Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Why the Montreal Olympics were so Durned Expensive

Yesterday I ran across an article about the remaining bids for the 2022 Olympics.  The short version is that it seems to be coming down to Kazakhstan or China as hosts.  In other words, here comes Beijing 2022!  One of the common themes for cities withdrawing bids is that the Olympics are always big money losers.  I know from my other reading that this isn't true.  For some time I've thought of tracking down past Olympic games and creating some kind of chart but a little research (thanks Google!) and I found one.  I'll try to break that one down soon. 
In the meantime, I wanted to talk about the poster child for the 'Olympics are money losers' argument: host of the '76 games, Montreal.  The games were wildly over budget and only paid off in 2006.  It took an additional 30 years after the games ended to finally pay them off.  That's a long time. 
What happened?  The biggest culprit is probably the Montreal mayor, Jean Drapeau.  When they were bidding, he promised austerity and that the games would be 'very humble, with simplicity and humility'.  This didn't happen.  The estimated cost was for $125 million but the final bill came in at nearly $2 billion.  This means that they budgeted for about 1/16 of the true cost. 
From the book 'The Olympics' by Allen Guttman:
Drapeau's chosen Parisian architect, Roger Tallibert, designed a magnificent $350-million stadium whose spectacular retractable roof was not completed until years after the games, Drapeau rewarded Taillibert with a bonus that Nick Auf der Maur estimated at nearly $50,000,000. In the face of considerable adverse criticism, Tallibert, was by no means abashed: "The West will one day have to acknowledge that sports installations, however costly they may be to build and maintain, must be included in the State's budget in the same way as the manufacture of arms."
Drapwau, whose support of Tallibert never wavered, appointed his cronies to the organizing committee, which proved unable to cope with the extortionate demands of the construction firms and labor unions working on the facilities. Workers struck, workers lollygagged, workers demanded and received overtime pay to make up for time lost in labor disputes. The judgement voiced by Reet and Max Howell seems just: "In addition to the astronomical architect's fees and structural design problems, contributory factors were inflation, strikes, fraud, corruption and inept coordination.
Drapeau had said 'The Olympics can no more lose money than a man can have a baby'.  He somehow thought it would be impossible to lose money.  That didn't turn out to be true.  The official after report said that the losses were just under a billion ($990 million).  This would be the most costly Olympic debt . . . until 2000. 

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