Paris and Los Angeles may have officially won big on Wednesday when the International Olympic Committee confirmed they'd host the Olympics in 2024 and 2028, respectively, but they're also poised to waste a colossal amount of money on stadiums that will wither away as expensive husks of former glory.
L.A. and California have every reason to be nervous, but before the host committee melts its keyboard buttons firing off an angry missive in defense of this plan, we'll just say that it looks great on paper. Plans to build an Olympic Village and media village were scrapped in favor of using UCLA and USC dorms. After a recent spate of sports facility construction, the city already has all the venues its needs for games.
Also, it's already hosted the Olympics before -- in 1932 and 1984 -- and retains some idea of how to do so successfully. Finally, $1.2 billion of the $5.3 billion that the city plans to spend on the event will be poured into infrastructure improvements that would ostensibly benefit the entire city -- while the rest is dedicated toward operations. However, there is a reason why Boston ran screaming from the same 2024 Summer Olympics bid that Los Angeles originally wished for and that Paris won: that price almost never holds.
When the U.S. last hosted an Olympic Games, the Winter Games in Salt Lake City in 2002, it cost $1.2 billion -- with $600 million coming from tax dollars. However, it operated at a $101 million profit and paid off all related debt by 2002. However, the $15 billion Greece paid for the 2004 Summer Games in Athens led to a $14.5 billion loss and a debt crisis. Last year's $13.1 billion Summer Games in Rio left local government so broke that Rio de Janeiro State University can't start classes this year because there is no money left to pay employees.
Most often, however, the signs of Olympic excess aren't on the books, but within the crumbling ruins of the venues left behind. While Rio's seemed to be falling apart during the games themselves, the globe is dotted with Olympic leftovers that now seemingly exist solely to decay. We took a look back through recent Olympics and found ten relics that are indicative of the often-fruitless spending that goes into this biennial debt buffet.
Video: Check out These Abandoned Olympic Stadiums
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Editors' pick: Originally published Aug. 18.
1996 Summer Olympics
Host city: Atlanta
Total hosting cost: $1.8 billion
Little more than two decades after the last U.S. summer Olympics, Atlanta still clings to some portions of its Olympic spotlight. Centennial Park and the torch are still there, while Centennial Olympic Stadium is about to begin its third life as Georgia State University's football stadium. However, the 7,200-seat, 15-court Stone Mountain Tennis Center sat fallow on 24 acres in Gwinett County for the better part of two decades. Gwinett County just spent $1.2 million to purchase the land, and is spending another $1 million to demolish the facility. Organizers claimed the Atlanta games made a profit and created millions in "economic impact," but this facility hasn't done either for much of its existence.
2004 Summer Olympics
Host city: Athens
Total hosting cost: $15 billion
Though the Olympic Athletic Center is still open to renting out the Olympic Stadium, basketball arena, velodrome and tennis courts, there's another facility in Athens that serves as an Olympic ghost town. Presented as a cautionary tale by The Guardian before the London Summer Games in 2012, the Helleniko complex is home to abandoned baseball and softball stadiums, a long-dry canoe/kayak course and a crumbling field hockey stadium. None of this includes the abandoned Olympic Village, aquatic center, beach volleyball facility, taekwondo center or various other fields and venues that have remained unused for 13 years -- which partially explains why these games went 97% over budget. At least now, the Helleniko serves as a temporary home to thousands of refugees.
2008 Summer Olympics
Host city: Beijing
Total hosting cost: $44 billion
We had our pick of venues for this one, with the baseball stadium, beach volleyball stadium and yet another canoe and kayak course (can we make some sort of rule about rivers for this event?) all in various states of deterioration. However, the Laoshan BMX course is the one that's most puzzling, since it's basically a bunch of dirt tracks with modest infrastructure for onlookers. This isn't something you could have just graded out and built over? Is it really necessary to maintain this as a ruin nine years later?
2006 Winter Olympics
Host city: Turin, Italy
Total hosting cost: $700 billion
Like Los Angeles, Turin already had many of its venues ready to go. However, unlike Los Angeles, Turin didn't have an Olympic village at the ready. While its athlete villages in the mountains were quickly turned into ski resorts, the village in the city itself fell victim to the 2008 economic downturn and spent years abandoned. At least until the first of the "Ex Moi" occupants arrived. African immigrants who arrived in Turin and lacked a place to stay set up a community in the buildings. More than 1,000 refugees and migrants live the buildings now, and local groups who provide support to that community say the occupation "shows how something could be used instead of being abandoned, with people who should be helped instead of being abandoned. "
2016 Summer Olympics
Host city: Rio de Janeiro
Total hosting cost: $13.6 billion
We could talk about abandoned golf courses and aquatic venues -- or even entire athletes' villages -- but none of those things indicate how far Rio has fallen as well as Maracana. Long the gem of Rio and the beating heart of its soccer culture, it was refurbished for the 2014 World Cup and placed at center stage for last year's Olympics. However, its current owners pilfered the state-owned oil company, saw their CEO jailed and saw French partners interested in the stadium pull out. In the U.S., this would be the equivalent of having Yankee Stadium abandoned and looted for much of the year and torn by street violence thats spills into the stadium on game day. Both the Olympics and rampant corruption have left Rio poor, violent and desperate. An ailing Maracana -- which Rio paid $400 million to upgrade and whose operator can't afford to keep the lights on -- is just a sad testament to all of it.
