The Worst Places to Host a Major Sporting Event
If the Sochi Olympics have reminded of us anything, it’s that when it comes to hosting a major sporting event, not all countries or cities are created equal.
Best intentions aside, there have been a number of instances over the years in which a location to host such an event has been chosen that didn’t necessarily have the capabilities to deliver on their promises.
Some have already failed in spectacular fashion, while others will eventually fail in similarly spectacular fashion. Here are just a few of the worst places chosen to host a major sporting event.
Super Bowl XLVIII, New York/New Jersey
Ahead of Super Bowl XLVIII, the major concerns centered around the weather and the various complications that could arise should a serious snow event befall New York City and its surrounding areas the weekend of the event.
Well, despite years of concerns, snow wasn’t a factor during the game. It was actually unseasonably warm for the tens of thousands of fans trapped for hours at MetLife stadium, thanks to a devastating bottleneck created by NJ Transit.
And although the weather cooperated during the game, about 12 hours later, snow blanketed the city and stranded countless travelers. Nationwide, at least 3,000 flights were delayed and 1,700 cancelled due to the weather event.
Gridlock…on top of gridlock…on top of gridlock.
2004 Summer Olympics, Athens
Although preparations went down to the wire for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, as they usually do, the games themselves went fairly well for the host city. The problems came after because the Greek government spent $15 billion on facilities as if they were playing a throwaway game of Sim City.
The cost of construction went over budget by a whopping 60 percent, which would have been bad enough on its own, but was made far worse by Greek officials, who later admitted to the AFP that no one considered what the facilities would be used for after the Olympics.
Greece has been in economic free fall for years, and, in August 2012, Bloomberg Businessweek traced the root of their current situation back to the Athens Games.
2022 FIFA World Cup, Qatar
Perhaps it’s a bit premature to include Qatar on this list. After all, it isn't set to host the FIFA World Cup until 2022. But given the level of concern and criticism being expressed eight years out, it’s safe to say it has an uphill battle to fight.
In order to host the global event, 12 stadiums will have to be built in the Arab nation, which is about 1,000 square miles smaller than the state of Connecticut. Three stadiums will be renovated, the other nine will be built from the ground up—construction has not yet begun on any of them.
In September 2013, The Guardian conducted an investigation into the “abuse and exploitation of migrant workers,” estimating the death toll could reach 4,000 by 2022. That, in addition to the $42 billion Qatar is set to spend on construction and infrastructure improvements.
Much of the estimated death toll can be attributed to the extreme heat in the country, which will be a serious issue during the event itself. Summer temperatures range from 86 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit and, while Ben Rumsby of the Telegraph reports there is a “general assumption” the dates will be adjusted, no decisions have been made.
2014 Winter Olympics, Sochi
The 2014 Olympics in Sochi are often referred to as “Putin’s Games,” referring to the role Russian President Vladimir Putin played as the driving force that persuaded the IOC to award Sochi hosting duties. Unfortunately for him, reality hasn’t lived up to the vision of a “Black Sea resort” he set forth in 2007.
The Sochi Olympics are the most expensive in history—Russia promised $12 billion to develop the host city, but actually spent upwards of $50 billion. Yet, despite unprecedented spending and seven years to prepare, the Russians have looked anything but prepared to the outside world—likely a much different view than what is offered to their own citizens.
In most of the world, the international competition taking place between athletes at the games has been a secondary story to #SochiProblems, a viral hashtag which has meticulously documented the (seemingly unending) problems faced by visitors. And despite Russian attempts to silence reality, the truth of these Olympics is already written.
It's a truth that all the "robobloggers" can't even begin to wipe away with their militant dedication to offering up canned rebuttals to every negative article written about the Olympics worldwide.
2013 FIFA Confederations Cup
One year prior to the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Brazil hosted the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup, and let’s just say things didn’t exactly go off without a hitch. Protests and rioting were widespread, reportedly sparked by public resentment over high inflation, uncontrolled spending and poor planning.
Brazil is estimated to spend $13.3 billion ahead of the World Cup, but concerns about how and where the money is being spent continue to be a major issue. The country had a very difficult time controlling the protests, leading to talks about canceling the event altogether.
That doesn’t bode well for the World Cup, now just five months away, and raises early concern about the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Speaking of which…
2014 FIFA World Cup, Brazil
The concerns about Brazil’s preparedness for the upcoming World Cup, which begins June 12th, are growing by the day. Six of the 12 stadiums being constructed for the event missed the end of 2013 deadline according to Wyre Davis of the BBC.
