Days after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi confirmed that the country will bid to host the 2036 Olympics, prominent sports economist Andrew Zimbalist said that it will be extraordinarily difficult for a developing country like India to host the multibillion-dollar sports event.
He cautioned that the event organisers and host city planners will have to be extremely careful and frugal when it comes to expenditure. “There's always a lot of social and environmental disruption hosting the games. And almost always there's a massive deficit in the order of billions of dollars hosting the Olympics,” Zimbalist told Outlook Business.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Modi stated that India will “leave no stone unturned” in its efforts to host the Summer Olympics in 2036. The PM added that hosting the Olympics is an “age-old dream and aspiration of 140 crore Indians”. He was speaking at the opening ceremony of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) annual summit in Mumbai.
Although the prime minister did not reveal the name of the Indian city that will attempt to host the Olympics, it is widely believed to be Ahmedabad. In August, the Gujarat state government floated a special purpose vehicle for Olympics planning under the name of Gujarat Olympics Planning and Infrastructure Corporation Ltd.
India has never hosted an Olympics in the past, but the country hosted the Commonwealth Games in 2010. Back then, New Delhi was the host city. If India’s bid for Olympics 2036 goes ahead with Ahmedabad as the front-runner, the city will have to invest heavily in the sporting infrastructure including game venues, training facilities, residential parks for athletes, etc. Zimbalist warned that this could possibly become a burden on public taxpayer money.
“The reason why a city doesn't have the venues in the first place is because there's not an effective economic demand for them. So, you build these facilities, and in 17 days of the Olympics, the demand doesn't change. You have to spend millions of dollars to maintain these facilities over time. And while you're doing that, you're occupying valuable and scarce urban real estate that could be used for other purposes,” the American economist said.
Andrew Zimbalist is a professor of economics at Smith College in Massachusetts, USA. He has published several articles and books on the economics of sports in general, and the Olympics in particular. In 2015, he published Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup, a book critical of the large expenditure borne by cities that host global sporting events like the Olympics and FIFA World Cup.
In India's case, Zimbalist also pointed out that there are many lessons to be learned from previous Olympics hosts. He said, “I think the lessons are that if you are not extraordinarily careful, and if you don't plan very effectively, that you'll end up spending billions of dollars on facilities and infrastructure that you don't need. Or even if you do need it, it's at a very, very low order of priority. And so you're diverting resources from urgent and important uses to uses that are very, very dubious and questionable.”
Other countries bidding for the 2036 Olympics are Indonesia, Mexico, Turkey and Poland.