POSTED: September 12th 2012

NEIL WILSON: Olympic success comes at a price

London just hosted the Olympic and Paralympic Games / SFC
London just hosted the Olympic and Paralympic Games / SFC

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications

September 12 - Hundreds of thousands lined the streets of London to acclaim Britain’s competitors in the Olympic and Paralympic Games, a triumphant end for the most successful Games of the modern Olympiad and further encouragement to cities around the world to bid to host future Games.

One warning though for those who do, and for the three short-listed as candidate cities for the 2020 Games: it will cost you dear. The tangible benefits of hosting an Olympic Games are not obvious and may not exist.

The British prime minister David Cameron boasted that there would be £13 ($16.25) billion in benefits for the British economy. It was a prediction that looked less likely in reality when retail figures for the period of the Games showed a drop of 0.4% on the previous year and online sales to the lowest growth in a single month since records began.  Millions may have been in stadia and watching on television but they were not in shops.

Those are the first figures to be revealed of Games time in London but they immediately mirror results at previous Games. Australian academic research showed seven years after the 2000 Games that they had a “negative economic effect” on both New South Wales and Australia as a whole.

The presence of an Olympic Games actually turns away normal travellers from a city. Hotels in Sydney found business fell by 6.3% and in Athens by 5.3% on previous years. In Beijing  the fall was a calamitous 39%. As far back at 1996 gate arrivals at Atlanta airport in the Games period were no bigger than in 1995 or 1997.

So business does not necessarily recoup a city’s outlay. Barcelona, a Games reckoned to have delivered a success, left the city authorities with a debt of $2.1 billion and the central Spanish government down by $4 billion. The winter Games in Nagano left the Japanese government with a $11 billion debt.

When the IOC considers the bids of Madrid, Tokyo and Istanbul next year it should take the budget projections with a large tablespoon of salt.  Athens made a $1.6 billion bid to the IOC for 2004 but Greece came away with a debt of $16 billion, a shortfall of 50,000 euros for every household that precipitated Greece’s decline into penury. Beijing’s laughable bid of $1.6 billion became $40 billion and Sochi’s projected $12 billion has long been surpassed.

Even the most successful Games in history by any yardstick has been achieved at far greater cost than London’s citizens were told to expect, at least twice as much.  So the bidding teams of Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo may be greatly enthused by recent events in London but their citizens should not be deceived. The price of success in next October’s vote will be massive.

NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books.

Keywords · Neil Wilson · London 2012 · Olympic Games

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