Montreal’s “Big O” stadium built for the 1976 Olympic games stands as an object lesson for cities that are contemplating spending billions of dollars on their Olympic dreams.
The Montreal stadium costs taxpayers over $30 million to maintain every year and yet the cost to tear it down would be prohibitive, no less than $100 million is estimated.
It is no surprise then that recent hosts of extravagant sports events are taking a more cautious approach. Pyeongchang, host of this year’s winter games, plans to demolish its Olympic stadium after the conclusion of the winter games and the Paralymics the following month.
To keep original construction costs to a minimum, Korea built its main stadium with no roof and no heating. It was also built with the expectation that it would be demolished, so durability was not invested in. Principle 27 – Cheap Short-Living Object
The main stadium thus cost a relatively paltry $75 million, compared to Russia’s 2014 Olympic Stadium which cost nearly $600 million.
Other cities hosting sports events are taking the modular approach, with Qatar hosting the 2022 World Cup using a stadium built out of shipping containers. Principle 1 – Segmentation
The economics of this approach depends on whether the modular pieces can find useful application elsewhere.
The original Olympic games were held every four years at the same location, Olympia, Greece. Some have proposed that the Olympics be held at the same recurring location in the modern era, rather than “awarding” it to new jurisdictions every four years, provoking a massive build that may not have further use. Principle 13 – The Other Way Round
This risks providing the host country with an unfair advantage and a diminishing interest from other countries around the world, but would be far less costly and easier to organize effectively.
Another way to avoid “white elephant” issues would be a distributed Olympics that scatters events across world class facilities around the world – the best track here, the best ski hill there. Principle 6 – Universality
This is probably a non-starter – certainly those who wish to see the games in person would find themselves only able to see on event at a given location. Events would be distributed across time zones affecting online and television viewers.
Innovate and die?
Whatever scandals are embodied in the Olympic games (and there are a few), they do serve to remind us that all nations can come together in peaceful competition.
It would be a shame to lose that essence.
Looking at the International Olympic Committee’s choices for innovation listed here, the first two place the burden of innovation on the location that “wins” the Olympics.
The latter options – staying in one place or running it in existing venues around the world – are too far removed from the vision of the Olympics, which is nations coming together for sport and taking turns to host the world.
Tom Peters famously coined the phrase “innovate or die”. In this case, if the IOC chose the latter options, they may find themselves doing both.