Gavin Hinks, journalist

As events go, there’s none bigger than the Olympic Games. It attracts the most participants, the biggest audiences and, of course, the highest price tag. Paris 2024 in July will be no different.

Organisers expect 300,000 people to line the banks of the river Seine to watch the opening ceremony, 10,500 athletes will compete, and 20,000 business registered to tender for games contracts. For 17 days it will take over the French capital and the world of sport attracting potential worldwide audience of four billion viewers.

Final figures for the Paris Games are yet to be realised, but estimates are that it’ll cost US$9.6bn. If that figure remains true, it will be far cheaper than the London 2012 Olympics, estimated to have cost US$14.9bn, and still most expensive games to date, ahead of Rio, said to have run up a final bill of around US$13.1bn (exchange rates based on figures at the time of each Olympics).

Budget busting

Perhaps the most startling figures are the cost overruns. When a team at Said Business School, Oxford University, looked at overruns in 2016, they found that Rio was estimated to have exceeded budget by any eye-watering 352%. London, by comparison, was a mere 76% over budget. Beijing, just 2%.

With an average overspend of 156%, ‘the Olympics have the highest average cost overrun of any type of megaproject’, according to the Said report – enough to make any city administrator balk at the thought of taking on the games.

However, things have improved. The Said report cites the use of the Olympic Games Knowledge Management Programme as instrumental in bringing overruns down to more modest levels, an average of 51% following its instigation.

That said, running an Olympics is a daunting task. The research concludes that pitching for the four-yearly event ‘is to decide to take on one of the most costly and financially most risky type of megaproject that exists, something that many cities and nations have learned to their peril’.

The payoff

Despite the high price tag for London 2012, government auditors considered the entire show worth the risk. A report by the UK watchdog, the National Audit Office, said: ‘By any reasonable measure the Games were a success and the big picture is they have delivered value for money’.

Of course, in an increasingly uncertain world, disaster can strike. Tokyo 2020 was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, with the competition eventually staged a year later and most events run behind closed doors to minimise the risk of infection.

The setting looks much brighter for Paris, which first hosted the games in 1900 (and then again in 1924). Almost a century-and-a-quarter later, the French capital will deal with almost 10 times the number of athletes and more than 329 medal events compared with 95. Both, in their eras, were considered risks. But with Gallic flare, Paris has every chance of being a success, whatever the price tag.