Here today, gone tomorrow: the sobering Olympic realities of Athens and Beijing

Published: Monday, Aug. 6 2012 12:31 p.m. MDT

The Olympic beach volleyball lies abandoned in southern Athens, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012. The purpose-built stadium has seen minimal use _ mostly for concerts _ since the Athens 2004 Olympics. Eight years after the Athens Games, many of the venues remain abandoned or rarely used, focusing public anger on past governments as the country struggles through a fifth year of recession and a debt crisis that has seen a surge in poverty and unemployment.

Thanassis Stavrakis, Associated Press

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Gabby Douglas.

Usain Bolt.

Michael Phelps.

At the 2012 London Olympics, the best athletes in the world consistently captivate worldwide audiences with clutch performances on the largest of stages.

But what happens to London’s expansive Olympic facilities once the curtain drops and the Games end?

The host sites of the previous two Summer Olympics — Athens and Beijing, respectively — provide cautionary tales about what can happen to Olympian infrastructure once the Games end.

“Eight years after the 2004 Athens Games, many of the Olympic venues Greece built at great expense remain abandoned or rarely used,” the Associated Press reported Friday. “They are the focus of great public anger as the country struggles through a fifth year of recession and nearly three years of a debt crisis that has seen a surge in poverty and unemployment.”

Two weeks ago the sports blog Sportige wrote, “One of the great fears of Olympic organizers is that after all the investment and planning, everything they’ve built for the Olympics will never be used again once the two magical weeks are over. Such is the case with many of the stadiums and facilities used for the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing, with many of then not even in existence anymore.”

Similar to the Olympics, the World Cup soccer tournament that South Africa hosted in 2010 required hundreds of millions of dollars of infrastructure expenditures. And several of those soccer stadiums specifically constructed for the World Cup appear to be on the precipice of sinking into irrelevance.

The international sports website sport24 reported last month, “South Africans must watch less TV and more live events, so stadiums used for the 2010 Soccer World Cup do not become white elephants, South Africa Football Association CEO Robin Petersen said (July 12). … Cape Town Stadium, which was controversially not awarded matches for next year’s Africa Cup of Nations tournament, is considered among the facilities not being used to its full advantage.”

Of course, a city can successfully parlay Olympics infrastructure into long-term benefits. Last week Forbes.com’s Kenneth Rapoza noted, “Salt Lake City hosted the winter games in 2002. It cost the city an estimated $2 billion and was one of the most expensive ever. But when the Olympics left, the city went into a deep recession. The good news was that no debt was built up after the games. The Olympic committee there actually made a profit and used it to create endowments to keep some of the venues running, and Utah became one of the new hubs for large winter sporting events. Since 2002, there has been 62 large sporting events, seven world championships, 90 Olympics-related events and in terms of money — over $1 billion pumped into the economy because of those hosted events.”

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