There’s nothing quite like the Summer Olympics, and they’re here!
Every four years, the nations of the world come together for the time honored celebration of athleticism that is the Olympics. The Games help remind us that we are all citizens of the world, and hosting the Olympics is usually a great source of pride. On top of that, Olympic bids have sparked some of the most innovative and beautiful construction projects in recent memory.
However, in the arms race of Olympic bids, construction costs have gotten out of control. The most important part of any bid to host the Games is the collection of venues. In order to win the bidding process, a potential host must present extravagant stadiums and an impressive Olympic Village. The construction of these facilities and other upgrades has created an enormous bill for host cities, and many question whether there remains any real benefit to hosting the Olympic Games. Further, many of the incredible new stadiums have no use once the games have concluded. These issues have come to head in recent weeks as rumors swirl about the Rio Olympics.
Despite the harsh criticism of Rio’s (lack of) preparedness for these Games, construction issues for Olympic an host is nothing new. While these problems date back decades, let’s look at the relationship between the Summer Olympics and construction in recent years.
Olympics and Construction: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
In 2004, the Athens Olympic Games was the most expensive Games yet. Spending a total of $16 billion, Athens put on a spectacle that was considered one of, if not, the best Olympics to date. Athens constructed a number impressive of new venues, including the Hellinikon Olympic Arena and the Spyros Louis (Olympic Athletic Center of Athens). The Spyros Louis stadium has since hosted a number of big time concerts including those for Lada Gaga, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Shakira.
The Bejing Olympics gave rise to some of the most iconic stadium designs of recent memory: the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube. True to its nickname, the Bejing National Stadium was designed to look like an enormous bird’s nest with an exposed skeletal structure. The Bird’s Nest was home to what is considered one of the most spectacular opening ceremonies ever. It was lauded by one Olympic official as “a grand unprecedented success.” Steven Spielberg described it was “arguably the grandest spectacle of the new millennium.” The Bejing National Aquatics Center, better known as the Water Cube, features a mesmerizing, energy efficient design. The Cube has since been repurposed as a water park and will be home to Curling in the 2022 Winter Olympics.
London drew plenty of praise for the 2012 Olympic Games. Commenters described it as one of the greatest Olympic Games to date. Perhaps more impressive than the reception of the games is that the venues for the Games are all still in use, some having been repurposed to meet the needs of the city. One of the most creative uses of a former Olympic facility can be found in Here East. Here East describes itself as “the biggest, boldest & most ambitious Technology Innovation Centre Europe has ever seen.” Beyond that, the former Olympic Village is now home to affordable housing and a diverse marketplace.
Construction on Olympic sites regularly devolves into a frenzy to button up all of the projects at the last minute. Despite the priority London put on repurposing Olympic venues, the Games have established an unhealthy pattern of leaving behind empty, deteriorating stadiums with a huge bill to taxpayers.
Construction on Olympic venues in Athens was hectic to say the least. With the Games only months away, major projects were well behind schedule, including the main Olympic Stadium and the transportation lines between stadiums and the city of Athens. Ultimately, all of the venues were delivered on time for the Athens Games, but only due to late stage alterations and an extra push in the 11th hour. Unfortunately for the taxpayers of Greece, nearly all of the venues for the 2004 Games have been abandoned.
Bejing isn’t any better. The iconic Bird’s Nest sits empty, costing over $10 million in upkeep a year. The stadium has subsequently been used as a tourist attraction. Since the 2008 Olympics, it has been used for segway tours, has been temporarily converted into a winter theme park, and has hosted a wax museum commemorating the Games. While the Nest’s color-shifting neighbor has fared much better, the Water Cube struggles to break even.
The Athens Games were the most expensive Olympic Games at that point, costing €9 billion. €7 billion of those costs fell on the taxpayers of Greece, and that number doesn’t even include transportation upgrades that were needed to accommodate the tourist traffic from the Games. When it was all said and done, final costs of the project were over 5 times the initial budget.
What does Greece have to show for it today? Many of the venues have fallen into disrepair, as the cost to upkeep the facilities is substantial. While the Olympic Games did not cause the economic meltdown in Greece, it certainly exacerbated the problem.
When China hosted the Olympics in 2008, there were very serious questions ranging from air quality concerns to human rights violations. Ultimately, a number of athletes and politicians boycotted the games due to a variety of issues. One of the more serious controversies of the 2008 Games was the treatment of the workers who constructed Olympic venues. Migrant workers were exposed to dangerous work environments and were not given many of the basic rights that construction workers expect and enjoy. Workers regularly went unpaid and were not provided access to medical services. The exploitation of migrant workers prior to the Bejing Games spurred a 61-page report documenting their plight.
It’s obvious that there is an issue with the how host countries approach construction of Olympic venues, and we didn’t even get into the Winter Games (Sochi was a nightmare). While the Olympics may be one of the world’s most revered traditions, changes to the Games may be the answer to the trying relationship between the Olympics and construction. Should Los Angeles win the bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games, California lien and bond law should protect workers from nonpayment. You can learn all about those laws through our California Lien and Bond Claim FAQs and our other posts on the state.