When the flame went out in Russia’s Sochi on Sunday, the 2014 Winter Games went down in history as the most expensive Olympics with an overall price tag estimated at more than US$50 billion.
Never had a Winter or Summer Olympics — which are several times the size and scope of the snow-and-ice spectacle — soaked up so much spending, although some Russian officials dispute the reported costs.
Organizers also say that the aim has been to build infrastructure that will service sport and tourism for years to come.
Sochi was also the first Winter Games host to create an Olympic park littered with gleaming new venues. Some will remain, some will move, but whether they will ever bring a return on investment remains to be seen.
“We hope that Russia will create the blueprint and new standards in efficiency and compactness of the Games,” Sochi 2014 Olympic Organizing Committee president Dmitry Chernyshenko said last week. “It will be difficult to repeat because we had the natural advantage of literally not having anything here and built everything from scratch.”
“Difficult” would seem an understatement, with the cost of Sochi already sending shivers down potential candidates’ spines.
For the 2022 Winter Olympics, Switzerland and Germany held referendums to decide whether to bid, with voters emphatically turning down any such plans. Concerns over costs and the impact on the environment were the two main points of opposition.
Stockholm, Sweden, submitted an official bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in November last year, but pulled out last month, sensing it had neither the financial strength nor the public support to run a seven-year project that could bring more drawbacks than benefits.
Neighboring Norway is still in the running with Oslo, but its bid is not universally popular, with more than 50 percent of the country’s population opposed to it in a recent poll.
Ukraine’s Lviv is another candidate, but its campaign has been severely damaged — possibly beyond repair — by political unrest in the country and the cost of staging the Olympics.
Beijing has also thrown its hat into the ring, but it is equally unlikely to stage the multibillion dollar extravaganza, with the Chinese capital having held the Summer Olympics as recently as 2008.
The 2018 Winter Olympics will be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and the 2020 Summer Games have gone to Tokyo, making Beijing an outsider in the race for 2022 with three Asian Olympics in a row a distant possibility.
Krakow’s bid for the first Polish Olympics has been hampered by some events having to be staged in Slovakia.
The International Olympic Committee is hesitant to award the Games to two countries, fearful that it could dilute the atmosphere and impact of the event.
As things stand, Kazakhstan’s Almaty, which has proposed what it says is a cost-responsible project with about three-quarters of the venues already in place, seems to be the candidate with a clear advantage.
“Those costs in Sochi are enormous and a bad example for future candidates,” International Skiing Federation president Gian-Franco Kasper said recently. “Most nations cannot afford it. [Traditional winter sports nations] Switzerland, France could never afford such amounts.”