It used to be that hosting any of the major sporting events, particularly the Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup, would carry significant prestige. It was an honour that would help to shape the legacy of a country or city. It could be a powerful moment of national symbolism and economic transformation.
Why then, over the last few years, have many advanced Western economies decided not to bid for such major events, and in some cases, even withdrawn their proposals?
Hosting an internationally prominent sporting event invites the global spotlight, provides an injection of tourism money, and a chance for a city or a country to rebuild or develop infrastructure. However, it also brings an immense financial commitment and great risk.
Construction in Qatar. EPA/STR
The 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil came at a huge cost. It reached US$15 billion including cost overruns of at least 75% and was the most expensive in FIFA history. The cost of the 2016 Rio Summer Olympic Games was estimated at US$4.58 billion while costs overran by about 50%. Both mega-events were deemed poor investments. Brazil faced its worst recession in 25 years, there were cuts in healthcare and education and police went unpaid for weeks at a time.
Those kinds of costs have become hard to justify. The past couple of years have seen withdrawals from the bidding process by Boston, Budapest, Davos, Hamburg, Krakow, Munich, Rome and Stockholm. A lack of candidates meant the 2022 Winter Olympics was awarded to Beijing – a city not renowned as a winter sports hub. Away from the Olympics, London made a last minute decision to pull out of hosting the start of the 2017 Tour de France; less-fashionable Düsseldorf stepped in.