At the first modern Olympics in 1896, there were just 14 countries and 241 athletes. This year, over 200 countries and more than 11,000 athletes will participate at the games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The need for bigger stadiums has presented new problems for modern cities: What to do with Olympic venues after the games are over?
Some cities, after spending millions to build expensive venues, end up dismantling them or letting them sit in disuse. Others, like London, repurpose their Olympic stadiums.
After spending $700 million to build a stadium for the 2012 summer Olympics, London spent another $400 million turning it into a soccer stadium for West Ham United, says Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith College.
“It’s been repurposed,” he says, “but at an enormous cost.”
Zimbalist says that it’s easier and less costly for cities to host the Olympics if they already have the infrastructure. When Barcelona hosted the Summer Games in 1992, “they didn’t need to build very much—they had about 70 percent of what they needed,” he says.
Similarly, one of the reasons that Los Angeles is applying to host its third Olympics in 2024 is because “all they really need to build is an aquatic center [and a media center],” he says. “They’ve got basically everything else.”
As the cost of hosting the Olympics continues to grow, cities that don’t already have the right kinds of venues have begun to withdraw their bids to host the games. Boston and Hamburg, for example, have already dropped out of the running for 2024.
In fact, Zimbalist thinks that the issue of Olympics venues has become so challenging that we should stop moving them around and just choose one permanent location for the games.
It sounds practical enough, but the tough part would be getting the international community to agree on what nation should host the Olympics indefinitely.