Many people watch the Olympics, either in-person (around 1 million people attended the 2018 games), on TV (19.8 million people on average watched NBC a night in 2014), on YouTube or any other place online, and many people enjoy it. However, a question that more people are asking is, are the Olympics still worth it?
How did we get to this point?
The ancient Olymic games were held in the sanctuary of Zenus, in Olympic, Greece and the competition was among representatives from city-states and kingdoms of Ancient Greece. The first games were held in 776 BC and every 4 years after. 1612 AD was the first time in the modern games that the term Olympic was used. Up until 1875 various festivals and games used the word Olympic in them.
1986 was the first Olympic games that was under the guidance of the International Olympic Committee. The aim of the International Olympic Committee, IOC for short, was made to establish internationally rotating Olympic games every four years. At the 1896 games, there was 14 nations, and 241 athletes.
Around 1908 they wanted to hold some winter sports, like figure skating and ice hockey. These were in the summer games, and in 1924 the first Offical winter Olympic games was held. Originally both the summer and winter games were to be held in the same host country in the same year. In 1994, it was changed that the winter Olympics were to be held every four years, two years after each Summer Olympics.
Which makes you wonder, why are the Olympics held every four years? According to the IOC, the Olympics continue to be held every four years in tribute to the ancient Olympic games. Since the ancient Olymic games didn’t have time like we do today, they use the term Olympiad to count the time between each Olympics.
With the Olympics happening every four years, there constantly needs to be a different place to host it. There is a process that happens in order to be in the running to host an Olympic games.
Many cities don’t end up hosting the Olympics. For example, Chicago put in a bid to host the 2016 summer Olympics. While doing the planning, Chicago purchased a piece of land that was to become the Olympic village. The cost for that land, was 85 million dollars. But with all the interest, it’s estimated to cost about 140 million dollars. Chicago was shortlisted against three other cities to host the 2016 Olympics. They ultimately didn’t get to host the Olympics, and due to the secrecy around the IOC voting there is no official reason why they lost. According to the Chicago Tribune, the piece of land won’t fully be paid back until 2024. However, that is a ton of money spent and they didn’t get anything in return.
What about those cities who do end up hosting the Olympics? How much does it cost them in the end? The estimated true cost for the 2012 Olympics was around 9 billion euros (around 11 billion us dollars).
That cost is just for the city, what about those competing in the Olympics? It rely’s on the individual and their family to pay all the costs. Fencer Maya Lawrence told Forbes magazine that it cost her around 20,000 dollars to get to the 2012 summer Olympics, and most of the players don’t make that money back. Cyrus Hostetler said the biggest profit he saw in one year was $3,000. But they do get suitcases full of Nike and Ralph Lauren clothing, that they were required to wear to all team events.
You are probably think, what about the winners, don’t they get a medal and some money? The winners get the short fame of being an Olympic medallist, and they get to keep the medal. However, they don’t get any money from the IOC, instead some get money from the governing body for the country they are in. For example in Singapore, a few athletes have gotten $378,000 for getting silver. US gives $37,500 for each gold medal. Australia and Canada only give gold winners about $15,000 which really isn’t very much.
I know you are probably thinking that the people who compete don’t do it for the money, they do it because they want to do it. However you can’t keep doing something forever if you keep losing money.
The teams also need coaches. The coaches come from the national governing body for that country. According to the Washington Post, the USA track and field CEO at one Olympics made $1.1 million. For some people this may not seem like a ton of money, and in the grand scale of how much money the IOC makes, it isn’t very much money. You could say that the coaches should be volunteers but I believe since they are giving of their time they should be paid for it.
How do the olympics get from the stadium where they are happening, to your eyes? It all depends on the country. In some countries like the UK or US there is only one broadcaster. In the US, that sole broadcaster is NBC, which has had the broadcast rights to the summer and winter olympics since 1988 summer games (and the 2002 winter games). In 2014, the agreement between NBC and the IOC was extended until 2032 which NBC paid $7.6 billion for.
