When a city hosts the Olympics, there’s literally no chance of staying on budget.
A report from Oxford’s Saïd Business School summed it up this way: “The Games overrun with 100% consistency. No other type of megaproject is this consistent regarding cost overrun. Other project types are typically on budget from time to time, but not the Olympics.”
Even by those standards, however, Tokyo 2020 is a mess. The Olympics that the coronavirus tried to kill somehow lives on — and with each day it drags out, the price tag grows.
The Tokyo Olympics Are Shaping Up To Be a $26 Billion Affair
The highball estimates for Tokyo 2020 are now at $28 billion, according to the Los Angeles Times. That means that the $7.3 billion forecast that Tokyo originally submitted in 2013 would now cover only a little more than a quarter of the actual expenses. That’s ugly — even by the standards of the Olympics.
By the time the decision was made to postpone the Games instead of canceling them as the summer of 2020 became an impossibility, the cost had already ballooned to $12.6 billion, according to the AP. But delays are expensive.
Advertisers and broadcasters had to pay millions to extend their contracts. Planning and construction now had to factor in virus precautions. By December, $12.6 billion had grown by 22% to $15.4 billion, according to the AP.
That, however, was still not the ceiling. The Board of Audit of Japan released a report that identified billions of dollars more in expenditures that had been left out of the original tabulation.
With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics finally getting underway at a consensus estimate cost of around $26 billion, it’s time to look back at what it cost to host the other 10 Olympic Games of the 21st century.
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2000 Sydney Summer Olympics: $6.5 Billion
- Adjusted for inflation: $10.26 billion
The Sydney Games were widely hailed as a success. It paid for civic improvements like water recycling and other environmental upgrades that are still paying dividends today, according to the International Olympic Committee. The most lasting legacy was a $715 million world-class multipurpose stadium — something Australia had been lacking — and the country’s resurgence as an Asia/Pacific Rim business and tourism hub, according to The New York Times.
2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics: $2.52 Billion
- Adjusted for inflation: $3.81 billion
With the exception of Vancouver in 2010, the 24% cost overrun of the 2002 Winter Games was the lowest of any Olympics since 1960, according to the AP. Not only was the price tag low, but the Games were run well. According to the Los Angeles Times, the proof was in the results. With a $56 million surplus, Salt Lake City actually made money on the Olympics.
2004 Athens Summer Olympics: $7.5 Billion
- Adjusted for inflation: $10.79 billion
In 2010, CNBC reported on Greece, where the economy was collapsing — and many were asking whether the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics had set the spark for the crisis. The Games wound up costing double the original budget, and six years later at the time of the report, most of the facilities and infrastructure were sitting unused.
2006 Turin Winter Olympics: $4.13 Billion
- Adjusted for inflation: $5.57 billion
According to the International Commission for the Protection of the Alps (CIPRA), the Turin Winter Olympics were originally budgeted for 500 million euros but wound up costing 3.5 billion euros ($4.13 billion) instead. As NBC News reported, however, payments from TV broadcasting rights paid for about 40% of the operating budget, a huge increase over any Winter Games that came before.
2008 Beijing Summer Olympics: $45 Billion
- Adjusted for inflation: $56.79 billion
The enormous costs of the Beijing Summer Olympics reflected the industrial and economic boom that China was experiencing at the time. More than half the budget went to non-Games infrastructure like airports, roads and rail projects, according to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Another quarter went to environmental cleanup. The famous “Bird’s Nest” stadium cost $460 million to build and $10 million a year to maintain despite mostly sitting empty now.
2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics: $7 Billion
- Adjusted for inflation: $8.72 billion
The Vancouver Games are regarded along with Salt Lake City in 2002 as a well-run operation that was mostly worth the cost — at least for the host cities if not for the country as a whole. Canada enjoyed a lasting boost in tourism and national image, according to the Globe and Mail, and local residents paid only $1 of every $12 spent.
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2012 London Summer Olympics: $14.8 Billion
- Adjusted for inflation: $17.51 billion
London showed that it is possible for planning committees to save big bucks through creative cost-cutting. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the U.K. government saved $604 million on the combined 2012 Summer Olympics and Paralympics thanks to cuts in spending on construction, security and transportation. A $165 million contingency fund went unspent.
2014 Sochi Winter Olympics: $55 Billion
- Adjusted for inflation: $63.12 billion
According to the University of Birmingham, Russia had hoped that the Winter Games would put Sochi on the map as a global resort. It did not, and most of the facilities and infrastructure it built now sit unused — all at a cost of 10% of Russia’s annual federal budget. A full 85% of the enormous $55 billion budget was spent building non-sports infrastructure from scratch, according to the CFR, and the country now must spend $1.2 billion a year to maintain it all.
2016 Rio Summer Olympics: $13 Billion
- Adjusted for inflation: $14.72 billion
A report from Business Insider called the Rio Olympics “a financial disaster.” It’s a hard point to argue. The Games went about 50% over the original budget, according to Reuters. The city was overbilled by 25% for a $2.9 billion subway line — and that was just one of the massive infrastructure expenditures. When the world went home, Rio realized it was stuck with massive facilities it couldn’t figure out how to use, lease, rent, sell or fill. At one point, the power was turned off at Maracana Stadium over nearly $1 million in unpaid bills.
2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics: $12.9 Billion
- Adjusted for inflation: $13.96 billion
According to CNBC, the original budget for the Pyeongchang Games was $7 billion. As is so often the case, it went way over — nearly double — to almost $13 billion. According to Forbes, about $2 billion to $6 billion was originally budgeted for infrastructure and $1.5 billion was for the Games themselves.
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Last updated: July 22, 2021