Can the IOC Achieve Sustainable Olympic Games?

By: Kylie Cumback

Every two years countries from all across the world come together in a two-week show of athletic prowess. To be selected as the host city is the ultimate honor. The International Olympic Committee selects the host city through an expensive and lengthy process.

On the surface, it appears that opportunity to host the Games would ensure that the host city experiences an economic boom from the lucrative sponsorship deals, television contracts, and an influx of tourism resulting from the city’s appearance on a global platform; however, recent Olympic cycles have proven that the Games are nearly as much of a curse as they are a blessing.

The games are often poisoned with financial crises and political corruption.[1] In Rio, an economic recession, political turmoil, and a corruption scandal threatened the success of the Games.[2] Rio’s economic troubles resulted in sloppily finished stadiums and athletes’ village facilities.[3] Perhaps even more concerning were the 2014 games in Sochi. These games cost more than $50 billion, and were intended to show off Russia’s Black Sea coast, instead, Russia’s poor infrastructure resulted in hundreds of power outages, street dogs ran rampant throughout the city, and Putin’s political agenda spawned intense controversy.[4] The Sochi games cost over seven times as much money as the 2010 games in Vancouver—though bookkeeping didn’t seem to be a priority.[5]  In December, Russia’s athletes were banned from the February 2018  games in South Korea due to an elaborate doping scheme established for Russian athletes.[6] Additionally, after the Games, the venues created for each sport often go vacant.[7] Even the $50 Billion Sochi Games park was abandoned only a year after the games.[8]

Due to recent troubles for host cities, the IOC has had to re-think how it determines the host city—placing a bigger focus on costs and sustainability.[9] In 2014, the IOC adopted the Agenda 2020—a list of 40 detailed recommendations to help preserve the games and also adjust to the changing economic climate.[10] These recommendations include changing the bidding process by reducing the cost, structuring the bids as “invitations,” evaluating the bids based on “opportunities and risks,” and utilizing relationship s with professional leagues and event organizers.[11] Additionally, the games were to focus on clean sports, gender equality, ethics, transparency, autonomy, and “basic principles of good government.”[12]

Each Olympic Cycle, the IOC entertains a “bidding process” from which several cities put together a games proposal—including cost estimates, proposed venues, and themes. These proposals are usually entertained every two years and done seven years in advance of the games. [13] In 2017,  the International Olympic Committee (IOC) granted the 2024 Olympics to Paris and simultaneously granted the 2028 Olympics to Los Angeles. The move to determine the 2028 host city over a decade in advance, and before a formal bidding process could begin, was unprecedented. [14] Some believe that the decision to select two host cities was in part due to a decreased interest in hosting the games.

Utilizing the Agenda 2020 recommendations, moving forward the I.O.C. will likely entertain “regional” bids as opposed to the traditional city bids that have been used by the I.O.C. in the past.  These bids have been aimed at reducing the costs to the host city and nation.[15] For example, Switzerland has bid to host the Winter Olympics in 2026, however, the games are not going to be held solely in the Opening Ceremony City, Sion.[16] Instead, the games would be spread all around the region in an area the Sion 2026 plan calls the “Olympic Ring.”[17] Creating regions in which the games could be conducted could help host cities cut costs by not having to construct new venues—now they merely have to provide upgrades to the locations.

The Paris 2024 games, for example, plan to “deliver spectacular Games with 95% of venues existing or temporary.”[18] During the bidding process, the Bid Committee promised that the Paris Games would be the “greenest games ever.”[19] Further, the Games concept website boasts that it will use existing and temporary  “world class sporting facilities” to showcase France’s ability to host events of this magnitude and also to showcase France’s love of sport while also cutting down on carbon dioxide emissions. [20] The Paris 2024 vision highlights the drive to host a games that “respect people and the planet.”[21] To add to the success of the new bidding style and games concept, it was just announced that the Paris 2024 Bid committee will have a 1.5 million euro budget surplus as a result of “strict adherence to the bid committee operating budget.”[22] The Committee attributes the surplus to “rigorous management” and transparency—it anticipates that such strict management will impact the Paris 2024 organizing committee’s approach to planning the Games.

It was clear that in the current environmental and political climates that the International Olympic Committee needed to change how the Games were hosted in order to bring the host city the recognition it deserved without creating an unsustainable economic burden. With Agenda 2020’s decision to re-vamp the bidding process to ensure that cities could actually support the games, and with bidding cities changing the format of the bids to “regional bids” the future of the Olympic Games looks bright. IOC president Thomas Bach said it best. “The success of yesterday means nothing for today. The success of today gives you only the opportunity to drive for change tomorrow . . . If we do not address these challenges here and now, we will be hit by them very soon. . . . We want to be the leaders of change.” [23]



[1] Rio Olympics Causes ‘Real Problems’ In Brazil, Reuters (Aug. 22, 2016),  

[2] Id.

[3] Will Connors, Rio’s Olympic Village Faces Housing Problems, Wall Street Journal (July 26, 2016),

[4] Brett Forrest, Putin’s Run For Gold, Vanity Fair (Jan. 21, 2014),; Amber Lee, The 20 Biggest #SochiProblems, Bleacher Report (Feb. 7, 2014),

[5] Forrest, supra note 4 (“How much of Russia’s $50 billion has gone to fund Olympics-related activity and how much covers kickbacks, bribes, and shakedowns is anyone’s guess. Basic bookkeeping is not prioritized. A Moscow friend, a foreigner who has worked as a senior manager for several Olympics, says, “I have never seen a budget in Sochi.”).

[6] Rebecca R. Ruiz and Tariq Panja, Russia Banned From Winter Olympics by I.O.C., N.Y. Times (Dec. 5, 2017),

[7] Emmett Knowlton, What Abandoned Olympic Venues From Around the World Look Like Today, Business Insider (Aug. 24, 2015),

[8] Will Stewart, A $51 Billion’Ghetto’: Extraordinary images show Vladimir Putin’s Sochi Olympic Park Lying Desolate and Abandoned One Year After Most Expensive Games in History, DailyMail (Feb. 6, 2015),

[9] Rachel Axon, Future Olympic Bid Cities Could Find Process Less Expensive, Convoluted, USAToday (Aug. 7, 2017),

[10] I.O.C., Olympic Agenda 2020: 20+20 Recommendations 7 ( 2014),

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Dan Fletcher, How and Olympic Host City Is Determined, Time (Oct. 1, 2009),,8599,1927402,00.html.

[14] IOC Makes Historic Decision By Simultaneously Awarding Olympic Games 2024 to Paris and 2028 to Los Angeles, (Sept. 13, 2017),

[15] Rachel Axon, Future Olympic Bid Cities Coul Find Process Less Expensive, Convoluted, USA Today (August 7, 2017),

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Paris 2024, Games in the Heart Of the City, (last visited, January 20, 2018).

[19] Lew Blaustein, Why Paris 2024 Promises Record Sustainability Wins, Green Biz (Feb. 17, 2017),

[20]  Games in the Heart Of the City, supra note 18.

[21] Paris 2024, Vision, (last visited January 20, 2018).

[22] Paris 2024 Bid Committee Ends with Surplus, Around the Rings (Jan. 19, 2018)m

[23] Thomas Bach, President of the Int’l Olympic Comm., Speech at the Opening Ceremy of the 127th IOC Session (Dec. 7, 2014).