Now that the 2018 Winter Olympics are almost over, Korea will start to assess the costs and benefits of hosting the Games. The Games were supposed to elevate the rural county Pyeongchang from a small-scale mountain resort to a popular winter sports destination, but it is questionable whether the potential benefits justify the USD 13 bn investment. Cost overruns and gravely disappointing returns have plagued almost all Olympic hosts and it proves increasingly difficult for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to find candidate cities for future Games.
Traditionally, the Games have been a means for nations, dictators and ideologies to show the world how well they fared. Over time, they have become more and more a means to spur economic development through infrastructure investments and global visibility. Consequently, cost-benefit analyses have become more important than national pride. Looking back, however, the economic arguments do not hold up and cities are left with an Olympic hangover of unused venues and billions in debt.
There is no immediate shortage of Olympic hosts, but the IOC already has fewer cities to pick from. Paris and L.A. were awarded the ’24 and ’28 Games, simply because there were no other candidates. Moreover, with sports viewership declining, the outlook for the Games can only deteriorate. Future Games are thus likely to be more modest, with existing or smaller venues and possibly with fewer sports. Other cities looking for global attention will turn to smaller, and cheaper, events with global visibility such as the Tour de France, Formula One, or single sports’ World Championships.