The remains of Olympics past.

I’m not a sports fan and as such I don’t tend to watch the Olympics, but I think the oft-promoted “spirit” of the Olympics isn’t a bad idea even if it’s not really why anyone participates anymore. That said, you’d think there’d be a way to host said events in a way that doesn’t involve the building of massive sports infrastructure most of which will be abandoned after the event is complete.

This was brought to mind by an article over at Wired: See What Happened to the Venues of the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

Russian photographer Anastasia Tsayder offers an illuminating case study in Summer Olympics, a series that revisits some of the venues the Soviet Union built for the ill-fated 1980 Summer Games in Moscow. “[I wanted] to tell a story about the hopes for a utopian future encapsulated in this architecture,” the photographer says, “and about how far from reality these expectations turned out to be in the end.”

[…] Hosting the Games is not cheap, and many cities spend lavishly on infrastructure that is underutilized, if not abandoned, afterward. Greece, which hosted the 2004 Summer Games, spent billions building stadiums, arenas, and tracks that are now abandoned. Four years later, Beijing hosted what was at the time the most expensive Olympics ever; today, many of the venues stand empty.

Interior of Dynamo Stadium in Russia. Photo by ANASTASIA TSAYDER

Interior of Dynamo Stadium in Russia. Photo by ANASTASIA TSAYDER

Click through to the article to see all the pictures. As it turns out Russia has done a better job of using their left-over facilities than some other countries. The links in the second paragraph above have photos of other host cities that are left with massive complexes that are little utilized, if at all.

Detroit has bid to host the Olympics seven times — more than any other city — and has never won. The best it ever did was second place for the 1968 games which went to Mexico City. Detroit was invited to bid on the 2024 Olympics and they turned it down due financial uncertainty at the time and the fact that it costs $10 million just to make a bid. Detroit declared bankruptcy shortly after that so it was probably a smart move.

That said, with more and more places opting not to bid because of the expense of hosting only to have so much of what is built sit idle after the event is done, there’s been talk that the IOC is starting to get a little panicky and may be trying to figure out how to do an Olympics on the cheap. That led to at least one article in the Detroit Free Press on the idea of a joint Detroit-Windsor hosted Olympics that would require very little new construction:

“For the most part, the infrastructure is already here,” said Greg McDuffee, chairman of Urban Land Institute Michigan. “If we’re serious about re-establishing our city as a preeminent global city — what is the acid test for that? It’s being awarded an Olympic games.”

Under one possible Detroit-Windsor scenario, the only major event venues needed to be built from scratch would be a canoe slalom course on Belle Isle, a cycling velodrome perhaps on the Windsor waterfront and an Olympic Stadium at the old state fairgrounds that could later become home for a professional soccer team.

There would be no need to dig an Olympics-ready swimming pool in Detroit, thanks to the new Windsor International Aquatic and Training Centre. Indeed, the biggest likely hurdles to a joint Detroit-Windsor Olympics would be marshaling the money and political will.

“From a technical perspective, there is no reason why Detroit couldn’t host a games. It actually has some natural advantages,” said Stefan Szymanski, a professor of sports management and economics at the University of Michigan who has researched the possibilities for a 21st-Century Detroit Olympics bid.

Even in the scenario described above there would still be the expense of three new venues to consider. Soccer has never been huge in Detroit so the idea that a new stadium on the old State Fair grounds being used for a professional soccer team after the Olympics is optimistic at best. I’m not even sure Detroit has a professional soccer team. (I just Googled it. No professional soccer teams, but a few minors. They are trying to bring pro soccer to Detroit along with a new stadium. Good luck with that.) I could see the possibility of opening up the canoe slalom course on Belle Isle to the general public after the games and having that get some use. Not as sure about the cycling velodrome. Though if the latter were built on the Windsor side then I suppose that’d be their problem to figure out what to do with it.

All of that assumes that the IOC would be happy using already existing venues that aren’t as extravagant as something built from scratch specifically for the Olympics. Given the number of articles over the years about the arrogance of the committee, I doubt they’d be willing to settle for that:

Oslo 2022 bid hurt by IOC demands, arrogance – USA Today

Conservative lawmaker Geir Inge Sivertsen publicly came out against the Oslo bid days before the vote, but said there was no doubt that the latest “very strange demands from the IOC” swayed the party, which he thinks had been narrowly in favor of underwriting the bid.

“Norway is a rich country, but we don’t want to spend money on wrong things, like satisfying the crazy demands from IOC apparatchiks,” said Frithjof Jacobsen, VG’s chief political commentator. “These insane demands that they should be treated like the king of Saudi Arabia just won’t fly with the Norwegian public.”

[…] “There were two arguments against the bid. One was the financial part — most Olympic budgets end up being much more expensive. But the IOC’s arrogance was an argument held high by a lot of people in our party,” said Ole Berget, a deputy minister in the Finance Ministry. “Norwegian culture is really down to earth. When you get these IOC demands that are quite snobby, Norwegian people cannot be satisfied.”

Personally, I’d be happy if Michigan never hosts an Olympics if it’s going to continue being a lot of expense for little gain. I can remember when we hosted Super Bowl XVI in Pontiac 33 years ago and all the claims of long-term economic benefit it would bring with it. It did pump a couple hundred million into the local economy and transformed downtown Pontiac into a popular area during the event, but it didn’t last all that long. On the plus side we didn’t have to build a new stadium for it and it was relatively cheap compared to hosting an Olympics. These days, however, hosting the Super Bowl is getting to be a lot like hosting the Olympics so you can keep that too.

If we’re going to host big events then I say we should shoot to get a few big e-Sports into Detroit. It’s gaining in popularity and would be a lot less expensive because we wouldn’t need to build a damned thing. Between the number of stadiums and convention centers we have you could whip up a set inside and have plenty of seating for a fraction of the cost of a big sporting event. Yeah, yeah, I hear you laughing, but hear me out. Watching e-Sports events has been huge in Korea for over a decade and with the arrival of MOBAs it’s been gaining in popularity here in the States as well. Here’s a short YouTube video on what e-Sports is:

Those playoffs are no small affair and neither are the crowds watching them. Would it generate as much revenue for Detroit as a Super Bowl or the Olympics? Hard to say, but it’d be a damned bit cheaper to host than either of those things.

 

5 thoughts on “The remains of Olympics past.

  1. A regional olympics makes a lot more sense than one city bearing the entire cost, years ago a Kansas City Mayor proposed what could be called an “I-70 olympics”, but Saint Louis would have none of it. One wonders where the swollen egos of sports entertainment will end up, possibly Slim Pickens memorial bomb riding?

  2. Not until their way of doing business is demonstrably broken. You think any of them might wonder if adjusting now would be cheaper than rebuilding after a collapse?

  3. I was thinking the same as Tim when I read the post – why not do regional? I would think north Texas would have a shot. Considering the expanded public transit, venues for pro sports (but in varying cities) and the economic power of 6 of the 100 largest cities in the US withing a 30 mile radius of DFW airport, it should be viable if the cities would work together. But, I am doubtful they ever will.

    Sometimes I think they should just rotate through previous host cities that already have (and still maintain) the facilities. Seems that it would be easier since the initial investment was already made. Kind of like the Superbowl, where they select from the cities that meet the reqs, but still allow for a new city to come in as host.

  4. Pingback: Laurel Leaves and Municipal Debt | ***Dave Does the Blog

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