The Calgary Herald by Jacqueline Kennelly 29 September 2018
Feeling confused about which way to vote in the Olympic plebiscite? Here’s a handy guide to the top three myths about hosting the Games.
Myth No. 1: Calgarians will make lots of money.
Fact: American sports economist Andrew Zimbalist has studied the economic impact of Olympic Games for many years. His conclusion? Olympic Games never make money for the host city. Rather, they end up costing way more in both the short and long run. Two Calgary economists agree: they predict the Games will likely cost close to $8 billion, most coming from public coffers. Vancouverites picked up 60 per cent of the costs for the 2010 Olympics, paying a whopping $4.6 billion. That’s the same amount of money budgeted for B.C.’s entire annual education budget in 2010.
But, the Yes side will argue, you have to spend money to make money. And Calgarians will reap the benefits through a massive increase in jobs and tourism, right?
Wrong. Economists who’ve studied this observe that hosting an Olympics doesn’t guarantee an increase in jobs, nor tourism. This is partly because of the substitution effect: people employed by Olympic venues for construction or security (two of the major Olympic job categories) would otherwise be employed elsewhere. These aren’t new jobs. They’re just different jobs. Also, claims about increased jobs don’t account for the length of the job (its security), how well-paid it is, or who’s likely to get it. Poor people typically don’t benefit from the Olympics.
On the tourism front, economists cite the displacement effect. Olympic tourism doesn’t add to existing tourism; rather, people who are interested in the Olympics go to Olympic cities, and people who aren’t interested go elsewhere. I was in London during the 2012 Olympics; its famous West End was a ghost town, as non-Olympic tourists stayed away during the Games.
Myth No. 2: The Olympics will leave an affordable housing legacy.
Fact: Since the Sydney Games in 2000, almost every Olympic bid has promised some variation on an affordable housing legacy. To date, not a single Olympic Games has delivered. First, there is no mechanism to ensure commitments are filled; bid committees can promise the moon, but nothing guarantees their follow-through. Second, hosting a sports mega-event with tight timelines and global media focus means that everything becomes about Games readiness. Soft commitments to housing are quickly pushed aside. Third, when the inevitable cost overruns happen, affordable housing is the first to go.
Myth No. 3: A plebiscite is a fair way to decide whether Calgary should host the Olympics.
Fact: A plebiscite can only be fair if both sides have equal funding. This never happens. The interests behind hosting the Olympics are wealthy — real estate developers, high finance, insurance companies — and it is easy for them to fund a persuasive campaign to swing the vote towards Yes. The No side is generally led by a small group of passionate citizens without funding, done off the side of their desks, and with only concern for their city to fuel them.
Don’t be persuaded by the fancy billboards and tempting rhetoric of the Yes side. On Nov. 13, vote No to hosting the 2026 Calgary Olympics.
Jacqueline Kennelly is a professor of sociology at Carleton University.