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High Olympics Price Tag Draws Controversy

  • Al Pessin

LONDON - The upcoming Olympics in London are an expensive operation. The British government’s budget for Olympic construction and operations is officially listed as $15 billion, although some estimates put it much higher. The organizing committee has a separate budget of about $3 billion which will be covered by revenue from ticket sales, sponsorships and other private sources.

Grand preparations

The stadiums and arenas of the Olympic Park are impressive, and the Olympics will no doubt be a grand show. But concerns about the cost linger.

Former British Olympic gold medalist and member of the London organizing committee Jonathan Edwards says people who worry about the cost of the Games are not thinking about the bigger picture.

“When people think of it as a cost, I think they perhaps don’t understand where the money has been gone and how it’s been spent. Those contracts, 98 percent them, have been won by British businesses," explained Edwards. "So, billions of pounds have been spent in the UK at a time which has been very challenging economically.”

Long-term benefits, but grief for some

Edwards says the Olympics construction and related development in East London will also have long term economic benefits for the city and all of Britain. Not surprisingly, there is considerable debate about that.

One of the leading anti-Olympics activists is Julian Cheyne, whose apartment building was flattened to make room for the Olympic Park. “The reality is this is a pack of lies, and, actually, the government knows this because back in 2002 it had its own report called Game Plan which warned that it would not produce the benefits which were claimed for it," he said. "A few months later, the government decided to go ahead with the project anyway. It was always a pack of lies.”

Finding a middle ground

Somewhere between the activist’s accusations and the officials' promises there must be some solid middle ground. Maybe that is at Bournemouth University’s School of Tourism, where we found Professor Adam Blake.

“It looks like on balance that there’s a big benefit to hosting the Olympics. There are uncertainties. And there are things we don’t know about even now," Blake stated. "There are negatives, as part of it. But there’s a huge amount of money coming into the UK, and that really drives a huge amount of benefits.”

But the professor acknowledges that the biggest potential benefits lie in the future, and therefore carry the greatest uncertainty. "Will London be seen in 10 years’ time with a big Olympic halo effect? Blake asked. "That’s really a potential really big number that outweighs everything that’s going to happen in two weeks in July and August.”

Executive Colin Grannell of long-time Olympic sponsor Visa believes in the so-called ‘halo effect,’ and says he can see its impact on his millions of customers.

“When they see our brand and the Olympic Games, the Olympic Rings, together we know, in terms of research, that they feel quite empowered by that. It’s the ‘feel good’ factor. And then they feel better about Visa, and, over time, they’ll use their Visa card more. And we can measure that, and we do, and it works,” said Grannell.

But there is no guarantee of a ‘halo effect’ of increased tourism and trade in future years, and many past Olympic cities have not had one.