women’s big air; short-track speedskating: mixed team relay; ski jumping: mixed team event; snowboarding: mixed team snowboard cross; and bobsled: women’s monobob. [66]

Cricket, squash, flag-football, lacrosse, and baseball-softball will debut in Los Angeles, CA, for the 2028 Summer Games.

The host cities for four future Games have been announced: Paris Summer 2024, Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo Winter 2026, Los Angeles Summer 2028, and Brisbane Summer 2032 (the Winter 2030 host will be decided in July 2024). [1] [2] [62]

Are the Olympic Games an Overall Benefit for Their Host Countries and Cities?

Pro 1

The Olympics increase valuable tourism, which can boost local economies.

The 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Games had a global audience of five billion with the Games broadcast in 200 countries. [3] More than 56% of foreign visitors to Brazil for the 2016 Games were new visitors and Brazil set tourism records with 6.6 million foreign tourists and $6.2 billion dollars. [4][5]

England welcomed more than one visitor every second in June 2013 after the 2012 London Summer Olympics, a 12% increase over 2012. [6] Those tourists also spent more: $2.57 billion in June (a 13% increase) and $12.1 billion in the first half of 2013. [6]

The 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang reported a $55 million surplus that was used for the benefit of sport in the host country, South Korea. [59] The 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics made a profit, helping to revitalize the city and transform it from an “industrial backwater” into the third best city in Europe, according to Travel + Leisure magazine. [7][8][9]

The 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles netted the city a $215 million operating surplus and $289 million in broadcasting fees. [10] The Olympics brought a record 43.2 million tourists to Los Angeles County that year, an increase of 9.3% over 1983. [50]

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Pro 2

The Olympics increase a host country's global trade and stature.

Host countries tend to be invited to prestigious global economic organizations. According to economics professors Robert A. Baade, PhD, and Victor A. Matheson, PhD, “the very act of bidding [for the Games] serves as a credible signal that a country is committing itself to trade liberalization that will permanently increase trade flows.” [9]

China negotiated with the World Trade Organization, opening trade for the country, after being awarded the Beijing 2008 Summer Games. [14] After a successful 1955 bid for the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy joined the United Nations and began the Messina negotiations that led to the creation of the European Economic Community (EEC). [14] The 1964 Tokyo Summer Games led to Japan’s entry into the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the OECD. [14]

The 1968 Summer Olympics allowed Mexico to make “the leap into the ranks of industrialized nations,” according to Dr. David Goldblatt, sociologist and sports writer. [15] Spain joined the EEC within a year of the 1986 Barcelona Summer Olympics. [14] Korea’s political liberalization coincided with winning the bid for the 1988 Seoul Summer Games. [14]

One economic study found that “the Olympic effect is robust; hosting the games tends to increase a country’s openness substantively and permanently.” [14]

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Pro 3

The Olympics create a sense of national pride.

According to a global poll, a majority of people in 18 of 21 countries stated their nations’ performance at the Olympics was “important to their national pride,” including 91% of Kenyans, 86% of Filipinos, and 84% of Turks. [11]

Roger Bannister, the first person to ever run a mile in under four minutes and a 1952 Helskinki Olympian, stated of his country’s performance at the 2012 London Summer Games: “Team G[reat] B[ritain]’s heroic success seems to have reawoken in us our sense of national pride… a realisation perhaps that, as a people, we have the ability, the drive and the determination to be great.” [12]

Moorad Choudhry, MBA, PhD, Treasurer of the Corporate Banking Division of the Royal Bank of Scotland, stated, “A genuine feel-good factor [of hosting the Olympics] can be very positive for the economy, not just in terms of higher spending but also in productivity at work, which in turn boosts output.” [13]

Lee Ji-seol, who lives in PyeongChang, said that fellow residents celebrated their selection as the 2018 Winter Games host city: “The entire town was out dancing.” [53]

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Con 1

The Olympics are a financial drain on host cities.

