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Should the Olympics have permanent locations?

In light of recent news from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), debates about finding permanent locations for the Olympic Games have returned.

The IOC recently announced that it will not be making a decision on where to host the 2030 Winter Olympic Games in the fall of 2023. Despite usually making a decision at least seven years before the Games are set to begin, the IOC expressed concern about the lack of cities interested in hosting, and the lack of options meeting their requirements, one being that to host a Winter Olympic Games, the location needs to have a minimum average temperature of 0 degrees Celsius or 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

This topic hits especially close to home for me, since I’m from Vancouver, Canada. Vancouver was in the conversation of hosting the 2030 Games, just 20 years after we hosted in 2010; however, we recently decided locally to withdraw from the conversation. Now, the IOC is left with only two contenders: Salt Lake City, USA, and Sapporo, Japan.

It seems that every year it’s becoming more and more difficult to find a location for the next games.

Benefits of Finding Permanent Locations

There are several reasons why finding permanent locations for both the Winter and Summer Games would be beneficial.

First, money. One of the big questions is are the Olympics even profitable anymore? For a long time, the main justification for cities and countries to want to host the Games is the boost in tourism and a big profit margin, on top of other nationalist and cultural reasons. However, there is a lot of analysis about how the Games are no longer a good investment. The New York Times writes:

Every Olympics since 1960 has run over budget, at an average of 172 percent in inflation-adjusted terms, according to an analysis by researchers at Oxford University. They concluded that this was “the highest overrun on record for any type of megaproject,” far exceeding roads, bridges, dams and other major undertakings.

For the 2016 Summer Games, Rio de Janeiro budgeted $14 billion and spent an estimated $20 billion, according to data collected by the Council of Foreign Relations. Sochi, Russia, budgeted $10.3 billion for the 2014 Winter Olympics and spent more than $51 billion. And London, the summer host in 2012, aimed for $5 billion and spent $18 billion.”

Secondly, sustainability is another benefit to finding a permanent location for the Games. Hosting the Olympic Games means building a ton of housing for the athletes, building new or retro-fitting arenas and competition grounds, and many other feats of construction including highways, roads, hotels for families and fans, and more. Finding a new place every two to four years that is willing to put up with this burden financially and regarding resources is becoming harder, but also is not great for the environment.

There have been several instances where hosting an International Sporting Event has encouraged the host location to upgrade their facilities and has benefitted the city in the long run. For example, for the 2010 Vancouver Games, they updated a very important and highly used highway going from Vancouver city to Whistler, a ski resort about three hours away where many skiing and sliding events were hosted. This infrastructure was due to be re-done and was extremely important for the safety of commuters and the financial profitability of Whistler as a city.

On the other hand, there is a running list of cities that hosted theGames and are now seeing semi-to-complete abandonment of the venues built specifically for the Olympics.

Are Permanent Locations Fair?

There are two main counter-arguments to having permanent locations. First, the events encourage new and upgraded facilities or infrastructures that benefit the locals afterwards. As we’ve seen, this can be good or end up being extremely wasteful. Secondly, the homesoil advantage. If the Games were hosted in the same or similar locations every few years this would give a few countries permanent homesoil advantage, and studies have shown that homesoil advantage is very real and impacts how well the host country performs on the podium!

A Possible Compromise

One of the ideas floating around to avoid this problem of finding a location that’s cold enough and willing to host the Games is to settle on three permanent locations to rotate through. This could also work for the Summer Games.

These locations would be distributed across continents to provide as much fairness as possible to traveling athletes and fans. Homesoil advantage would still be a problem, but rotating amongst three locations would mean that one city would host a Winter Games every 12 years, which isn’t that frequent.

This would significantly diminish the environmental impacts from building new facilities, roads, and even sometimes completely new cities just to host a single event. Lastly, because a location wouldn’t just be used once, the host city and country would likely have a higher chance of profiting from the Games since their negative balance from construction and preparation would be diminished greatly from re-use.

Regardless, the IOC certainly has some big decisions to make if they want to continue to see the Olympic Games well into the future.

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