NEWS | Dimming Olympic Flame Casts Long Shadow on Bloat
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NEWS | Dimming Olympic Flame Casts Long Shadow on Bloat

By Tom Buerkle

NEWS | Dimming Olympic Flame Casts Long Shadow on Bloat

Image Attribute: Rio 2016 Olympic Torch , Creative Commons 

NEW YORK, March 1 (Reuters Breakingviews) - The Olympic motto "faster, higher, stronger" is a fitting description of the global sporting extravaganza's bloat. With Budapest becoming the latest city to abandon hosting ambitions, it's time for organizers to scale back the games to save them.

The Hungarian government bowed to mounting public opposition to the cost, just as Boston, Hamburg and Rome did earlier. It leaves only Los Angeles and Paris in the running for the 2024 Summer Games. It's not just a seasonal problem either. In 2015, the International Olympic Committee handed the 2022 Winter Games to Beijing virtually by default after Oslo, Stockholm, Krakow and Lviv withdrew.

These locales are reacting sensibly to escalating costs and diminishing returns. London's 2012 Summer Games cost a record $15 billion, a sum quickly exceeded by the $21.9 billion tab for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, according to economists at Oxford's Said Business School. Since 1960, costs have exceeded budgets by an average of 156 percent.

Many of Rio de Janeiro's facilities sit in empty disrepair barely six months after the flame for the 2016 games was extinguished. 

The multibillion-dollar overrun for the 2004 Athens games contributed to Greece's debt spiral.

After Montreal ran up big borrowing burdens in 1976, Los Angeles was the sole bidder for the 1984 Summer Games. A disciplined eye on costs and aggressive marketing helped organizer Peter Ueberroth generate a $215 million surplus.

It's a feat that will be hard to repeat. The updated Los Angeles bid is budgeted at $6.2 billion, up 38 percent in 18 months. Paris, too, plans to use mostly existing venues, and reckons it can do the job for $4.3 billion.

Bulking up the agenda with sports like baseball, tennis and golf, which have bigger professional competitions and offer mostly regional appeal, is part of the problem. The number of Summer Games events has grown by more than half over the last four decades.

The Olympics still command a big audience craved by corporate advertisers. In January, Alibaba joined the select group of 13 multinational sponsors, at a price of $600 million, according to media reports. That sort of money will be squandered, though, if cities won't fly the five-ringed flag.

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  (Editing by Jeffrey Goldfarb and Martin Langfield)

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