Crazy Expensive: What the Olympics Cost From 1948 to Today

Olympic flame lighting ceremony
Ververidis Vasilis /

To win the right to host the Olympics — usually a decade-long project in itself — cities need to demonstrate they can accommodate all the events, house the athletes and handle the crowds that will descend for the two-week extravaganza.

And they have to do it all in a manner meeting the lofty ideals of the Olympic tradition. That usually means a hefty investment — for the sports venues, infrastructure upgrades, security and management.

But the modern Olympics have gone well beyond meeting the requirements of international athletic competitions. Now, the goal is to turn the games into massive extravaganzas, with construction and entertainment that runs into the billions.

Beijing’s 2008 opening ceremony alone — a four-hour fireworks spectacular with tens of thousands of performers — is estimated to have cost more than $100 million. That’s a far cry from the humble Olympic Games of 1948 hosted by a post-war London.

Nailing down the final cost of the Olympic Games is tough. Host countries vary in their accounting, their degree of transparency and the magnitude of corruption — which can drain millions of dollars, even billions in some cases. The return on investment also varies widely depending how much is spent on longer-term investments — say infrastructure — versus other hosting costs.

Nonetheless, we’ve pulled together estimates from an array of reputable sources, and adjusted for inflation. Check out how things have changed over the years. All amounts are in today’s dollars.

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