Growing costs could see future Olympics spread between multiple cities or countries

·4 min read
Canadian torchbearers seen during the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Due to increased costs associated with hosting the Games, future editions could be co-hosted by multiple cities or countries. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Canadian torchbearers seen during the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Due to increased costs associated with hosting the Games, future editions could be co-hosted by multiple cities or countries. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press - image credit)

One of the people who helped organize Vancouver's 2010 Winter Olympics says the growing cost of building venues and infrastructure may make it unfeasible for a single city to be awarded future Olympic Games.

Historically, the International Olympic Committee has embraced the concept of the Games being a multi-sport competition attracting athletes from hundreds of countries to a single location, said Dave Cobb, who was the deputy chief operating officer for the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC).

"They recognize now that Games, in many cases where you are building literally dozens of venues, it's just too expensive, and there's a shrinking list of countries that are prepared to invest that," Cobb said. "I think the IOC needs to find the balance between still making it a unique competition, not like any world cup or world championships."

Dick Pound, a Canadian IOC member, said a provision of the Olympic Charter not only allows for a Games to be shared between several cities, but also held in different countries.

"We've never made a selection on that basis, but the possibility is there," Pound said. "In the smaller countries, and the IOC is pretty Eurocentric, that is certainly foreseeable."

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When the Swedish cities of Stockholm and Åre made an unsuccessful bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics, part of their proposal was to host bobsled, luge and skeleton events in Sigulda, Latvia.

Spreading the Games between several cities makes even more sense for the Summer Games.

"I think the IOC is changing over from saying 'here's what we insist on, make a bid,'" he said. "They're now saying 'let's see if we can accomplish what we need and what would be good for your city or region. Let's talk about what is possible.'"

Pound doubts you would ever see Vancouver and Halifax co-hosting an Olympics because of the distance involved, but said the idea "kicking around" is for Toronto and Montreal to jointly bid on a Summer Games.

Moshe Lander, a senior lecturer in the economics of sports, gaming and gambling at Concordia University, thinks the IOC "can be even more imaginative."

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He proposes splitting up the Olympics and holding events like weightlifting and table tennis in countries where they are popular.

"There are certain summer events that are of no interest to us, but would be extremely interesting to other countries," he said.

Lander points to modern pentathlon as an Olympic sport few North Americans watch.

"But there are countries that are crazy about that thing," he said. "So, you can have the Olympic modern pentathlon held in your country of choice."

Instead of Olympic events being held over a three-week period, they could be staged over several months. For the Winter Olympics, this would allow Alpine skiing to be held during the ideal weather conditions while the world's best hockey players could play at a time that doesn't impact the NHL schedule.

"If the IOC really wants to kind of maintain some degree of control, they could say all these events have to take place at some point in 2028, but do they have to be in one country in the world?" he said.

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There is a precedent for countries to co-host a major sports event. Soccer's 2002 FIFA World Cup was held in South Korea and Japan. The 2026 World Cup will be staged in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Spreading the Games around could also lower security costs.

"If one city is going to host three events, you could probably put all the people connected to those three events into a hotel or two hotels," Lander said. "Your security would be to merely cordon off one square block.

"Doing that in 10 cities might be cheaper than having to cordon off 20 square blocks in one city."

Lander acknowledges changing the Games' format would reduce athlete interaction at the Olympic village.

"It's always a tradeoff between what's the extra benefit of having it and what's the extra cost," he said.

Cobb supports the idea of a regional Games when it's economically feasible.

Splitting an Olympics between Calgary and Vancouver "would be kind of on the edge," he said.

If Vancouver decides to bid for the 2030 Games, events could be spread across the province in cities like Victoria, Kelowna, Kamloops and Prince George.

"So, it's not just a one-city event, but it's still not too far dispersed that you could still maintain that unique atmosphere," he said. "I think that's something they should really consider and share it with some other communities."

Cobb remembers the excitement and sense of camaraderie Vancouver felt hosting the Games.

"It just felt like such a unique experience and showed off the city," he said. "It's a question of how much do you dilute that?"