It was a major spectacle with eye-catching venues, but new information from CNN shows that ten years after the Beijing Olympics, many of the sites have been abandoned. And Beijing is not the only city where this has happened.
"Any city around the world should really be thinking twice before it goes into bed with the International Olympic Committee (IOC)," warns Chris Dempsey, co-founder of No Boston Olympics, an organization formed in recent years amid a push for Boston to host the 2024 Olympics. "They all say that the venues are going to have a use afterward, but the reality is what people see in these pictures of abandoned venues in places like Athens or Beijing, that ultimately these venues and facilities are just not economically viable."
This was among the reasons No Boston Olympics was formed.
"Boston is a great city with a really proud history and really great sports teams, and we're all proud of those teams. But the boosters in Boston were pushing this extravagant party that was going to rely on significant taxpayer support, probably in the billions of dollars," he explains. "We don't want Boston to be saddled with that same inefficient and unusable venue."
After Boston said no to being the U.S. host site for the 2024 Olympics, Los Angeles stepped up to the plate. However, the IOC awarded the 2024 games to Paris and then quickly announced Los Angeles would be hosting the 2028 Olympics.
"The IOC got nervous that no one was going to show up for the next round of bidding, and so they gave Los Angeles the 2028 games," says Dempsey. "They sort of broke their own rules because of that anxiety around it."
The City of Angels, however, is not completely on board with hosting the Olympics, and Dempsey has been involved in conversations to offer advice.
"They already had the Olympics in 1984, and there are some warm memories that Los Angelinos have from those Olympics. And to be fair, that was a somewhat more financially successful games," he continues. "Now the major difference is that in 1984, every single city dropped out of the bidding except for Los Angeles, and that meant Los Angeles had a lot of negotiating power over the IOC, so they told the IOC that they would not sign the taxpayer guarantee that the IOC normally requires, and because of that, because those incentives were changed, L.A. got a better deal."
But that is not the case in 2028.
"Mayor Eric Garcetti (D) has actually signed a blank check and said that city taxpayers in Los Angeles will be responsible for overruns," Dempsey explains.
Meanwhile, it is not just the Summer Olympics that have people concerned, as Denver and Calgary have talked about bids to host the Winter Olympics in the near future.
"Both of those cities are great cities, but they're really struggling with this question around cost and benefits," says Dempsey. "Everyone agrees that the three weeks of the Olympic can be really fun to have in your city, but do you really want to be saddled with the decades of debt and underutilized and abandoned facilities that you're left with once the circus leaves town?"
All things considered, Dempsey is glad that people and news outlets are talking about abandoned Olympic venues.
"It was always true that these venues were being abandoned and being wasted," he says. "In fact, even in the original modern Olympics in 1896 in Athens, they had venues that were built for the Olympics and then never used again, so this is not a new story. But because of the power of new media and social media, we're able to share it around the world very quickly, and that's definitely a benefit to all of us that want to make sure that our cities and other cities are making good decisions about whether to host the games."