The Current

Should the Olympic Games have a permanent venue?

Despite some controversies, the Rio 2016 Olympic Games appear to be a success so far. But what will happen when the world moves on? Will Rio be dotted with abandoned venues like in Athens? Maybe it's time for a permanent Olympic Games site.
The 2008 Beijing Olympics venue for the beach volleyball competition lies deserted in central Beijing, April 2, 2012. With so many neglected Olympic venues, many argue it's time to consider a permanent location. (David Gray/Reuters)

Read story transcript

Former Olympic host cities from all over the world are dotted with abandoned buildings, from a swimming pool in Athens filled with rainwater and garbage, to graffiti-covered bobsled tracks in Sarajevo, to a fenced-off beach volleyball venue in Beijing.

With so many deserted Olympic venues, what if we rethought the way we approach the Olympics and the practice of moving them to a different location around the world every time?

It's a question The Current explores with John Rennie Short, a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. He argues moving the Olympic Games to a permanent location is a good idea and tells The Current's host Connie Walker that the benefit of one site could eliminate corruption and high environmental and socio-economic costs.

A deserted swimming pool at the Olympic Village in the town of Thrakomakedones, north of Athens, July 25, 2014. (Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)

"The Olympic Games message is being tainted by the constant circulation," Short tells Walker.

"The International Olympic Committee [IOC] don't want a permanent site because that's where they get their leverage … They have a bidding system so cities bid to host the games; that's where they make their money from."

According to Olympic historian Robert K. Barney, a permanent location to host the Olympic Games will deprive cities of improved infrastructure, cleaner air and water, better transportation and security.

"[The Games] are of great benefit to the greater population and that is one thing that should be taken into consideration." Barney tells Walker the Games in Barcelona introduced middle-income housing, reviving an abandoned neighbourhood.

A view of the ski jump from the Sarajevo 1984 Winter Olympics on Mount Igman, near Sarajevo, Sept. 19, 2013. Abandoned and left to crumble into oblivion, most of the 1984 Winter Olympic venues in Bosnia's capital Sarajevo have been reduced to rubble by neglect. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

"All of these improvements might be on a wishlist of a particular city but that doesn't mean in time that they will be enacted. Barney says that hosting the Olympics " speeds up the process."

Short questions if the benefits are going to the people who need them most.

"Low-income communities tend to get punished as we can see in the case of favelas in Rio where upper-income communities get better access to international airports."

In Short's opinion, the cost to continue moving the Games is wasteful.

"It costs for an average stadium about $1 million dollars a year just to have security and regular maintenance, so it's quite easy to fall out of maintenance cycle and then spiral downward."

The abandoned stadium which hosted the beach volleyball competition during the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, July 29, 2014. (Yorgos Karahalis/Reuters)

A permanent Olympic venue is not a new idea. Barney tells Walker in the early 80s, Greece proposed to host the Olympics indefinitely but the IOC overwhelmingly voted against it. He doesn't see the IOC changing their minds now.

"It goes against the spiritual basis of the movement as being an international movement," says Barney.

"The members of the IOC likes to see this in an international perspective: to visit these various cities in the world, this is an experience for them."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Josh Flear, Julian Uzielli and Sujata Berry.