Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Keep the Olympics in Athens

Boston gave up on its bid to host the 2024 Olympics on Monday, a surprisingly wise move given the city was home to the most expensive highway project in the US: the way over budget Big Dig. Maybe the whole ordeal made Bostonians suspicious of megaprojects. And rightfully so.

Projects that cost a billion dollars or more--whether private or public--tend to take much longer and cost much more than initially estimated. It's not simply corruption. It's also just very hard to estimate these parameters.

Olympic preparation is a particular dumb megaproject. The building big, special-use stadiums is outrageously expensive. And that doesn't include the upgrades to transportation infrastructure, hotel space, and other projects. Brazil faced protests in 2014 over its spending and forced relocation efforts for hosting the World Cup and Rio's experiencing some of those same protests again over its Olympic hosting. It's no wonder economists agree that hosting the Olympics is a bad deal.

Maybe having a new host city every four years made sense in 1896, when the modern Olympics first began. There was no television. Radio was only invented the year before. But in the Information Age, a rotating host city is an anachronism.

Keeping the Olympics in Athens eliminates many of these cost problems. Yes, the infrastructure would have to be maintained but it will be far less costly than recreating it every four years. Countries would loss the ability to gain prestige from hosting the Olympics, but hopefully more cities will realize it's a bad deal and that prestige will morph into embarrassment.