“The Olympics are a wonderful metaphor for world cooperation, the kind of international competition that’s wholesome and healthy, an interplay between countries that represents the best in all of us. “
– John Williams
During our recent trip to Barcelona, Spain I went on a mission to really see what the aftermath of hosting the Olympics really is. The answer I found truly shocked me.
First off, you must know, that both Luci and I are huge fans of the games. I remember fondly of donning my PJs to watch the games on our little black and white tele, watching the games. Names like Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Mary Lou Retton are linked with my view of the games. Victors of the games become national heroes overnight it seems. Needless to say, I am bias when we start to talk about the games. One must not overlook the international unity that the games create.
But what happens after all of the gold is given out, the spend-happy tourists have been lightened of their coin and the lights are dimmed? Then what?
Barcelona an Olympic Story
From the start of the games with its dramatic torch lighting display, there was something magical about the Barcelona games:
The before and after picture of Barcelona is just as dramatic as one of those cheeky weight loss pictures where a huge hulk of man is turned into a bantam weight string bean. The Olympics certainly changed the face, the mind, the strength, but certainly not the heart of Catalonia.
Barcelona 20 years after the Olympics
The Olympics have long been a huge endeavor for the cities that win the bid. The sheer expense of building venues, building infrastructure to get to and from the events not to mention the efforts to attract the patrons that help pay for all of the above.
Here are the quick facts:
Installation and prep for facilities ($460 million usd)
Services to Olympic Family ($370 million usd)
Telecommunications and electronics ($240 million usd)
Competitions ($100 million usd)
Commercial Management ($10 million usd)
Ceremonies and cultural acts ($90 million usd)
Image and promotion ($80 million)
Security ($40 million)
Sponsors: $580 million
Television Rights: $635 million
Bottom line: It is estimated that the direct investments related to the games of Barcelona from 1986 to 1993 reached over $8 Billion. Staggering.
The entire area of Catalonia is dotted with improvements. The stadiums and venues, primary located in Montjuic, Diagonal, and Vall d’Hebron, are a lasting tribute to the games. A lion share of these venues are still in full use today. Transportation improvements were significant. The improved ring roads of the city, improved mass transit capabilities made the city much more easier to navigate for come lately tourists like myself the and millions that call Barcelona home. There was an increase in new sewage systems of 17%, new green zones and beaches increased a staggering 78%! The results of these key infrastructure investments continue to pay mighty dividends today.
One of the infrastructure highlights is what has been dubbed, “the Most Beautiful Dive Pool in The World”:
Seeing the Olympic side of Barcelona today
Start your visit at the Joan Antoni Samaranch (The father of the 1992 Games) Olympic Museum. Located right next to the amazing Olympic Stadium. Wander around the many venues located on top of Montjuic. Footstep of famous Olympians adorn the sidewalk outside the entertaining Museum.
Money, Money, Money?
Over a third of the game’s infrastructure improvements came from private hands. This is impressive by any standard. The Spanish state, regional authority and local municipalities footed the remaining 2/3rds of the bill. The build up to the games and influx of investment caused a boon for those involved. The population employed in construction grew 72% from 1985 to 1992. The consumption of cement rose 74%! The trickle down effect of this massive influx of investment spread across the entire region. Average family incomes as well as tax receipts increased dramatically. (http://olympicstudies.uab.es/pdf/od006_eng.pdf)
What might be one of the most telling reflections on the Barcelona Games is the number of cities submitting bids to host their own. The total cities submitting bids went from 6 to 12.
Back to our original question asked at the begging of the post, do the games really help cities? In the case of Barcelona you must say yes.
The hosting of sport mega-events like the Olympics is so highly contested because of all these benefits you mentioned – economic boosts, tourism potential, infrastructure improvements, and of course the ridiculous amount of media attention. This is why so many cities bid to host the Olympics and the World Cup – for the exposure and the chance to show themselves off.
It’s good that Barcelona has seen such positive, lasting results after hosting the Games – many cities are not as lucky. In fact, most host cities go into more debt than they can really afford (I’m talking about YOU, Montreal), and often struggle to get out of it. But that certainly doesn’t stop cities from bidding! Everyone wants to host the Olympics.
So true. The downside is always the cost. It is a heavy, heavy burden on so many levels for cities to bid, let alone host a games.