Is there any event out there as thrilling as the Olympics? Although the games date back thousands of years, the modern Olympics as we know them were first held in 1896. And since then, its host countries have been embroiled in a veritable arms race for who can build the biggest and most amazing stadium in which to compete. It’s a matter of pride, sure, but it’s also a matter of cash. Wherever the Olympics go, huge crowds follow — generating countless tourism dollars along the way.
With that in mind, it’s clear why host cities are so interested in creating monumental facilities that capture the world’s imagination. Among these monolithic monsters, these three stadiums stand out as the most expensive ever built.
Beijing National Stadium
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Courtesy of the People’s Republic of China, we have the Beijing National Stadium.
This impressive facility was built for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, and purportedly holds over 91,000 people. Of course, its grandeur came at a cost — 2.3 billion Yuan, to be exact (nearly $327 million in U.S. dollars).
And somehow, that staggering price tag puts Beijing National Stadium only in third place, as far as expensive Olympic venues go. But unlike the other venues listed, this stadium is still active in the Olympic world. Beijing is slated to host the 2020 Winter Olympics and Paralympics, so unlike most Olympic hosts who build huge stadiums for one-off events, China is getting more bang for its buck. In fact, this will make the Beijing National Stadium the only Olympic venue to ever hold opening ceremonies for both the Summer and Winter Games.
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For the 2000 Olympic Games, the Australian government spent $690 million AUD to bring its stadium to life. This comes out to nearly $467 million in American dollars. Of course, they got a pretty impressive stadium for their trouble. Stadium Australia in Sydney is even bigger than China’s Beijing National Stadium, with some impressive features to note:
- Seating capacity of over 110,000
- Its highest point is nearly 14 stories up
- The site area encompasses 16 hectares
- The roof alone weighs over 4,000 tons
Today, Stadium Australia is mostly used as a venue for Australia’s other top sports, including rugby, association football, cricket, American football, and more. It’s also a popular hub for concerts and big-name celebrities because, well, how else are you going to fill those seats?
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Featured in the 2012 Olympic Games held in London, England, there’s no Olympic venue on earth that can rival London Stadium (at least in terms of cost). According to estimates, the stadium cost over £486 million, or about $587 million USD, to build.
Interestingly, despite its exorbitant price tag, London Stadium doesn’t have near the seating capacity of Stadium Australia: London’s stadium seats only 66,000 people at once. And while the stadium is impressive, it’s hard to see exactly what part of the construction justified its world-record price tag. In fact, the stadium was called “tragically underwhelming” by those unimpressed with its design.
But regardless of how it was perceived, there’s no question it was the most expensive Olympic venue ever built — at least as of 2019. The 2020 Games are coming, and Japan has big plans for its Tokyo stadium that may set a new standard.
Due to the prestige of the Olympics, host countries often try to outdo one another with bigger and better venues, but this showmanship comes with a cost that extends beyond the capital outlay. For more information on the drawbacks of hosting the Olympics (and why so many countries avoid it like the plague), check out this primer on the economics of hosting the Olympic Games.