Here at €S we greeted the oncoming prospect of the London 2012 Olympic Games with an examination of whether it really makes sense economically for a city to host them, which came to the daring conclusion: “It depends.” Now they are over – do we have any preliminary verdict?
Well, there is one from Michel de Poncins of the French on-line commentary site Contretemps, and it is grim:
Vers la ruine? – “towards ruin?” De Poncins asks, and his lede is no more cheery:
The closing ceremony of the London Olympic Games on Sunday put an end to the festivities. Now it’s the hour of drawing up the balance. Were these Games once more a financial catastrophe?
After all, let’s remember that Montréal was still paying for staging the 1976 Summer Games some thirty years later, while the 2004 Games undoubtedly accelerated Greece’s slide into sovereign bankruptcy.
So what about London? First of all, there is Games’ official price-tag: €11 billion. That in itself, claims De Poncins, came in at four times what it originally was supposed to cost. In a sense, though, that doesn’t really matter – because even that €11 billion hardly covers the true cost, which is not really calculable but must be supplemented by “an unknown quantity of adjacent expenses.” Besides, ordinary tourist traffic for the hotels was noticeably lower in London during the Games, and a price must also be added for all the inconvenience they caused to simply getting around the city, during the Games themselves but also during all the construction leading up to them.
Clearly, what we have here is what you could term an “Olympics Scrooge”: De Poncin’s focus is solely on the money-costs, whose extent he claims is unknowable, even while he ignores the less tangible but still potentially substantial benefits that can be accrued from the Olympics of boosting a given city’s image. As we saw in our previous treatment, that certainly was the case for Barcelona in 1992 and even for Munich in 1972 to some degree, despite the massacre of the Israeli athletes. There’s no reason to think a similar effect was missing here; the Games themselves seemed to have been run very well, and press accounts describe even a sort of euphoria eventually taking hold among Londoners over what was going on.
So this isn’t meant to be your most-unbiased accounting of whether the 2012 Games gave to London more than they demanded. Indeed, M. de Poncin has a particular axe to grind: He focuses on costs because he is against governmental spending on the Olympics – or on sport in general – in any form! Olympics lead to unemployment, don’t you know: the greater government spending involved must be supported by higher taxes, which depress the economy, throwing people out of work, etc.
That’s where they are coming from on this Contretemps site. And you can tell, because they now have a second article up on the London Olympics – “A celebration of the virtues of competition.” Lede:
The economy functions in the same way as an Olympic competition. Rivalry tends to make everyone better. And no enterprise or no country can maintain an advantage indefinitely.