With the Olympics airing on TV there is a much higher stake and nobody wants things to be cancelled. However, the olympics have been cancelled before and they have been postponded. There have only been one time the olympics have been postponded and that is the 2020 Toyko Games. Which was suppose to happen in July 2020 but due to the COVID pandemic it was postponded in March of that same year. It was postponed to July 2021. You may think they would then change the naming of the games but they decided to keep the name for marketing and branding purposes.
There have been 3 Olympic games that have been cancelled in the history of the modern games. The 1916 summer games was cancelled due to World War One and the 1940 and 1944 games were cancelled due to World War Two.
After the Olympics are over, what happens to everything and everyone that was there? The IOC goes to work on the next Olympics, the people in the audience go about their regular life, the coaches start to train the next Olympicans, but what about all the athletes?
Some of them will go on and train for the next summer or winter games. Some will become celebrities and appear on tv shows, get commercial deals, and all the jazz that comes with that. Most however will either retire from the games, or will go on with their life and quickly and quietly fade out of the spotlight.
For many athletes who don’t become celebrities it can be hard to go from huge success in being in the olympics to go back to the old life. Many say that after they win in the Olympics there is only three choices, completely retire from the games, go into public speaking which requires you to keep winning, or coaching which requires you to keep up with the latest techniques. Only one of those three can be done long-term.
What happens to the stadiums, and the new buildings put up for the Olympics? Most of the cities can’t afford to keep up the maintenance needed for those big buildings so they become abandoned. Very few of the buildings turn into anything useful which is sad because the buildings are huge and look so good but if a city doesn’t have any use for them then it’s left to rot.
This happens in every city has hosts the Olympic games, there always some buildings that are left and don’t get used. There is some hope of the IOC requiring cities to only use buildings that they currently have and can only build new housing but as with everything it will take time before that happens.
What about the Toyko Olympics that were set to happen in July 2020? It’s set to take place at the end of July 2021, however the major difference will be no spectators. That means no international or local spectators.
This is a big hit to not only the tourism industry but also the families of those who are competing. You want to be able to watch in-person the person you know win big and celebrate with them. But that won’t happen and will either have to watch it live, or wait to hear the news. One upside will be that there will be less of an environmental impact, as people won’t be flying in to visit the games then leave once it’s over.
What does the future of the Olympics hold? The host cities have already been decided up to and including the 2028 games. Future host cities are starting to think about and plan to bid for games pass that. There are potential olympic athletes training for those games. Beyond that, it looks like the Olympics are going to continue as they usually do. I believe change needs to happen, not just because the Olympics are getting fewer cities bidding but it’s costing more and more to run the games.
How do we get more cities to bid on the hosting the games? The IOC needs to start prioritizing using infrastructure that was built in past games, or buildings that can be change slightly to fit the Olympic requirements. New buildings don’t need to be built for each games, because after the games are over the buildings go empty. Instead, let’s use the buildings that were built for past Olympic games. Yes they may need some work done on them but it will be cheaper and more environmentally friendly than doing whole new buildings.
I hear you thinking to yourself, “that means the Olympics are going to host in cities we have seen them before at”. And yes they we will, but do you really care? The TV stations don’t show any part of the host city so if you were told the Olympics were being hosted again but weren’t told the city, you would probably still watch it.
Will there be a point in which no cities bid for an upcoming Olympics? I think that will happen at some point, I’m just not sure when. It will probably happen when every city realizes that hosting the Olympics isn’t worth it for them. Let’s take the 2028 summer Olympics as an example. In 2015 the IOC announced five cities had bid for the 2028 games, however three cities withdrew which left with only two choices, Paris or Los Angeles. Ultimately, Los Angeles got the 2028 games and Paris got the 2024 games.
To close, it takes a lot of time and money from everyone involved to make the Olympics happen. And many people lose money from it. The Olympics should be changed to focus on using existing infrastructure or past host cities. Viewers don’t care where it is hosted, as long as they can watch it. I hope this made you think about the Olympics and what actually happens behind the camera.