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Hosting an Olympics is never cheap. However, no country has ever spent as much as Russia did on the recently held Winter Games in Sochi. It is estimated that between the new infrastructure, which includes the event venues, hotels, highways and a new train system, and the hosting, entertainment and security costs, the country spent about $51 billion USD - making the XXII Winter Games, the most expensive, in Olympics history.
One of the reasons for the unprecedented cost was that all seven sports venues were built specially for the Games. While other cities build a few new ones, they largely try to refurbish existing sports facilities, so that they can continue to be used for local events, long after the Games are done.
Though it seemed totally worth it for the two weeks when the tiny seaside resort town on the Black Sea was the focus of the world's attention, things are a little different now that all the competitors, officials and organizers have left Sochi.
Sure, there will be some hustle and bustle in the near future as the city hosts the Paralympics Games from March 7th to 14th. But what will happen after that's over with? Will enough people come to the four ski resorts and occupy the more than 40,000 hotel rooms that were added for the Games? What kind of events will be required to fill up the five sports arenas and the massive Fisht Stadium where the opening and closing ceremonies were held?
The good news of course is that the roads and railways have been updated to be able to handle up to 20,000 visitors every hour. The bad though is even if they were to come, maintaining the new infrastructure may be an issue especially since it is expected to cost the city of Sochi, 80 billion rubles annually ($2.26 billion USD).
Of course, the Olympics organizers and the country's premier Vladimir Putin, envision all kinds of wonderful things. Among the most promising is the 2018 World Cup Soccer. The Fisht Stadium, which was built with soccer specifications in mind, will be one of the several game venues when Russia hosts the event. Following that, officials plan to turn it into a sports training center. Other suggestions include transforming some of the venues into casinos. There is also hope that since the world has seen the beauty of Sochi, they will come flocking every year.
Will all this really happen? Experts say it depends. Some countries have been able to transform their Olympic buildings into venues that have continued to be popular long after the games are done. Others, not so much.
One of the best examples of Olympics done smartly was the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. Thanks to astute planning and using existing facilities, the city spent a mere $547mm USD, mostly on overdue infrastructure developments like improving the roads. In addition, the only two new venues, a swim stadium and velodrome were built using money from corporate sponsors. Both, are very much in use today. It is not wonder that at the end of the games, the city was able to do what no other Olympics host city has been able to claim - A profit of $100 mm USD.
While the officials in London did spend a lot more for the Summer Games in 2012, many of the structures were temporary and therefore dismantled, once the events were over. Some of the others are currently being transformed into condominiums that will be sold to the general public, helping recoup part of the cost.
These cites however are an exception rather than the rule. The city of Athens, spent 15 billion USD that it could ill-afford, on the 2004 games. Today, most of the giant venues are in complete disrepair and abandoned. The situation is no better in the city of Beijing, where officials are having a hard time attracting enough visitors to the famous Bird's Nest and Water Cube, to justify the half billion dollars they cost to build. Does a similar fate await the beautiful Olympics Village in Sochi? Only time will tell!
The ironic part is that despite knowing that the odds are against them, cities continue to compete to host the Olympics and spend ludicrous amounts of money. That's because for the two weeks that they are the center of attraction, they want the world to believe that they are the best.