The 2014 Winter Olympics will open in Sochi, Russia in less than three weeks, but other countries are already focusing on submitting Olympic bids for future editions of the Games. One of the countries bidding on the 2022 Winter Games is Sweden, which wanted to hold the Olympics in Stockholm. That seems like a natural choice for an event that includes skiing, sledding, and plenty of other sports that involve ice and snow.
But today, Stockholm pulled out of the bidding process, and its reason for doing so is remarkably rational. When the Games are gone, officials said, Sweden simply won’t have any need for most of the facilities it would have to build to host them.
“Arranging a Winter Olympics would mean a big investment in new sports facilities, for example for the bobsleigh and luge,” Sweden’s Moderate party said in a statement, according to Reuters.
“There isn’t any need for that type of that kind of facility after an Olympics.”
“Although the calculations are well worked out, we estimate that revenues will likely be lower and costs higher than the investigation indicates,” Stockholm city council chairman and finance commissioner Sten Nordin said.
A city dropping out of the Olympic bidding process isn’t unique — it happens all the time, whether because it realizes it will lose, because it wants to submit a better bid for a future Olympics, or for money reasons. The timing of the Swedish pull out, however, is interesting, because it comes at a time when the cost of the upcoming Sochi Games has become a prominent story. Russian officials made no effort to conceal that they were willing to spend lavishly on the Games, but the cost has surpassed even their original claims. Some estimates show Russian spending on the Olympics will top $51 billion, making it the most expensive Games — Winter or Summer — in Olympic history. A single road Russia is building to access some of its mountain events, in fact, will cost upward of $8.7 billion, more than Vancouver spent to put on the entire 2010 Olympics.
How facilities needed for mega-events will be used afterward has sparked similar concern in Brazil, which will host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Brazil has spent billions building World Cup stadiums, some of which, like Arena Itaquera in São Paulo, will be used by popular and prominent soccer clubs once the Cup is over. Other cities, like Manaus and Brasilia, will be left with white elephant stadiums with huge capacities and no obvious utility after the World Cup. That spending played a role in the massive protests that swept the country last summer, with people asking why Brazil had devoted so much money to stadiums while delaying infrastructure projects and neglecting schools, hospitals, and water infrastructure that were badly in need of update or reconstruction.
Other countries will still bid on the Olympics and World Cup. Cities in China, Poland, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Norway are already a part of the bidding process for the 2022 Winter Games. Still, it’s nice to see some countries approaching the process rationally and understanding that mega-events like the Olympics aren’t a free economic shot in the arm. Instead, they come with massive costs, and cities should consider whether the intangible benefits (and the projects that will go neglected to cover Olympic costs) are worth that price. Stockholm, in the end, decided they were not.