For all the talk of global honor and prestige that the Olympics bring to a host city, talk largely promoted by the International Olympic Committee itself, the truth is that the Games tend to smother cities in debt and saddle them with venues they can't ever use again.
Best-case scenario? Host cities get a pat on the head and a "way to go, slugger!" as the two-week IOC circus leaves town. Worst-case? Host cities become the eternal butt of jokes ("nastier than a Sochi hotel room" will resonate for a generation) as their nations spend decades dragging themselves out of debt.
"Pay dearly for the honor of hosting our Games" is a scam the Olympics have pulled for over a century now, and it's a scam that the world's cities are finally catching onto. The 2022 Winter Olympics are the next Games to be awarded, and as it turns out, city after city is declining the "honor" of hosting them.
Residents of Krakow, Poland overwhelmingly rejected the idea of hosting the 2022 Games, leading city officials to withdraw Krakow's bid on Monday. This follows Stockholm, Sweden's leaders' decision to withdraw; Munich, Germany's voters' rejection of an Olympic chase; and Davos/St. Moritz, Switzerland's defeat of a referendum on hosting the Games. For those keeping count, that's four of an original eight host cities which had considered hosting the Games.Two more cities' bids, while not technically dead, may as well be: Lviv, Ukraine is having real military issues and can't afford to waste time thinking about the Olympics, while Oslo, Norway's bid is floundering politically.
Why the sudden mass exodus from hosting? Because cities with an eye for financial reality have seen the results: Russia spent $51 billion on the Sochi Olympics, an incomprehensible sum for any nation but particularly one teetering on the edge of political turmoil. China spent $40 billion for the 2008 Beijing Games. Montreal lost nearly a billion dollars hosting the 1976 Games, and it took 30 years to pay off that debt. Nagano, Japan, which hosted the Olympics in 1998, apparently still hasn't paid off its debt.
It's no surprise, then, that the only two cities seriously still in the running for the 2022 Winter Games are Almaty, Kazakhstan and Beijing, China: two locales where the people don't get a choice in whether the Games come or not.
"The failed and aborted 2022 candidacies all have one thing in common," notes Deadspin's Barry Petchesky. "When actual citizens are allowed to have a say, they say they don't want the Olympics."
The Olympics themselves aren't the problem. The Games give us some of each year's finest sporting moments every time they come around. The problem is the naked greed that slithers in the Games' wake, the demands that host cities do more, more, more to make each Games more spectacular than the last. It's a never-ending game of no-limit poker, and the IOC is happily watching as the stakes skyrocket every two years. Want to play? Go right ahead, cities of the world. Your grandchildren will be just fine with paying it off, right?
Click on the image below for photos of abandoned Winter Olympic venues: