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‘Curse of the Olympics’ continues to haunt economies of host cities

Nov 09,2017
The so-called curse of the Olympics has long haunted host cities that rejoice in the fame but soon come to struggle with debt.

Athens, the host for the 2004 Summer Olympics, is perhaps the most representative case. The city accrued a debt of $14.5 billion, which has been cited by some as the catalyst for the Greek government’s debt crisis, one of the worst recessions in Europe since the Great Depression, leading to a humanitarian disaster.

The Athens venues are now abandoned and rotting.

But it’s not just Athens that is facing such problems. The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi cost $51 billion, making them the most expensive of all time, while the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano cost over $10 billion, leaving local companies bankrupt.

“To encourage tourists to travel from Tokyo to Nagano,” Fortune Magazine reported in August 2016, “the Shinkansen bullet train line was extended to connect Tokyo and Nagano, cutting travel time between the two cities in half. The idea worked a bit too well: Olympic tourists booked hotels in Tokyo knowing they could take the train, which left Nagano’s hotels and ski villages under-occupied.”

But some cities have managed to escape the curse by making a few post-Games alterations.

Salt Lake City, the host city for the 2002 Winter Olympics, made money by changing the concept of the ski slope and ski jumping venues. The two sites now have a pool and grass sledging, so it can be used in the summer. In Lillehammer, Norway, the athletes’ village, media village and media centers are used as recreational facilities and campus.

And in Vancouver, the site of the 2010 Winter Olympics, the Richmond Oval, where Lee Sang-hwa won her first gold medal in the women’s 500 meter race, was turned into a multi-sports arena that now makes up to $2.35 million each year.

Some host cities have also managed to attract more international events after the Games. The BMW IBSF World Cup Bobsleigh and Skeleton events, for instance, are now hosted in Whistler, Canada; Lake Pacid, New York; and Park City, Utah ? the sites of the 1988, 1980 and 2002 Winter Olympics. The Olympic Oval in Calgary, Canada, a venue for the 1988 Winter Olympics, didn’t host events, but is now used as an off-season training site for short track and speed skating athletes from Japan, Korea and 15 other countries.

BY PARK HYUN-YOUNG, KIM JI-HAN [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]