Circus Maximus | Andrew Zimbalist

Summary of: Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup
By: Andrew Zimbalist


Welcome to ‘Circus Maximus,’ an insightful examination of the economic gamble behind hosting the Olympics and the World Cup. Focusing on the soaring costs associated with staging these global spectacles, Andrew Zimbalist not only dispels the myth that hosting these events generates economic prosperity but also exposes the concerning lack of accountability among organizations, such as FIFA and the International Olympic Committee. Through in-depth analysis, Zimbalist sheds a revealing light on the often underestimated financial and social costs to the host nation. This summary will guide you through the arguments and evidence from numerous case studies, providing the basis for informed reflection on the value of hosting massive sports events.

The Economic Realities of Hosting Olympic Games and World Cups

The economic benefits of hosting the Olympic Games and the World Cup are often overhyped, with the costs of staging these massive events and the economic responsibilities that countries or cities undertake piling extra difficulty on populations already struggling with inadequate resources and public services. The International Olympic Committee and FIFA are populated by the rich and famous, yet little seems to faze their decision-making, exemplified when Brazil spent between $15 and $20 billion in 2014 and millions of Brazilian citizens staged demonstrations. The president of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, earns $1 million annually, raising ethical questions regarding monetary incentives. The members of both organizations desperately need to reassess the real economic value of hosting these global events, especially given the financial and social costs to their countries.

The Overstated Economic Benefits of Hosting the Olympics and World Cup

Proponents of hosting the Olympics and World Cup tout the economic benefits of increased employment and revenue, but impartial scholarly studies reveal that these projections are often wildly optimistic and that the long-term impact on tourism and other industries is difficult to assess. Meanwhile, the costs associated with hosting these events, including sports venues, nonathletic infrastructure, and security measures, are often astronomical and very rarely recouped. This summary highlights how studies analyzing concrete economic data before, during, and following the event tend to show either modest short-term positive effects on employment or no significant change at all.

Costly Legacies

The construction of stadiums and other infrastructure for international sporting events like the Olympics and World Cup often comes with a high price tag. After the events are over, the maintenance and operating costs associated with the venues can leave host cities with a financial burden that they struggle to manage. Many structures built for such events suffer from disrepair and disuse after the events are over. Even when these venues are repurposed, there are often additional expenses associated with that process. This book highlights case studies from around the world, where cities have faced numerous issues related to infrastructure built to host international sporting events, and provides insights into the lessons that should be learned by those contemplating future bids.

Olympic Hosting: Two Vastly Different Experiences

Barcelona and Sochi’s Hosting of the Olympic Games

Hosting the Olympic Games has proven to be either a blessing or a curse for cities. In 1992, Barcelona set a remarkable example of a successful Olympics by using its prowess in strategic urban redevelopment plans that had been in motion for years. The city did not suffer much financially, with private funds covering over 50% of the $11.5 billion spent to host the event. Spain also reaped the benefits of joining the European Economic Community in 1986, while tourists and businessmen flocked to Barcelona, thanks to the Games’ spectacular showcasing of the city’s potential.

On the other hand, Sochi’s experience hosting the 2014 Winter Games was entirely different. Vladimir Putin planned to make use of the Olympics to promote his country’s global image by investing $12 billion in Sochi’s revamping. However, Russia spent a staggering $51 billion, possibly even $66.7 billion, significantly more than its initial goal, to fashion Sochi into a year-round European resort from a spring haven. Putin secured private funding from his oligarchy friends, leading to speculations that business people who failed to fund the projects might face business restrictions.

Sochi’s challenges extended beyond financial issues, which Barcelona did not suffer from. A 2013 Human Rights Watch study revealed that labor law violations and forced relocation with below-market compensation were widespread. Moreover, a lot of the construction work had significant pollution and flouted environmental regulations. Sochi’s weather was also not winter-friendly, resulting in delays and athlete dissatisfaction due to tons of artificial snow used. The warm weather was detrimental to Sochi’s plan to attract winter tourism. Finally, Sochi’s hotels lacked adequate facilities such as running water, toilets, TVs, and phones.

In conclusion, Barcelona and Sochi are two Olympic hosting cities that had entirely different experiences. While Barcelona impressed with strategic urban redevelopment planning, minimal financial strain, significant private sector support, and promotion of the city’s potential, Sochi experienced significant financial trouble, environmental and human rights violations, hospitality inadequacies, and failure to market itself as a winter tourism destination.

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