The Dark Side of Hosting the Olympics
This summer, Los Angeles officials reached a deal with the International Olympic Committee to host the 2028 Olympic Summer Games.
For its trouble, the city hopes to generate hundreds of millions in savings and additional revenues. However, over the past few decades, world sporting events have come with a huge price tag for their host cities’ residents — especially the poorest ones.
After the medals are awarded and the fireworks die down, these are the residents are left to deal with the results.
I can still remember watching Dominique Dawes and the U.S. women’s gymnastics team win the first U.S. women’s gold medal in their sport at the Atlanta games in 1996. However, many Atlanta residents better remember the country’s first project housing project, Techwood, and the neighboring Clark Howell complex being destroyed to make way for this gold medal occasion.
The city relocated 6,000 residents from public housing leading up to the Olympics. After the games, rapid gentrification followed, displacing another 24,000 people, the Center on Housing Rights and Evictions calculates.
The pattern replayed itself in Brazil, which hosted the 2014 World Cup. I remember sitting in my apartment cheering on Ghana and laughing while my friends reenacted the soccer team’s dance moves. What we couldn’t see from our television screens were the stark levels of inequality that blighted the host country.
Though Brazil was ranked 12th globally in social inequality, the government managed to find $14 billion to host the games, money that could’ve been spent to benefit poor and working Brazilians. To make matters worse, more than 250,000 people were either directly or indirectly forced to leave their homes — often violently.
Brazil didn’t learn its lesson, apparently, because more violence followed in advance of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. About 70,000 people were displaced by the Olympics, and almost a thousand poor people — mostly black men — were killed during “pacification” efforts to clean up the city’s image between 2015 and summer 2016.
These examples only highlight a small picture of the inequality these games bring to hosting cities. According to a 2008 report, the six Summer Olympics held between the 1988 Seoul Games and the 2008 Beijing Games forcibly evicted or otherwise displaced more than 2 million people.
Though Los Angeles is famous for its conspicuous wealth, it also has the highest rate of chronic homelessness in the United States and struggles to provide affordable housing to its residents. Even with these issues, LA officials believe they can protect themselves from the dark legacy of world sporting events.
The city will receive $160 million from the IOC to fund youth sports programs in the city. They also plan to use facilities already there, including the new football stadium currently being built, and to use UCLA to host the Olympic Village.
By not having to build new facilities to host the games, officials believe they will minimize displacement. Officials also say the 11-year wait will give them an opportunity to develop a failure-proof plan.
L.A.’s bid committee estimated it will cost $5.3 billion to stage the games. But if they’re wrong about displacement, imagine the cost to the families left without homes.
Kenneth Worles is the Newman Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.