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Circus Maximus

The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup

By Andrew Zimbalist
circus maximus

Please note: This page refers to the original edition of Circus Maximus, published in 2015. Information on the updated and expanded second edition, published in 2016, is available here.


Named one of The Economist’s Best Books of 2015!

The numbers are staggering: China spent $40 billion to host the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing and Russia spent $50 billion for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. Brazil’s total expenditures are thought to have been as much as $20 billion for the World Cup this summer and Qatar, which will be the site of the 2022 World Cup, is estimating that it will spend $200 billion.

How did we get here? And is it worth it? Those are among the questions noted sports economist Andrew Zimbalist answers in Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup. Both the Olympics and the World Cup are touted as major economic boons for the countries that host them, and the competition is fierce to win hosting rights. Developing countries especially see the events as a chance to stand in the world’s spotlight.

Circus Maximus traces the path of the Olympic Games and the World Cup from noble sporting events to exhibits of excess. It exposes the hollowness of the claims made by their private industry boosters and government supporters, all illustrated through a series of case studies ripping open the experiences of Barcelona, Sochi, Rio, and London.

Zimbalist finds no net economic gains for the countries that have played host to the Olympics or the World Cup. While the wealthy may profit, those in the middle and lower income brackets do not, and Zimbalist predicts more outbursts of political anger like that seen in Brazil surrounding the 2014 World Cup.

MSNBC’s Up with Steve Kornacki (original air date January 25, 2015)

ESPN’s Olbermann (original air date February 5, 2015)

Read More from Andrew Zimbalist

Advance Praise for Circus Maximus

“Circus Maximus shines a bright light on the much-needed discussion about the unconscionable expense surrounding both the bidding process and hosting of the Olympics and the World Cup. The perfectly titled book will leave you gasping for reform. Immediately.”—Julie Foudy, ESPN analyst, former U.S. national soccer team captain-winner of two Women’s World Cups and three Olympic medals

“Andrew Zimbalist is a perpetual source of insight on the economics and administration of modern sports. When weighing the very real risks and rewards of hosting major international events, political leaders and informed citizens should carefully consider the information and arguments presented here before rolling the dice.”

—Bob Costas, broadcaster, NBC Sports and Major League Baseball Network

“It’s time for cities to stop the mega-sports madness. Andrew Zimbalist’s Circus Maximus shows why the huge sums of money cities, countries and their citizens pay to host the Olympics and the World Cup are almost always boondoggles. Great stuff!”

—Richard Florida, Director of the University of Toronto’s Martin Prosperity Institute and author of “The Rise of the Creative Class”

Circus Maximus provides a comprehensive compendium of the benefits and costs of hosting the Olympics or soccer’s World Cup. Andrew Zimbalist documents how the officials who run the international sports organizations that authorize these events profit handsomely, while host cities and nations experience ever-increasing losses. The book also explains why before-the-fact claims that such events will deliver long-term economic benefits typically are wildly inaccurate. A citizen or public official who contemplates supporting a bid to host a sports mega-event ought to read this book.”

—Roger Noll, Professor of Economics, Stanford University

“Pssst. Wanna buy a velodrome cheap? Andrew Zimbalist’s penetrating examination of how the International Olympic Committee and FIFA (“soccer maximus” to you and me) have sweet-talked cities and nations into hosting their extravaganzas is absolutely devastating in its ugly detail. Any prospective municipal or national customer who doesn’t read this book before applying for the rights to supply the IOC or FIFA with their land and finances deserves all the debt and humbug they’re going to end up with.”

—Frank Deford, author and commentator

“Indispensable for anyone who wants to understand the impact of hosting the Olympics.”

—Evan Horowitz, The Boston Globe

Andrew Zimbalist earned a B.A. from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard University. He has been in the economics department at Smith College since 1974 and has been a visiting professor at Doshisha University, the University of Geneva, and Hamburg University. Zimbalist has consulted in Latin America for the United Nations Development Program, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and numerous companies. He has consulted in the sports industry for players’ associations, cities, companies, teams, and leagues, and has published twenty-five books.

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