The Olympic Hangover: London Legacy in Question

The Olympic Games – pomp and circumstance, tense competition, tears of sadness and joy on display globally – after years of build up, come to an end after two weeks of sound and fury. Then often comes the praise from all corners of the world, the follow-up stories, the speech circuit, the documentaries, and finally, one realizes that one hasn’t uttered the word “Olympics” for quite a while. Until, the grumbling begins.

Almost inevitably, there is a backlash of some sort, people criticizing the expense of the Olympic Games, the lack of promised economic impact on local commerce, and the use of tax money for expensive athletic facilities that very quickly begin to rot from lack of use and maintenance. See this blog post for images of Olympic boondoggles.

A few weeks ago, a German broadcaster released this documentary called “Die andere Seite von Olympia”, or “The Other Side of the Olympics”. This piece by Marlene Wynants is a series of interviews of Londoners who feel the London Games did not deliver on its promises. Here are some of the opening quotes from the documentary:

  • The expectations of restaurants, bars, theaters, that we would have a bumper summer.
  • Why should we stand aside for the elite sportsmen when we were the grassroots of the national game.
  • In the beginning, when they were trying to get everyone behind them, they promised the earth.
  • They created the hype, and they are the ones making the money, not the ordinary people.
  • Ultimately the costs are borne by the host city, the host national government, and the IOC isn’t liable for any of them.
  • There are a lot of people getting fed up with the Olympics, the impact that it has, and the lies that are told. And London is a prime example of lying from beginning to end.

And as explained in this article from The Guardian, government funding for sports will no longer be prioritized. Only a few years after the London Games in 2012, the budget for grassroot sports will be cut as much as 40% over the next five years.

I love the Olympic Games. But there is little doubt that the financial burden on country and city governments, as well as on the citizens and businesses of that city, is as great, or greater than the glory and pride of being the host to an Olympiad. As Andrew Zimbalist put it, in his book, Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup, people residing in potential host cities are more skeptical than ever before.

“While promoters of the games made lofty claims about economic benefits to be gained from hosting these sporting extravaganzas, the local populations seemed unimpressed. Not only were there no evident economic gains, there were social dislocations and resource diversions away from meeting needs. The games may benefit their wealthy promoters, but those at the middle and bottom of the income ladder appear to be picking up the tab – and increasingly, they don’t like it.”

circus maximus