Another Olympic Boondoggle

With the Summer Olympics just over a month away, London is discovering what other cities have learned, that the Olympics are not the financial boon that they are claimed to be:

The boom to the economy that the Government hoped the Games would bring to the capital appears to become a bust with tens of thousands to tourists spurning the hiked prices, congestion and heightened security.

While bookings for July and August are down by 35 per cent on last year other European capitals appear to be prospering from London’s gloom.

French ministers, who lost the Olympic bid to Britain, might be quietly rubbing their hands with glee not only for dodging the £10 billion Games bill but also with a 50 per cent rise in tourism bookings. Similarly Barcelona and Berlin have seen their tourist numbers soar by 100 per cent over the summer.


Mr Williamson added that “normal tourism” in other Olympic capitals such had Sydney, Beijing and Barcelona had dropped significantly during the Games and “took some time to recover”.

You would think someone would learn this lesson already.

FILED UNDER: Entertainment, Sports, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. legion says:

    Hosting the Olympics is looking more and more like a medieval village hosting a Royal Procession… You bust your hump prepping for the arrival of the Beautiful People, get eaten out of house & home, then they go on their merry way, leaving everyone except the local landed gentry all the poorer. But it looks great on the resume – just ask Mitt!

  2. mantis says:

    I’m quite pleased we did not get the games here in Chicago. It would have been a nightmare, and what would we have gotten out of it? A bunch of hassle, enormous costs, and a new stadium? No thanks.

  3. al-Ameda says:

    Why not have the Olympics settle on one venue for the Summer Games – somewhere in a warm or temperate weather location – and have all nations pay a share to build and maintain the facilities as long as the Summer Games are held there?

    The current system of rotating the bankruptcy and boondoggles makes no sense at all.

  4. James Joyner says:

    @al-Ameda: Like, say, Athens?

    You know who could fix this? Mitt Romney.

  5. One thing I’ve noticed is that the Olympics seem to work much better when they’re put in out of the way places rather than in the middle of an already congested metropolis.

  6. The problem with a permanent location is the time zone problem: the olympics always do worse when there’s a huge time offset from local time, so if they were always in Athens, you’d lose a lot of popularity in the US, Austrailia, South America, and East Asia.

  7. @Stormy Dragon:

    Which is why I find the idea of putting the Olympics in Chicago or the New York Metropolitan Area, or Washington D.C. to be utterly insane

  8. @James Joyner:

    Athens has been suggested as a permanent site before, for obvious historical reasons. Of course under current circumstances, Athens may not be the best place.

    It won’t happen, though, because the members of the International Olympic Committee have made a career out of being bribed by prospective host cities with lavish gifts, stays in luxury hotels, and like. They’re not likely to give that up

  9. Franklin says:

    What’s funny is that I have some friends who moved from the States to London recently for a temporary job relocation. We are planning to visit but put it off until later precisely because of the Olympics. So I guess I’m part of the problem here.

  10. Vast Variety says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Are you suggesting that we stop having the Olympics?

  11. Vast,

    I couldn’t possibly care less if we had the Olympics or not

  12. @Doug Mataconis:

    I care. I got really into curling in college (there was a Canadian station of the college cable network) and since I’ve graduated, the only time I get to see it is during the Winter Olympics.

  13. al-Ameda says:

    @James Joyner:
    Athens would be great

    You know who could fix this? Mitt Romney.

    Mitt ended up getting the feds to kick in $540 million or so to support the Salt Lake City Olympics.

  14. Vast Variety says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Then I’m not sure I understand why you would care about what their spending on it. It’s been long understood that the hosts loose money or at best break even, even more so post 9/11 due to the massive security attached to it.

    The Olympics are probably the only thing the entire world can seem to do together that doesn’t involve massive amounts of bloodshed. To me that alone is worth the cost.

  15. Vast,

    Hey if the Brits, or the Brazlians, or whoever, want to waste a ton of money hosting the Olympics let them. As far as I’m concerned the U.S, and American cities and states, should get out of the business of kissing the posterior of the International Olympic Committee for the dubious privilege of hosting an event that will end up losing them money.

  16. @Franklin:

    One commentator over the weekend said that London’s tourist business will likely benefit more from the Queen’s Diamond Jubilees, which lasted four days, than from two weeks of the Olympics.

  17. Anthony says:

    @Doug Mataconis: @Doug Mataconis:

    I haven’t any figures to hand to support that, but my gut instinct, based on what I’ve seen over the past few days, is that it’s almost certainly true. London was thronging with foreign visitors, many of them over especially for the Jubilee. Furthermore, the whole show came in at a fraction of the cost and logistical upheaval the Olympic Games is going to impose.

    The British public as a whole fell in love with the Olympics for precisely as long as it took to enjoy to enraged look on the faces of French officials as they realised they’d blown it. Most people weren’t interested beforehand and the disillusionment and irritation set in very shortly after London was named the winner. Within a matter of months the cost projections had doubled, which left many people with the feeling (probably correctly) that they’d been lied to. There’s a strong view in provincial England that the games will be paid for the by UK as a whole, while most of the benefit (such as it is) will be enjoyed in London. This stands in strong contrast to the jubilee. The epicentre was in London, but there were events across the country and a feeling that everyone could get involved. There’s been further resentment in recent months sparked by revelations that much of central London is going to be turned into a “brand exclusion zone”, whereby advertising space is going to be given over exclusively to the Olympics’ blue chip sponsors and everything else purged. We were also told that the Olympics would be great for sport in Britain, but then it turned out that, due to the massive costs, money was being pulled from all sorts of provincial sports facilities in order to fund it. Basically, the sports budget is being redirected to prop up the Olympics. I think most people aren’t clear how it’s good for British sport when civic sports facilities are now closing because it’s sucking in resources like a black hole.

