Athens, Greece was the site of the first modern Olympiad in 1896 with a cost of 3.74m gold drachmas. The budget to stage an Olympic Games is skyrocketing by the day, and for the upcoming 32nd Olympiad in Japan, now comes in an estimated ¥1.64tn (€12.42bn/$14.82bn). When it comes to former gold drachmas and yen my handy exchange rate converter to United States dollars is on the fritz.
The Olympic and Paralympic games have become complicated and controversial challenges with multi-billion dollar governmental bets on the line. The recent postponement and rescheduling of the Tokyo 2020 Games due to Covid-19 created massive infrastructure and organizational chaos. Some experts believe the Tokyo games budget, originally pencilled in at $7.5bn, could ultimately balloon to more than $26bn.
And with the pandemic still presenting sizable issues throughout Japan, the International Olympic Committee has to solve a lengthy list of major challenges to ensure not only success this summer in Tokyo, but the Olympic movement’s overall longevity and success.
The Olympic motto is “Citius, Altius, Fortius” translated to “Swifter, Higher, Stronger”. Olympians representing their countries in Japan will clearly be the Swiftest, Strongest and most Highly trained in history. But how will the key decision-makers of the Olympic Movement define the business aspects of Swifter, Higher and Stronger not only in Japan, but also for Paris in 2024 and Los Angeles in 2028?
The skyrocketing costs of staging the games has had a direct result in that fewer cities than ever are bidding to host. The 2016 games in Brazil had seven cities in the hunt: Chicago, Madrid, Tokyo, Rio De Janeiro, Baku, Doha, and Prague.
When the IOC was left with only two bidding cities for the 2020 Games they made a swift decision. Paris, congratulations you are hosting the 2024 Summer games. And LA, 2028 is yours. And already, the 2032 Olympics selection process is being similarly streamlined, with Brisbane, Australia in the driver’s seat.
In March of this year it was announced that no international visitors would be allowed to attend the games in Japan, with the pandemic shutting off the normal, anticipated bump of international tourism. All global ticket-holders will receive refunds. Domestic attendance for Tokyo 2020 has been capped at 10,000 per event, in line with new government regulations in Japan.
Are the Olympic games truly global? Yes, from a participation point of view with 11,00 athletes from 205 countries expected to compete in 33 sports beginning on July 23.
But no Olympics have ever taken place on the African continent of 54 independent countries. India, the world’s second-most populous country, has also never hosted. Will the global games only be staged in developed countries with the strongest economies?
Meanwhile, are the Olympic rings stronger in today’s world? Has the Olympic brand been tarnished through bidding and bribery scandals, athletes cheating and doping, battles over human rights, and political tensions with some potential host countries no longer wanting to spend billions on infrastructure that may not stand the test of time after their games are over?
The risks in hosting the global games are also now higher than ever, with the billions spent in hosting and operational costs requiring quite a lot to go right to achieve any sort of return on investment.
Of course, the color of the fluid that flows through the Olympic Rings is green. But Tokyo 2020 will have fewer spending spectators than ever.
Thankfully, there still is potentially good economic news about the order of 2024 and 2028 cities. Los Angeles going second should help to drive up interest in and the value of global Olympic sponsorships, especially among US companies, and deals for LA 2028 are already starting to happen.
For the future of the Summer Olympics, the reality of global warming could also easily be a great disrupter, challenging the notions of healthy competition outdoors. I live in the “always air-conditioned” San Francisco Bay Area. Recently, it was a not-so-air-conditioned 100 degrees in my neighborhood.
And then there is the rapidly changing landscape of all amateur sports, fuelled heavily by historic shifts in college sports between emerging legislation for name, image, and likeness (NIL) rights for student-athletes, and recent court decisions that threaten the very notion of amateurism in American college sports.
Each also present further challenges to the Olympic movement, and for the IOC, United States Olympic Committee, and national governing bodies organizationally.
When the Olympic Torch is lit on July 23 in Tokyo it will be in the ‘New Different’. We will celebrate on a global scale coming out of the world we have lived in. But the greatest athletes in the world will compete in an Olympics filled with more questions than answers.
Hopefully, we will soon be back on the path to Swifter, Stronger, Higher – in the original sense of those words.