1976 Summer Olympics
Host city: Montreal
Total hosting cost: $1.6 billion
Is it fair to put a building on this list that was home to a Major League Baseball team from 1997 to 2004? Well, is it fair that Montreal didn't pay off the cost of these Olympics until two years after the Expos left? Mayor Jean Drapeau actually thought these games were going to cost $125 million, but bringing in a French architect who saw money as no object and a retractable roof as an artistic endeavor rather than a practical one will add some costs to the project. The roof, which was retracted by cables and made of Kevlar, wasn't completed until 1987, ten years after the games. The roof was retracted less than 90 times and continues to rip under fairly benign conditions. While the stadium is still used for events and its tower used for office space, it hasn't been a permanent home to a major league team in 13 years. Despite what it's brought to the city in the past, "The Big Owe" is still viewed as an unfortunate, overpriced drain on the city's resources.
1992 Summer Olympics
Host city: Barcelona
Total hosting cost: $9.3 billion
Barcelona is actually a fairly decent example of how to build for the Olympics. Its Olympic village was turned into apartments by the Mediterranean. Many of its venues existed long before the 1992 games. In fact, Barcelona built an entire Olympic facility on Montjuïc before losing the 1924 games to Paris and the 1936 games to Berlin. While the overwhelming majority of its venues are still in use -- with even the aquatic center still used as public pools, the Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys sits dormant for years at a time, hosting the occasional amateur athletics championship or concert. Now it serves as the site of an Olympic and sports museum and a great place to get photos of both the Olympic torch and Santiago Calatrava's iconic telecommunications tower. Even if it's vacant, a ride up Montjuïc on the funicular and gondola to visit the facility is never such a bad idea.
1988 Summer Olympics
Host city: Seoul
Total hosting cost: $4 billion
While it hasn't been left to sit crumbling like some of the other sites on this list, it definitely spends and overwhelming portion of its life vacant. Built for $447 million in 1977 (or roughly $1.9 billion in 2017 dollars), it spent roughly 20 years of its life hosting concerts and international soccer, but little else. It even lost the soccer once the Seoul World Cup Stadium appeared in 2002. Since 2007, it's tried to make a go of it as the home of second- and fourth-tier soccer teams, but it seems doomed to life as an occasional concert venue, which still makes it very fortunate in the grander scheme of things.
1998 Winter Olympics
Host city: Nagano, Japan
Total hosting cost: An estimated $10.5 billion
We'd like to offer you a more definite number on what these Olympics cost, but the bid committee burned all records from the event amid a bribery scandal. We'd also like to tell you that Nagano did a great job of recouping losses, but their brilliant idea of extending a bullet train line from Tokyo gave folks the idea that they could just stay in Tokyo for the event. The Olympic Stadium -- for a Winter Olympics, mind you -- was converted into a baseball stadium for a team Nagano didn't have. It never drew a team to the facility and only serves as a training facility and occasional game site. In fact, the five Olympic sites in Nagano's sports complex have recently been overshadowed by a soccer stadium built in 2015. The less said about Nagano's Olympic past and the overwhelming cost of maintaining its facilities today, the better.
2014 Winter Olympics
Host city: Sochi, Russia
Total hosting cost: $51 billion
How do you turn a subtropical beach resort into a year-round ski resort? You don't, but you throw billions at infrastructure that gets you from one to another in an hour. Sochi is roughly 43 miles from the mountain resorts at Krasnaya Polyana, but Russian leader Vladimir Putin didn't see the big deal. He ordered a road and railway built directly from one to the other not because that's a particularly high-traffic corridor, but because Sochi's close enough to Ukraine to the north and Georgia to the South to put everyone on edge. Oh, and because he could. Roughly $10 billion later (not including the $30 billion that opposition leaders say Putin and his associates pocketed themselves), the road and rail were built and there was a link from the Black Sea to the white mountains. You can still get between the two within an hour, but it hasn't made Sochi the winter-vacation hotspot Putin had hoped for.
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