Measuring the Value of the Olympics

The countdown to the 2010 Olympics is moving into full steam fury.

Today’s Toronto Star has an article dubbed “Are the Olympics Worth It?

It’s roughly 10 days until the Olympics begins. Don’t you think that this question should have been asked almost 4 years ago, prior to Canada’s bid? I would imagine that it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to review the Olympic history from the past 10 years to realize that no, the Olympics aren’t generally worth it. The host country and the host city invariably ends up with the short and dirty end of the stick. The general population of the host area is pushed to the sidelines for a month, and the Olympic committee wields its power like a spoiled tyrant.

Business Week suggests that only Athens and Los Angeles have ever turned a profit. The WSJ reports that the Athens Olympics ended up with a $14B price tag, and Greece is left holding the bag with a ghost town Olympic village.

The Vancouver Sun has 10 Signs of Trouble, and it’s primarily related to the financing of the Olympics.

Even this week, Macleans is reporting that overall, British Columbians are less supportive of the Olympics than the rest of the Canadian population. It’s very telling that event tickets are sold, but no one is buying *bus passes* to get to the venues. That tells me that it’s not Vancouverites/Canadians who have bought up the tickets, but some ticket scalper conglomeration.

In 2006, it was reported that the Vancouver Olympics was going to cost $2.5B. Now, that number has ballooned to over $6B, and chances are it’s going to exceed even that vast amount.

Imagine what $6B could do. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation just donated $10B to vaccine research. Now that’s a world changing initiative. Globally, over $4B has been donated to Haiti.

According to Wikipedia, there will be 5500 athletes and officials. That’s over $1,000,000 spent per athlete and official. I realize that these are [generally] amateur athletes, and they survive on sponsorships, but that’s a very small ratio of sponsorship to individuals who benefit from the sponsorships.

Imagine that value being spent where it can do the most good. Eighty countries participate in the Olympics, of those, I would hazzard a guess that 1/3 to 1/2 of those countries have a substantial proportion of their population living below the poverty line. These people will never see the Olympics, simply because their standard of living is so low as to prohibit the infrastructure required to view an event half way around the world from them. They’re worried about more pressing issues, like food, clean water, death.

It’s all about perspective.