From the archives: After Drapeau showed the world how not to do it, Olympic hosts have learned how to turn a profit
First published Jan 10 2003
The one upside to a joint Lake Placid-Montreal winter Olympics bid is that the taxpayer would have a fighting chance of surviving the Games without the financial headaches that linger long after the memories of the 1976 summer Olympics begin to fade.
Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau won the bid for the 1976 competition virtually by default after charming International Olympic Committee members with his vision of a modest Games. But modesty was not one of Drapeau's strong points and while he assured voters the Games could no more run a deficit than a man could have a baby, those modest Games cost more than $1 billion. Taxpayers are still paying the interest on venues that have disappeared.
The prospect of losing money on the Olympics has lessened since the 1984 summer Games in Los Angeles. Organizer Peter Ueberroth created the model for the modern Games that year by attracting high-profile sponsors. TV-rights fees subsequently reached astronomical heights, thanks to the efforts of Montreal IOC member Richard Pound.
Since the 1988 winter Games in Calgary, most host cities have emerged from the Games with a surplus that has been used to maintain facilities. Such was not the case in Montreal.
The Olympic Stadium stands as the most visible legacy from the 1976 experience. But its unique feature, the tower designed to support a retractable roof, is also a symbol of Drapeau's folly. The roof never worked and the stadium has been cited as one of the reasons for the decline of the Expos.
Our Olympic pools, once the fastest in the world, are as likely to be the site of a car show as a swim meet. When Montreal hosts the 2005 FINA world championships, the competitions will be held in a new outdoor aquatic centre on Ile Notre Dame.
The cycling velodrome built next to the Olympic Stadium is now the Biodome. The country's only indoor cycling facility was losing $1 million a year when former mayor Pierre Bourque transformed it into a nature museum that loses four times as much.
Also built for the Olympics, the Claude Robillard Centre remains a vibrant multisport facility. The Centre Charbonneau, a venue for basketball and handball, has been converted to a hockey rink.
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