Report: Olympics Getting Too Big

Times Staff Writer

The Olympic Games have enjoyed “unparalleled growth” over the last century but are now so big they are in peril of suffocating in their own popularity, an International Olympic Committee report warns.

The report, released Monday, urges cuts in costs, complexity and size. In comprehensively documenting the growth in the Games’ popularity during the 20th century, an IOC panel noted that the Summer Games, from the postwar 1948 Games in London to the most recent 2000 Olympics in Sydney, grew from 17 to 28 sports, 4,092 to 10,651 athletes, 136 to 300 events and 59 to 199 competing nations. Across the globe, nine of 10 people with access to TVs saw part of the Sydney Games.

The Winter Games also have experienced stupendous growth. From St. Moritz, Switzerland, in 1948 to Salt Lake City in 2002, the numbers have shot up: four to seven sports, 669 to 2,399 athletes, 22 to 78 events and 28 to 77 nations.


Bigger Games demand more of everything. The number of meals served each day in the Olympic village, for instance, grew from 35,000 in Barcelona in 1992 to almost 50,000 in Sydney. There were 2,100 official cars on hand in Barcelona, 4,700 in Sydney, an increase of 124%. Technology budgets in Sydney totaled $770 million. Law enforcement officials in Australia performed 250,000 Games-related vehicle searches and oversaw 8.5 million trips through airport-style metal detectors -- and that, of course, was before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The time has come, the report concludes, to pause.

However, the panel, chaired by longtime IOC member Dick Pound of Canada, offers no magic formula for downscaling in the report. Rather, it suggests for consideration by the full IOC a series of deliberate logistical steps, such as a review of the number of days the village is open before and after the Games, on the principle that each day of service requires millions of dollars.

The report makes clear, however, that something must be done: “The Games have reached a critical size, which may put their future success at risk if the size continues to increase. Steps must be undertaken and serious consideration given to effectively manage future growth, while at the same time preserving the attractiveness of the Games.”

The report, issued on the eve of an all-delegates IOC assembly here that will serve as a major test of the leadership of Jacques Rogge, the Belgian elected last year to an eight-year term as IOC president, dovetails with Rogge’s repeated calls to slow -- if not stop -- the Games’ growth.

“This meeting will be critical in showing the [IOC] members who’s actually running the show under this new regime,” University of Chicago professor John MacAloon, an expert on the Olympic movement, said. “That is unquestionably the larger revelation.”

Rogge has said many times in the last two years, during his campaign for the presidency and since taking office, that the Games were becoming so big that some cities -- particularly those in Latin America and Africa -- could not even dream of staging them.

As the report points out, the number of accredited people at the Games has doubled over 20 years, from 100,000 at the Los Angeles Games in 1984 to 200,000 in Sydney.

The addition of sports, disciplines and events is “the main driver” for the increase over the years in the size of the Games, the report says. Each additional athlete now costs an additional $30,000; each press representative $15,000.

The Summer Games now cost at least $3 billion, the report says -- $2 billion run through a local organizing committee, with at least another $1 billion in costs such as security and transit, typically borne in some measure by local, regional or national authorities.

The Winter Games -- with about one-fourth the athletes -- nonetheless cost at least $2.2 billion, $1.5 billion in organizing committee costs, the rest governmental expenditures, the report estimates.

The IOC is due this week to take up a proposal that baseball, softball and modern pentathlon be cut from the Summer Games, perhaps as soon as the Beijing Games in 2008.

It remains far from clear, however, whether Rogge has the political support to cut the three sports. The proposal was announced in August but a decision may be postponed until the next all-delegates IOC assembly, next July in Prague, capital of the Czech Republic.

Also up for consideration at the IOC session this week is a review of the 50-point reform plan the IOC enacted in 1999, in the wake of the Salt Lake City corruption scandal.

The IOC decided then that its members could not visit cities bidding for the Games. Rogge has said he is in favor of the ban. Some members view it as an imposition on their personal freedom and professional integrity.