Construction has been riddled by ongoing disasters, such as stadium collapses (as in more than one) and construction worker fatalities. The most recent setback is the threat of unionization by workers, who may strike to demand safer conditions.
Considering the extent to which the country is running behind in preparations, the necessitated “rush job” construction of the stadiums may post a threat during the World Cup but will definitely be a major concern in utilizing them beyond 2014.
The bottom line, as FIFA President Sepp Blatter told Swiss newspaper 24 Heures (via the Telegraph), is that no country has ever been so far behind as host. Which is beyond unacceptable, given that Brazil has had more time (seven years) to prepare than any other host nation in history.
1978 World Cup, Argentina
Argentina was selected to host the 1978 World Cup—a national triumph after 50 years of frustrating attempts to secure hosting rights, which resulted in a build up of bitterness and resentment. Not to mention the complicated political situation that loomed large over the event.
At the time, a military junta ruled over the Argentines; it was installed after overthrowing the government in 1976 and remained in place through 1983. The political pressure to boycott the games over human rights violations was immense, with retired Frenchman Michel Plantini calling the tournament his most difficult.
Issues surrounding the 1978 World Cup, which was very conveniently won by the host country, remain problematic more than 30 years later. In February 2012, a former Peruvian senator claimed the tournament was rigged, with Peru having agreed in advance to throw a game against Argentina, “at the expense of Brazil.”
In July 2013, Deadspin.com’s Matt Vanek wrote a very interesting and troublesome piece comparing the upcoming World Cup in Brazil to the events of 1978. It’s absolutely worth a read.
Super Bowl XXXIX, Jacksonville
To be fair to Jacksonville, much of the criticism lobbed at the city back in 2005 was exaggerated and overblown. It certainly wasn’t the best place to host a Super Bowl, but maybe it wasn’t quite as bad as people made it out to be. Or maybe it was.
As (then) ESPN columnist Bill Simmons pointed out at the time, Jacksonville isn’t “a bad place. The city seems fine. As far as middle-sized cities go, I like it less than Pittsburgh or Milwaukee, but more than Hartford or Sacramento.” The issue being that none of those other cities would ever be chosen to host a Super Bowl.
Jacksonville, quite simply, wasn’t equipped to host an event of that magnitude. Various cruise ships were required to dock in the city in order to compensate for an extreme shortage of hotel rooms. According to Ann Carrns of the Wall Street Journal (subscription required), NFL owners were “wooed with promotional packets containing the slogan ‘Chart your course for Jacksonville,’” but the experience didn’t live up to the hype.
Transit in town was lacking, with many of the cab drivers having driven in from as far as New York to take advantage. The practice facilities were waterlogged, some were scammed, and traffic was a nightmare for visitors—some of whom were forced to stay 70 miles away in Daytona—in a city that Simmons noted “is more spread out than any other American city at 884 square miles.”
1980 Winter Olympics, Lake Placid
Thankfully, we’ll always have the "Miracle on Ice," but other than that, the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid were an unmitigated disaster. The rural Adirondack village—population 2,700 at the time— in upstate New York was a logistical nightmare.
It was extremely difficult for people to even get to Lake Placid, but once they arrived, the trouble really began. According to Sheila M. Eldred of Discovery.com, “Spectators were told to buy tickets for alpine events on-site, for example, but weren’t able to get into the venue without holding a ticket.”
“Winter Olympics: a ‘disaster’ on skis and skates” is how the games were categorized by the St. Petersburg Times at the time. The article quoted an Italian journalist, who said, “This is the second worst thing I’ve ever been involved in. The first was World War II.”
2010 Commonwealth Games, New Delhi
In September 2010, BusinessInsider.com’s Gus Lubin called India’s Commonwealth Games “the worst-planned international sports event ever.” The article went on to highlight some of the countless problems that plagued the city of New Delhi, which spent seven years and over $1 billion planning the event.
Apparently, facilities for athletes were so bad that the Scottish team described them as “unfit for humans,” and security concerns so grave that New Zealand considered backing out. Faulty construction issues, local violence, political corruption and violent protests were all concerns in the months leading up to the event.
Manufacturing delays caused a dip in merchandise sales, drinking water for event workers was still being transported by hand, and an outbreak of dengue fever threatened pretty much everyone in the city.