In a telling quote, influential International Olympic Committee member Gian-Franco Kasper told CNN that the 2014 Sochi Olympics was too expensive.
“Russia did what [Switzerland] did in our ski resorts in 150 years in five years, that of course costs money,” he said. “And then they did it in the Russian way, as big and as beautiful as possible. But more than $50 billion was just too much, there’s no question.”
At a cost of $51 billion, the Sochi games were widely criticized for being wasteful and corrupt. A single 31-mile train and highway project cost $8.7 billion — more than the entire Vancouver Olympics.
But in light of the disastrous bidding process of the 2022 Olympics, it’s clear that the games didn’t just cost the Russian people, it cost the IOC as well.
Every potential host city for the 2022 games with a democratically elected government eventually pulled its bid proposal. Stockholm and Oslo both cited the exorbitant cost as the reason. Almaty, Kazakhstan, and Beijing are the only two cities still bidding.
For the first time ever, the IOC is faced with the perception that the Olympics are too expensive, and it knows it.
IOC president Thomas Bach has a 40-point reform plan that will be discussed at the next big IOC meeting in December. Part of the plan is to make the Olympics cheaper and thus more attractive to bidders who were scared off by the Sochi 2014 price tag.
“We see with the 2022 bids that we are living in a time of world crisis, financial crisis and that there are of course — and that is legitimate — more questions being asked by the people about the financing of the Games,” said Bach. “This is why on the agenda (in Monaco) we want to address the issue of reducing the cost of the Games, of reducing the cost of bidding.”
Sochi was the catalyst for these cost concerns and any subsequent reforms.
The IOC saw this coming. In January, IOC marketing chief Gerhard Heiberg told Reuters that the Olympics should not cost $51 billion because it’d hurt the future of the games.
He said: “We have to go back to basics. We need a competition where the cities will not spend that much money. If we continue what we see now, then a lot of countries will stay away from winter Olympics. I know (IOC) president is concerned about that.”
Kasper told CNN that part of the reform plan is to offer more financial assistance to hosts. The IOC is currently offering $880 million to the host of the 2022 Olympics, but that’s not all that significant against the estimated $5 billion it would have cost Oslo to host the games, much less the $51 billion Sochi spent.
Academics have long concluded that hosting the Olympics is not a wise financial investment. As the world begins to adopt this view, it’s up to the IOC to figure out how to make the Olympics worth bidding for again.