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$20 million per participant - is that a decent level for an Olympic event?

Opinion from ISCA President Mogens Kirkeby


In a few weeks a couple of thousand athletes will gather at the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. The cost of this event seems to have hit a new record of $50 billion – or $20 million per participant! Is this a decent level of cost for a sporting event?


The cost of staging a major international sporting event is often a critical political issue for organisers and host countries. It is, after all, the citizens’ and tax payers’ money that is being put on the table. However, this seems not to be the case in Sochi.


Countries can of course freely decide how much they will spend on behalf of their citizens for any given event. But demands from the event’s owners and the host country’s desire to perform and show off its capacity drive the cost to disproportionate levels that far outweigh the value accorded to the sport and physical activity in the citizens’ daily lives.


The consequence has been that we have seen a clear trend of the cost of hosting major events rocketing in recent decades with Sochi emerging as the new record holder. The figures spent on these events clearly illustrate the distance between elite sport performance and grassroots sport for everyday citizens.


Grassroots sport is primarily funded by the participants themselves through fees and other private contributions (70%). However, many countries also dedicate public money to the grassroots sport sector, primarily to facility development and maintenance. The level of public support, primarily from local authorities, varies a lot, but even the “top of the pop” countries are only spending around €200 per inhabitant each year.


So based on this equation, the cost per participant at the 2014 Winter Olympics is 100,000 times bigger than the yearly public expenditure on grassroots sport in countries that provide the highest amount of public support to grassroots sport.


Is that decent?