No Olympic Games since 1960 has come in under budget. [16]

Bent Flyvbjerg, PhD, and Allison Stewart, MBA, both at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, stated that “in the Games the budget is more like a fictitious minimum that is consistently overspent.” [17]

The delayed Tokyo 2020 Summer Games were already the most expensive Olympics in history, running at 200% over budget on Sep. 7, 2020 though not scheduled to begin until July 2021. Tokyo forecast $7.3 billion in their 2013 bid, but the actual cost is estimated to be $15.84 billion as of Sep. 2020, with costs continuing to rise. A Jan. 2021 study found that losing foreign spectators due to COVID-19 restrictions could cost Japan as much as $23 billion. [60] [61]

Each host city is responsible for these cost overruns, in addition to their original budgets. The average cost overrun for host cities from 1968 to 2010 was 252% for the Summer Olympics and 135% for the Winter, with the 1976 Montreal Summer Games running over the most by 796%. [17] Montreal’s 1976 cost overrun took 30 years to pay off, and the people of Quebec still pay $17 million a year to maintain Olympic Stadium, which is still without a roof over 40 years later and also needs $300 million worth of repairs. [17][18][19]

The 2014 Sochi Games ran between $39 and $58 billion over the $12 billion budget, an amount that is more than spent on all previous winter Olympic games. [20] The 2004 Athens Summer Games’ 60% overrun worsened the 2007-2012 Greek financial crisis. [17][21][22]

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Con 2

The Olympics force host cities to create expensive infrastructure and buildings that fall into disuse.

Robert A. Baade, PhD, and Victor A. Matheson, PhD, economic professors, stated, “host cities are often left with specialized sports infrastructure that has little use beyond the Games” and that the cities must maintain at great expense. [9]

Many Olympic venues worldwide sit empty, rusted, overgrown with weeds, covered with graffiti, and filled with polluted water. [23] The $78 million Olympic Stadium in PyeongChang for the 2018 Winter Games was set for demolition before the 2018 Games even began. [24] Sydney’s 2000 Olympic Stadium will be demolished in 2019 in favor of a smaller, more useful venue. [25]

Bejing’s 2008 Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium costs the city $11 million a year to maintain, and the stadium that seats 91,000 mostly sits unused. [26][27] In Rio de Janeiro, the $700 million athletes village for the 2016 Games was turned into luxury apartments that are now “shuttered” and the Olympic Park is “basically vacant” after failing to attract a buyer. [23][28]

Sofia Sakorafa, Greece MP and former Olympian, stated of the 2004 Athens Games venues, “We are left with installations that are rotting away because we don’t even have the money to maintain them. A lot of entrepreneurs and property developers got rich very quickly.” [29]

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Con 3

The Olympics displace and burden residents of the host country and city.

Bryan C. Clift, PhD, and Andrew Manley, PhD, lecturers at the University of Bath, stated, “To make way for Beijing’s 2008 Olympic infrastructure, an estimated 1.5m[illion] people were forcibly evicted from their homes with minimal compensation. The neighbourhoods were destroyed and residents removed to the outskirts of the city far from friends, family and places of work.” [30]

Residents near Rio de Janeiro’s 2016 Olympic Stadium, whose homes were set to be demolished, were forcibly removed in a “bloody confrontation between police and residents” that reportedly involved the use of rubber bullets and percussion grenades. [31]

Lee Do-sung, a local restaurant owner, expressed concern about the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games, “What good will a nicely managed global event really do for residents when we are struggling so much to make ends meet? What will the games even leave? Maybe only debt.” [32]

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Click for an Encyclopaedia Britannica video about the origins of the Olympic games.

Discussion Questions

1. Would your city (or a nearby larger city) benefit from hosting the Olympic Games? Why or why not?

2. What should happen with the Olympic sports facilities after the games are over? Explain your answer(s).

3. How should international events such as the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic) impact the games? Explain your answer(s).

Take Action

1. Consider “7 Ways Hosting the Olympics Impacts a City,” at Encyclopaedia Britannica.

2. Explore the official Olympic Games site.

3. Learn about the history of the Olympics, partially written by Harold Maurice Abrahams, subject of the Academy Award winning film Chariots of Fire.

 4. Consider how you felt about the issue before reading this article. After reading the pros and cons on this topic, has your thinking changed? If so, how? List two to three ways. If your thoughts have not changed, list two to three ways your better understanding of the “other side of the issue” now helps you better argue your position.

5. Push for the position and policies you support by writing US national senators and representatives.


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