"The legacy of the Rio Olympics is a farce," writes sports columnist Nancy Armour in USA Today. She continues:
The closing ceremony was six months ago Tuesday, and already several of the venues are abandoned and falling apart. The Olympic Park is a ghost town, the lights have been turned off at the Maracana and the athlete village sits empty.... the billions that were wasted, the venues that so quickly became white elephants, the crippling bills for a city and country already struggling to make ends meet...
She notes that more and more cities are realizing that Olympic games are glamorous but not economically sound. I made that point two years ago when Boston withdrew its bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics:
Columnist Anne Applebaum predicted a year ago that future Olympics would likely be held only in “authoritarian countries where the voters’ views will not be taken into account” — such as the two bidders for the 2022 Winter Olympics, Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan.
Fortunately, Boston is not such a place. The voters’ views can be ignored and dismissed for only so long.
The success of the “10 people on Twitter” and the three young organizers of No Boston Olympics should encourage taxpayers in other cities to take up the fight against megaprojects and boondoggles — stadiums, arenas, master plans, transit projects, and indeed other Olympic Games.
I cited then some of the evidence about the impact of the Olympics on host cities:
The critics knew something that the Olympic enthusiasts tried to forget: Megaprojects like the Olympics are enormously expensive, always over budget, and disruptive. They leave cities with unused stadiums and other waste.
E.M. Swift, who covered the Olympics for Sports Illustrated for more than 30 years, wrote on the Cognoscenti blog a few years ago that Olympic budgets “always soar.”
“Montreal is the poster child for cost overruns, running a whopping 796 percent over budget in 1976, accumulating a deficit that took 30 years to repay. In 1996 the Atlanta Games came in 147 percent over budget. Sydney was 90 percent over its projected budget in 2000. And the Athens Games cost $12.8 billion, 60 percent over what the government projected.”
Bent Flyvbjerg of Oxford University, the world’s leading expert on megaprojects, and his co-author Allison Stewart found that Olympic Games differ from other such large projects in two ways: They always exceed their budgets, and the cost overruns are significantly larger than other megaprojects. Adjusted for inflation, the average cost overrun for an Olympics is 179 percent.
In the latest edition of Cato Policy Report, Flyvbjerg examined "the 'iron law of megaprojects': over budget, over time, over and over again."
Brazil has great resources, great ambitions, and great problems, including a vast corruption scandal that has taken down numerous public officials including President Dilma Rousseff. But the lives of its people will not improve through grandiose projects. Brazil needs financial reform, tax and regulatory reform, fiscal reform, and more. Megaprojects are not the road to prosperity.