Back to the Starting Blocks 

I doubt there are many places that aren’t following the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the moment and in present times only supreme athleticism has surpassed scandals about banned drugs, competition facilities and unsportsman-like behaviour.

The modern world is fiercely competitive, profit-orientated, and deeply ideologically divided but we still love to see the best that humans can physically achieve.

Rio Medal Table on 19 August 2016

The ancient games began in Greece somewhen in the 8th century BC.  It was held in honour of the god Zeus, male only, competed nude and all for an olive tree head-dress.  As the Greek world shrank away so did the games but the memory of them did not.


The first `modern’ Olympics was organised in 1612 by lawyer Robert Dover in the obscure village of Chipping Camden in England and continued for a few decades.  Later, in 1850 the games re-surfaced in the equally small town of Much Wenlock, with more English sports like cricket.   They even sent the large sum of £10 to Athens in 1859 in honour of the ancient Greeks.  In 1890, the Olympic committee was formed by Pierre de Coubertin, the first games organised in 1896 back home in Athens.  The event often looked like disappearing but as the 20th century wore on it gradually became fully entrenched and recognisable to us today.

One of the things most notable is the increasing prestige and the increasing cost.  Many now doubt that such events can ever make economic sense and yet they continue to hold the promise of mass tourism, valuable Euros and Dollars, an enduring facility for future events and the training of a new generation of local athletes.

The cost of the London Olympics in 2012 was estimated at nine billion Pounds (£9 bn), the precise figure is unclear because of the complex funding issues but most of it came from the public purse.  The Sochi Olympics in 2014 was thought to have reached a world-record breaking 51 billion Dollars ($51 bn).   Typically, the event is way over-budget.

What is less clear is the long term benefit to the host country.  This will depend on the positive image the world receives and the ongoing use of facilities.  It is often the case that the purpose built facilities can only partially be re-habilitated for a new use.    We can only hope that future hosts look and learn and give a prize worth having to their own people.

Written by Lin Petrie

Meanwhile on August 20th, 2016, a Brookings Newsletter introduced a bunch of articles on the soon to shut down Rio Oluympics  as follows:

From water pollution and the Zika virus to security and logistics issues, the 2016 Summer Olympics have been no stranger to controversy. While these concerns have dominated news headlines worldwide, there are more long-term questions surrounding Brazil’s future on the global stage.

In a selection of content below, Brookings experts break down the economics of hosting the Olympics, provide analysis on the state of Brazil’s government, and discuss where the country goes from here.

For more, visit our Brazil topic page on