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The current time in Athens is 03:04 on October 4, 2023

28th Olympic Games - JO

Athens, Greece, August 14-28, 2004

Features for Saturday, August 7, 2004

Athens tipped to be the most expensive Games ever

"Rational thought out the window"

The final price tag for the 2004 Olympics may approach $US12 billion ($A17.11 billion), including a record of at least $US1.5 billion ($A2.14 billion) for security. This figure is almost 10 times that spent on the Sydney Games, which outlayed $US1.5 billion ($A2.14 billion) four years ago.

"The Olympics, for some reason, seems to throw rational thought out the window. I call it the 'goose bump effect,'" said Helen Lenskyj, a University of Toronto sociologist professor who has studied Olympic costs and other fallout. "The Olympics is built on this sentiment: 'I had goose bumps being at the games, competing in the games and so on.' It trumps all rational arguments."

The 1984 Los Angeles Olympics is considered a watershed. It turned the Olympics from a sports celebration to a perceived economic engine. The reason was a record $US225 million ($A320.9 million) profit.

"LA changed everything," said Evan Osborne, who teaches sports economics at Wright State University in Ohio. "Suddenly, the Olympics were seen as a potential bonanza."

This opened up a new age of competition among cities. Bids grew ever more extravagant and spectacular. So did the costs. The International Olympic Committee did little until recently to put the brakes on the promises.

"We call it the 'winner's curse,'" Osborne said. "The cities that win the bid for the Olympics are the cities that most overestimate what they are worth."

Montreal, host of the 1976 Summer Games, was stuck with a public debt worth billions in today's dollars. In Atlanta, which hosted the games 20 years later, a hotel and other buildings have sprouted around the downtown Centennial Olympic Park - site of the bombing that claimed one life. But other Olympic venues, including a shooting site and beach volleyball, lost their lustre once the games left town.

Even the highly praised Sydney Games four years ago have left a fiscal hangover.

"For Sydney, some of the benefits almost appear to be spiritual, and I don't say that in a religious sense," said Harry Gordon, Australia's top authority on the games. He called it a "coming together in such a spirit of joy and unity that I haven't seen on such a scale outside of wartime".

Costs for staging recent Olympics as reported by organising committees. Figures do not always include public works projects for the games:

Atlanta, 1996:             $US1.72 billion ($A2.45 billion)
Nagano, 1998:              $US1.14 billion ($A1.63 billion)
Sydney, 2000:              $US1.5 billion ($A2.14 billion)
Salt Lake City, 2002:      $US1.9 billion ($A2.71 billion)
Athens, 2004: (est.)       $US8 billion ($A11.41 billion) to $US12 billion ($A17.11 billion)
Turin, 2006: (est.)        $US3.19 billion ($A4.55 billion)
Beijing, 2008: (est.)      $US33.8 billion ($A48.21 billion)*
* for operating expenses, sports facilities and other projects