Olympic Ambitions

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Published: April 6, 2015 12:41:39 AM

India has to consider if the gains of hosting the Olympics are worth the costs it would entail

India is planning to bid for the 2024 Olympics. Hosting a mega sporting event would be an occasion to show off its organisational and spending prowess, but are the gains worth the expenditure? There are tales of success—Barcelona, Spain in 1992, and Los Angeles (LA), the US, in 1984—but grim tales of ruin, too, abound. Think Athens, Greece, in 2004, and Sochi, Russia (Winter Olympics 2012)—Sochi also happens to be the costliest Olympics ever, with the tag at $50 billion. As per the NPR magazine, the 2004 Olympics, coming at price tag of $15 billion, was a major contributor to Greece’s debt burden.

Popular mood has swung heavily against Brazil hosting the 2016 Olympics after the hosting of the 2014 FIFA World Cup didn’t yield all that was promised. Not all investment in mega sporting events pays off for the host nation. In China, which hosted the 2008 Olympics in Beijing at a cost of over $40 billion, the Bird’s Nest stadium was opened up for paid use by the public after the games. The best it manages today is $20 Segway rides around the stadium for tourists. It is often argued that there are gains from increased tourism and construction. But a study by economists at the University of Chicago compared Olympic host-cities with similar cities in the same country or region for a period ranging from four years before the event and five years after, and found little difference in tourist influx and building permits. Hosting the Olympics would be a coming of age party for India, but with per capita income standing at $5,350 (PPP) in 2013 (versus China’s $7,470 in 2008), would India have come of age by 2024 to merit bidding for the Olympics?

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