What comes tomorrow?

It’s hard to believe that three weeks have passed since the World Cup finals ended. While the rest of the world moves on, one big question still lingers.  What ultimately happen to the stadiums used to host large-scale world events such as the Olympics and the World Cup when these competitions conclude? Will these stadiums ever experience full seating capacity? Most of them can’t. In most cases, once-proud stadiums that used to exhibit enormous world-bonding events have now fallen into disuse. As an acknowledgment to this trend, the stadium used for hosting the PyeongChang Winter Olympic games was going to be demolished after being used four times in order to avoid such a fate befalling it.

To host the Olympic games, a competitive bidding process is held every two years at the International Olympic Commission. The commission considers factors such as the ability of the host city to have adequate transport and lodging infrastructure to host the Olympics along with maintaining high positive media exposure for the occasion. Following that, an exorbitant application fee (US $150,000 for the 2012 Olympics) is charged, whereupon a result is determined. While benefits such as prestige, increased tourism and new jobs are bestowed upon the host city, it takes years of careful planning with the relevant organizations and stakeholders to ensure long-term sustainability.  

Most notably, Brazil’s decision to hold the subsequent 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympics has led to several developmental issues. Despite a housing shortage and poverty within the Brazilian favelas, the Brazilian government spared no expense to restore these stadiums, which have now fallen into disuse. Although Brazil spent about $3 billion on these stadiums, the current lack of popularity of  their local teams made the stadiums run at a loss, as they were unable to match the full capacity such as during the world cup. Thus, these venues have either been sold to private companies or used for unconventional events such as hosting weddings or kid parties as alternative revenue options. In fact, the most expensive world cup stadium, costing $550 million has been transformed into a bus parking area. At the same time, other Brazilian infrastructure meant for such an occasion, including a light railway to facilitate travel options around the city, is still not complete.

The stadiums used for such momentous occasions are usually the size of city blocks or larger, and thus can always be repurposed into something entirely different. For instance, the 2012 London Olympics made sure to use the least amount of materials necessary and have redeveloped an Olympic park into housing and office complexes. Similarly, the venue for the 2014 Sochi Olympics has become a training ground for the Russian national football team before being reused as a stadium for the 2018 World cup. However, the greatest success comes in the form of Beijing’s iconic Bird’s Nest stadium, which will be used once again for the 2022 Winter Olympics.

In exchange for being in the international spotlight for two months at the most, the resulting economic burden that comes afterwards makes it clear that the opportunity cost of building a stadium can be used for much better things. Thus, future events should place larger demands on sustainability in addition to considering how the money can be spent more wisely. Fortunately, this isn’t a universal case as pre-planning can avoid this.