Winter Olympics have never been my jam. Maybe it’s because I’m from Hawaii and I used to be a gymnast when I was younger (if you can call it that) or maybe it’s because I hate being cold and (not-so-) silently judge everyone who voluntarily spends more time than absolutely necessary in the snow. I don’t know. But I’ve never been that keen on them. (But Boyfriend loves them so what can I do?)
But as an economics major, I don’t see snowboarding and bob-sledding anymore. I see a mega-event. And economists have mixed emotions about those. Easy there, don’t start begging – I’ll tell you why.
I’ll give you the cliff notes version (if you want the extended version, you know all you have to do is ask).
Countries who host the Olympics have to pay for it. They pay money to the International Olympic Committee for the privilege of having the Olympics in their country – which makes sense… the IOC needs to make money somehow.
Once they win the bid, they start with the infrastructure. Do even know what it costs to build the infrastructure to host the Olympics? No? Well, neither do I. It would vary from country to country and depends on how much needs to be done, etc. But remember that they not only have to build the venues for events, they have to build the Olympic Village. AND THEN. They have to update all the surrounding areas meaning road improvements, upgrades to public transportation, street lights, highway phones, sidewalks, transportation authorities… And probably a hundred more things I’m not thinking of. And when the Olympics comes to town they have to pay security guards and police men and transport workers and HEAPS of people to organise the ga-gillion (give or take a few) people that come to town. Wow. Just. Wow. Oh, and did I mention they do all of this with tax payer money?
The reason they get away with this is because they claim that hosting the Olympics will result in economic stimulation for their country. This is where things fall apart. Economists argue this point differently because we’ve all got ideas about economic stimulation and how much is actually because of the Olympics. There are lots of arguments for and against the Olympics (and other mega-events like the World Cup or the Super Bowl) being good for countries/cities. For instance, increased visitor numbers means more hotel rooms, more food eaten (in restaurants), more souveniers purchased (and shopping done – let’s be honest – that’s where I’d spend my time), increased use of public transport, drinks in bars, visits to other attractions… you get the idea. Yes, all those things happen. The disagreement lies in whether these things are enough to off-set the costs of hosting the event to begin with. Especially because some people are of the opinion that the cities’ residents are more likely to leave the city (or boycott the insane traffic and just work from home and order take away every single night – your basic hermitness), which would off-set some of the stimulation the city receives from visitors.
We don’t know, really. Maybe I’m being a fool and the literature is heavily slanted one way but from what I see… it’s still pretty divided. So I can’t pick a side. You can think about that one for yourself.
But I will say this: The argument that I have a problem with? The one that says that the country will get an economic boost even after the event because it will be a known city and there will be people who come and see the Olympic Village. Okay, now. NO. DISAGREE.
Can you tell me the last ten cities that have hosted the Olympics (winter or summer, I’m not picky)? Because I can’t do it. And even if you can name all those places… would you really go there just because it hosted the Olympics? London, for instance. I would personally never go to London just because it hosted the Olympics. Foolishness. You go to London for the dudes with the fuzzy hats and Big Ben and the museums and Prince Harry (mainly Prince Harry). You may drop by some of the Olympic sights. But would you go for that sole reason? Eh. Probably not.
That’s why people fight about this. Because there are too many variable.