New arenas, giant swimming pools, an entire village full of furniture - these are but a few of the high ticket items that are required to host an Olympic Games. But what happens when the medals have been handed out, the athletes have flown home, and the tourists have all left?
In recent years, the trend has been to build bigger and better stadiums, top of the line lodgings for the athletes, and over the top opening and closing ceremonies. Every city wants to have bragging rights and out-do the cities that have hosted before them. But all of these things cost huge amounts of money, and while the income generated by the increased tourism does help offset some of the spending, many cities are left with arenas and venues that have no real life applications and high maintenance costs to keep them from becoming public hazards.
We all remember the absolutely breathtaking "birds nest" stadium in Beijing...it truly was magical to see the opening ceremony and the creativity of the various venues. But did you know that since the Games, this amazing feat of architecture has become nothing more than a glorified Segue park? The building itself costs the city of Beijing nearly $11 million dollars per year to maintain, and has never had an actual tenant! Nowadays, tourists pay the equivalent of around $20 to take a Segue around the track, and while the city has had numerous plans for repurposing the site, nothing has seemed to work out.
Unfortunately, this has proven to be the case with over half of the cities who have hosted the Olympic Games in the past 30 years. Athens had huge plans for the games to help recover from their brewing economic crisis, and while the Games weren't a direct cause of Greece's financial collapse, the billions of dollars spent on the event and infrastructure improvement surely didn't help matters - most of their venues are now abandoned and covered in weeds and grafitti. Sochi spent close to $9 billion on their railway infrastructure, and it now sits damaged and unusable.
But maybe there's a little hope for Rio...While there isn't much that will help console the nearly 80,000 impoverished residents who were displaced to build the new arenas, Brazil does have plans to put those buildings to good use in these communities. The "Future Arena" was built from easily disassembled materials, and the country plans to take the building apart and use those materials to construct 4 schools around the city. Other structures are set to become dorms for high school students or community recreational centers. Only time will tell if these ideas come to fruition.
While my family and I adore watching both the winter and summer Games, I sincerely hope that the trend turns to building more sustainable arenas that will add to the communities that host these events. The athletes will always put on a great show, and they deserve to have their talents showcased in high style - but maybe we could find ways to enjoy these great accomplishments while still offering future opportunities to the host cities and reducing the financial and environmental impacts. Any thoughts?