van_2010_logoWith a large part of the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver now behind us, it is interesting to notice that the Games continue their unbridled growth both in terms of participating athletes and nations as well as in the number of events. However, this comes at a expense. Whereas since 1980 (Lake Placid) the number of athletes and events have increased by 2.5x and 2.3x respectively, the expenses related to the games have increased by a staggering 13x and when compared to 1984 (Sarajevo) even by 20x! This exponential increase is clearly not sustainable going forward. Since Lake Placid the number of events, athletes and nations has more than doubled.

Vancouver, Canada is the pride host of the XXI Olympic Winter Games. After Calgary, it is the second time Canada is hosting the games. Since then a lot has changed, but what has not changed is that the Winter Games are continuing to witness unbridled growth in terms of events, countries, participating athletes, participating officials, TV coverage and revenues and expenses. So far the end is not in sight, albeit that growth is slowing down. This should not be surprising given the fact that two sources of growth seem to slowly get saturated. The increase in the number of participating countries is slowing down and more importantly the growth in the number of participating athletes and events is coming down. The table below shows that since Lake Placid in 1980 the number of participating countries, the number of athletes and the number of events has more than doubled, implying that compounded growth for each time Winter Games were organized on average exceeds the 10% figure. As can be seen the Torino and Vancouver Games have witnessed significant lower growth.

Year Host City Country Countries % chg Athletes % chg Events %chg
1924 Chamonix France 16 290 16
1928 St Moritz Switzerland 25 56% 360 24% 14 -13%
1932 Lake Placid USA 17 -32% 280 -22% 14 0%
1936 Garmish Germany 28 65% 760 171% 17 21%
1948 St Moritz Switzerland 28 0% 810 7% 22 29%
1952 Oslo Norway 32 14% 730 -10% 22 0%
1956 Cortina d’Ampezzo Italy 32 0% 920 26% 24 9%
1960 Squaw Valley USA 30 -6% 650 -29% 27 13%
1964 Innsbruck Austria 36 20% 930 43% 34 26%
1968 Grenoble France 37 3% 1290 39% 34 0%
1972 Sapporo Japan 35 -5% 1130 -12% 35 3%
1976 Innsbruck Austria 37 6% 1260 12% 37 6%
1980 Lake Placid USA 39 5% 1280 2% 38 3%
1984 Sarajevo Yugoslavia 49 26% 1490 16% 39 3%
1988 Calgary Canada 57 16% 1550 4% 46 18%
1992 Albertville France 64 12% 1800 16% 57 24%
1994 lillehammer Norway 67 5% 1730 -4% 61 7%
1998 Nagano Japan 72 7% 2180 26% 68 11%
2002 Salt Lake City USA 77 7% 2400 10% 78 15%
2006 Torino Italy 80 4% 2500 4% 84 8%
2010 Vancouver Canada 82 2% 2632 5% 87 4%

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The table below gives some more detailed information. Whereas in the past travel to another continent had an impact on the number of participating nations, this seems no longer the case. This is partly due to the fact that the IOC is subsidizing smaller exotic countries that want to participate. These smaller countries are only a small reason behind the enormous growth in the number of athletes. More important growth drivers are the growth in the number of female athletes and the number of events. When looking at the number of women that participate in the Games, we notice that since Lake Placid this number has increased by 355%, whereas the number of participating men only increased by 87%. Also in absolute terms the number of women has grown more rapidly. This is partly due to the increase in the number of events for women, which brings us to another growth driver. Both the number of men’s events and women’s events has more than doubled over this period. New popular events like snowboarding and snow cross have been added, whilst almost all events are now both for women and men. Clearly the new sports will continue to play an important role for the growth in the future. The success of the winter X-games shows the need for action sports and by allowing sports such as boarding and snow cross (which everybody seems to embrace), the IOC is aiming to embrace the younger generations. Ironically, in absolute numbers, the number of team officials has grown the most and now exceeds the number of athletes.

LakePlac. Sarajevo Calgary Albertv. Lilleh. Nagano SaltLake Torino Vancouver
1980 1984 1988 1992 1994 1998 2002 2006 2010
Countries present 39 49 57 64 67 72 77 80 82
% change 26% 16% 12% 5% 7% 7% 4% 2%
Events 38 39 46 57 61 68 78 84 86
% change 3% 18% 24% 7% 11% 15% 8% 2%
Men’s events 24 24 28 32 34 37 42 45 45
% change 0% 17% 14% 6% 9% 14% 7% 0%
Women’s events 12 13 16 23 25 29 34 37 39
% change 8% 23% 44% 9% 16% 17% 9% 5%
Male athletes 839 1000 1110 1312 1215 1389 1513 1548 1572
% change 19% 11% 18% -7% 14% 9% 2% 2%
Female athletes 233 274 313 489 522 788 886 960 1060
% change 18% 14% 56% 7% 51% 12% 8% 10%
Total athletes 1072 1274 1423 1801 1737 2177 2399 2508 2632
% change 19% 12% 27% -4% 25% 10% 5% 5%
Team officials 920 1417 917 1888 1821 1468 2100 2704 2850
% change 54% -35% 106% -4% -19% 43% 29% 5%

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Costs have grown exponentially. It should also be interesting to see how the games have done financially. In the table below the revenues, costs and profits are summarised in USD and at constant 2000 prices using the 2000 price index. Two quick conclusions can be drawn: 1. the figures (which exclude investments related to the venues and infrastructure) clearly indicate that the organising committees of the Olympic Winter Games have realised a deficit in most of the cases; 2. The increase in both revenues and costs have grown far more rapidly than the number of participants in the games. The Vancouver Games (we have used the budget numbers) are likely to be the most expensive; Vancouver 2010 is likely to be almost 13x more expensive in terms of costs than Lake Placid 1980 and even 20x more expensive than Sarajevo 1984. This is an astonishing increase when compared to the increase in the number of athletes (2.5x) and the number of events (2.3x). When allocating total expenses over the number of athletes active in the game, it implies that costs per athlete has risen by 414% from USD 107,612 to USD 553,171 using constant 2000 prices. Of course there are plenty of explanations, but it is clear that this exponential cost increase cannot continue in the future!

Lake Pl. Sarajevo Calgary Albertv. Lilleh Nagano Salt Lake Torino Vancouver
1980 1984 1988 1992 1994 1998 2002 2006 2010
Revenues (USDm) 97.6 277.81 626 800 525 1050 1264 1300 1456
% change 185% 125% 28% -34% 100% 20% 3% 12%
Costs (USDm) 115.36 72.93 590 859 868 1002 1317 1333 1456
% change -37% 709% 46% 1% 15% 31% 1% 9%
Profit or loss -17.76 204.88 36 -59 -343 48 -53 -33 0
Costs per athlete USD 107612 57245 414617 476957 499712 460266 548979 531499 553171
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