Every two years, the International Olympic Commission (IOC) chooses a city to host the games. Local governments then proceed to spend billions of dollars building lavish venues for Olympians and fans.
But after the athletes leave and the world's TVs tune out, many of these shiny stadiums go unused and fall into disrepair. Just six months after the 2016 Summer Olympics ended in Rio de Janeiro, the Olympic Village had already turned into a ghost town, and most of the venues laid abandoned. According to the Olympic Public Authority, Brazil spent $2.1 billion on Olympic venues between 2012 to 2016.
For the 2018 Winter Olympics, Pyeongchang, South Korea is trying to do things differently — at least for one of its new stadiums. The Korean central government shelled out $109 million on a new Olympic Stadium that held the opening ceremony.
Unlike the others, the stadium is ephemeral. After the games are over, the city will demolish the venue, according to ArchPaper. This could be a smart strategy, considering dozens of past Olympic arenas have turned into urban wastelands. In August, the IOC even warned organizers in Pyeongchang that they risk creating "white elephants" out o expensive new venues.
The pentagonal Olympic Stadium has 35,000 seats but no roof, which lowered construction costs. And although Pyeongchang has averaged around 10 degrees Fahrenheit during the Olympics, the Olympic Stadium doesn't have heating, which helps save energy costs. The complex will only be used four times before it's torn down. In its place, the city will construct an Olympic memorial hall.
Korea has devoted more than $1.5 billion toward Olympic infrastructure, and the total costs are nearing $13 billion. Cities that apply to host the Olympics generally see the games as a way to boost global recognition and tourism.
But some cities are now wondering if it's worth the investment. As FiveThirtyEight notes, research has repeatedly shown that the Olympics is usually a money-loser for cities, especially those in developing countries.
One 2016 study looking at the available data from Olympic games since 1960 found that host cities have overrun their budgets by 156% on average. A big chunk of that budget goes toward constructing flashy venues that can fit tens of thousands of spectators, even if the cities aren't able to maintain the arenas after the Olympics. When South Korea won the bid in 2011, it estimated that the games would cost $5 to $6 billion less than its actual cost.
"For a city and nation to decide to stage the Olympics Games is to decide to take on one of the most costly and financially most risky type of megaproject[s] that exists, something that many cities and nations have learned to their peril," the researchers wrote.
Even if the 2018 Winter Games is a huge money pit for South Korea, at least the people of Pyeongchang won't have to stare at a decaying stadium.