May 07, 2005

Olympic Legacies for the Home Team

Here in Canada there has been a lot of discussion about Olympic legacies in the last few years. This has been spurred by the succesful winter Olympic bid by Vancouver, and the two failed summer Olympic bids by Toronto.

When Vancouver made their attempt to host the 2010 winter Olympics, some in the summer sports community were rooting against them. I received an e-mail from a 1996 Olympian that expressed the sentiment well:

One thing to consider: if Vancouver wins the bid, Toronto won't have a chance at all for 2012 (no matter how slim it might appear already!). Canada already has Olympic quality Winter training facilities, which are in the West. Wouldn't Summer Olympic training facilities, in the center of our big empty country […] be a much better balance?

Of course, Vancouver did win the bid, and Toronto (wisely) did not bid for 2012. So is this a loss for summer sports, at the expense of the winter ones?

In one sense, yes. As the writer noted, the sports facilities that are constructed in the host region are an important legacy of an Olympic games. Canadians know very well that the Calgary facilities — particularly the speed skating oval and the bobsleigh track — have had a major impact on the development of Canadian athletes.

On the other hand, the facilities are only part of the story. The Calgary Olympics also generated a large financial windfall for the Canadian Olympic Committee. The COC has grown this endowment in the intervening 17 years, and at the same time plowed much of the income into high performance sport. This is now a significant source of support for winter and summer athletes alike.

This story from The Weekend Australian describes how the Australian Olympic Committee extracted $90M from the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and how astute investing has turned that into $112M (an Australian dollar is roughly equal to a Canadian dollar). The AOC is now the second-wealthiest national Olympic committee in the world, and they are projecting an outlay of $24.5M for athlete preparation in the run-up to Beijing.

The point is, hosting an Olympic games can generate a financial legacy that goes well beyond the facilities. The financial gains from Vancouver 2010 — while not guaranteed — could be a huge boon to all Canadian athletes.

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