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The Olympics are dead. Or are they?

Olympic Pool – Barcelona, Spain by Tom Weightman on

Early this morning Professor Robert Wright – who is a regular reader and commenter on this blog – sent me an article from The Guardian called, ‘The Olympics are dead’: Does anyone want to be a host city any more? And that got me thinking.

With Toronto having just hosted the Pan Am Games (the Parapan Am Games are still going on), there’s a lot of talk and debate happening in this city right now about whether or not we should make a go at hosting the 2024 Summer Games. The deadline for cities to express their interest is September 15th, 2015.

The supporters (of which I would include myself) say it’s a great opportunity for civic (re)branding and urban renewal. It creates real deadlines to get things done. But the naysayers argue it’s a fiscal disaster waiting to happen. See 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal.

But in my view there are ways to host the Olympics and there are ways not to host the Olympics. Montreal (1976) is an example of what not to do. And Los Angeles (1984) and Barcelona (1992) are some of the best examples of what to do.

The key is to think of the Olympics not as the end, but more as the beginning. In Olympic talk, they refer to this as legacy. Here’s what Los Angeles managed to accomplish as a result of the 1984 Summer Games (via Gizmodo):

In 1979, the L.A. organizing committee had made a deal. If the games saw any profits, LA84 would give 60 percent back to the U.S. Olympic Committee and keep 40 percent for Southern California. At the end of the games, the total expenditures came in at a respectable $546 million, but even more impressive was the profit: A surplus of $232.5 million, meaning $93 million would stay in the region. This was huge. The only other games at the time which could claim to be financially successful at all were the other L.A. Olympics: The ones held in the city in 1932.

The profits were used to create an endowment called the LA84 Foundation, which funds youth sporting events, resources, and facilities throughout the area. With smart management, the endowment has grown over the years, and over $214 million has helped an estimated three million children and 1,100 organizations in Southern California. Recently, the LA84 Foundation helped raise money to pay coaches and buy equipment at LAUSD high schools after budget cuts decimated their programs.

The rest of the above article is definitely worth a read. It’s a great example of fiscal prudence.

So what I am suggesting is not that we run blindly into hosting the Summer Games. But that we instead open our minds to the opportunities. Let’s great creative. If we could catalyze further city building, turn a profit, and leave meaningful legacies for this region (like what LA did), then why wouldn’t we want to have a go at it?

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