    That’s not to say nobody’s excited. Of course there’s some excitement. But I think it’s fair to say that in the eyes of most Britons it’s got nothing to offer them. There’s been huge delight and enjoyment here over the past few days (the fact that it’s a bit eccentric doesn’t make it less real) and I don’t think the Olympics has a cat in hell’s chance of matching it.

    We were told it wouldn’t cost a lot. It has.
    We were told it would turn a profit. It won’t.
    We were told it would be great for tourism. Tourism’s taken a hit.
    We were told it would be good for British business. But it turns out it’s only good for those businesses willing and able to cross the IOC’s palm with silver.
    We were told it would be great for British sport. Sporting facilities are closing across the country because there’s no money left.

    What’s to like? The frustration is only multiplied by the fact that much of the public predicted most of this from the beginning.

  18. Anthony,

    Not to mention the fact that Londoners are about to have a security blanket imposed over them that is going to make daily life quite inconvenient. And who knows what that’s going to cost?

  19. Anthony says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    One can only imagine it’s going to be expensive. Of course, the press have been having a field day. Stories about people being approached by the government to get permission to temporarily deploy surface to air missiles on their roof and the like.


  20. @Anthony:

    Yes, I’ve seen reports about the SAMs on roofs issue. Good lord, it’s like they’re preparing for the Blitz

  21. Franklin says:

    @Stormy Dragon: I’ve played curling. Once. It was fun, and if the place was closer by I would even do it occasionally. But watching on TV? Mmmmm …

  22. André Kenji de Sousa says:

    1-) The problem of hosting the Olympics in isolated places is that the infrastructure that would have to be built would not be used after the games. A stadium built specially for the Olympics in Chicago or New York becomes part of the city´s sports infrastructure, a stadium built specially for the Olympics in Boise or in Wichita becomes a White Elephant.

    2-) Hosting the Olympics in the United States is not a problem because most major cities have a very good sports infrastructure that´s already built. That´s why the Atlanta and Los Angeles games were so successfully financially speaking. The United States is the only recent country to host the World Cup that did not have to built stadiums specially for the event, believe or not.

    3-) Part of the problem is that some cities did very well with the Olympics, specially in the 80´s and the 90´s, when these events were more important. It helped Barcelona to become one of the major touristic and event destination in Europe. The Olympics is paying off, even twenty years after the games.

    There is also a matter of prestige.

  23. superdestroyer says:

    People forget that sports becomes a squeeze out for other forms of entertainment. If a city builds a football stadium down town, then there is a huge building that is rarely used. And people who spend money on sports spot spending money on other items.

    Also, there is a finite number of entertainment dollars. If people in money on the Olympics, they are not spending mother elsewhere. Most restaurants and stores lose money during the Olympics because other that spectators there is no one else around. The security discourages everyone else from showing up.

    Given the large number of professional athletes playing, maybe the Olympics are become an anachronistic and should be ended.

  24. al-Ameda says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    One commentator over the weekend said that London’s tourist business will likely benefit more from the Queen’s Diamond Jubilees, which lasted four days, than from two weeks of the Olympics.

    And that’s a tribute to the ongoing inexplicable fascination with the Royal Family. 4 days of the Jubilee is roughly equivalent to watching 4 rounds of golf, or 1000 laps of NASCAR.

  25. DRS says:

    A friend of mine lived in Sydney Australia and worked for American Express during the Sydney Olympics. Amex is both an international sponsor of the IOC and a national sponsor of whatever country’s OC the Olympics are held in every four years. My friend was assigned for two solid years to the Amex team that simply handled the Olympics.

    He said that the only people who made money off the Olympics were the people who rented their houses out to the international media conglomerates for their crews. (Big name media stars stay at the Ritz; camera guys and sound technicians bunked in six to a house in the suburbs.) People would put their household goods in storage, leave bare minimal furniture, and go stay with relatives – in another city – for the entire month of the Olympics. Some of the bigger media conglomerates preferred to book entire neighbourhoods so their teams would be all in one place and could mini-bus into the city or share cabs.

    These people made a fortune and his own landlady paid off her entire mortgage with the proceeds (which also meant that she didn’t need him as a tenant anymore…) with enough left over for a hefty retirement fund upgrade. The rest of Sydney….not so much. What Superdestroyer says above is exactly what happened in Sydney.

  26. @Franklin:

    I’ve played curling. Once. It was fun, and if the place was closer by I would even do it occasionally. But watching on TV? Mmmmm …

    It’s got all the things I look for in a TV sport: it’s strategic (between shots you can think about how you’d try to do and then see if they do what you’d do or not), the play is broken up into discrete chunks (which makes it easier to understand what’s going on), it doesn’t last forever (so you don’t get bored), and there’s lots of things to argue about.