In this second part of our 3-part Vancity Buzz Special Exclusive Series, we focus on the competition sport venues required to host the Summer Olympic Games here in Metro Vancouver and Victoria.
Be sure to read the First Part of our special series before reading this second part on competition sport venues. In Part One, we highlighted the differences in scale between the Winter and Summer Olympics, the history and legacy of major international sporting events in Canada, the accommodations and media infrastructure required by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the transportation infrastructure improvements that would be needed to handle the additional traffic flow of 1.5 to 2 million additional journeys per day, as well as the labour, volunteers, and security that is required to host a Summer Olympics in Vancouver.
A few wise words from Brent Toderian, the City of Vancouver’s former Director of Planning, explaining what Vancouver did right with its 2010 Olympic Winter Games competition sport venues (from The Atlantic Cities):
Too many Olympic facilities are built to be temporary, a pure cost with no value for the commonwealth or community. At its worst, the Olympics can be a global model of our “throw-away society.” Surely more creativity could lead to better after-uses and retrofits.
This is a tough challenge for the Summer Games, which have larger facilities than Winter Games. But part of the problem is the intense pressure to build sexy new iconic architecture rather than re-purposing (and enlivening) existing facilities.
Architectural magazines and critics deserve criticism for such pressure. I recall the slams leveled against Vancouver for failing to employ international starchitects or iconic statement buildings. From our perspective though, Beijing’s Birds Nest is the true failure. Predictably, it has become one of the most irresponsible Olympic white elephants in recent memory.
I think that the way we’ve handled (responsible architecture) very much matches our values as a city. What defines Vancouver is a strong ethic of sustainability, inclusivity, consultation, and hopefully social and environmental responsibility. So we didn’t set out to wow the world with starchitects and world-class architecture that we may or may not be able to use in the future. All of our facilities are readily convertible into civic and community uses. We know how our facilities are going to be used the day after the Olympics are done.
If you walked into the Hillcrest Community Centre and happened to miss the signs noting its history, you might never guess it was the location for Olympic Curling. You might not guess that the Richmond Oval was the home of Olympic speed-skating either. Both are extremely well used community facilities, in Hillcrest’s case as a skating rink, swimming pool and library branch.
If you don’t really have a viable use for that huge stadium after the Olympics, it just might be that you’re not the kind of city that should host the Olympics at all.
Toderian was not exaggerating on the white elephant sport venues leftover from the Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 Games. Preparations and construction for Athens 2004 by ATHOC (Athens 2004 Local Organizing Committee) were marred with scandals, infighting, resignations and controversy that led to major delays.
In fact, up until 2000 at Sydney, no planning and preparations were made by ATHOC for the first 4 years since it had been awarded the rights in 1997 to host the 2004 Games. Host cities are given 7 years to plan, organize, and build the venues, infrastructure and event plans needed to host their Olympic Games.
Due to unresolvable issues, the first ATHOC was completely dissolved in 2000 – the organizing committee was completely restructured under new leadership. Furthermore, to the IOC’s urging due to dire concerns over the lack of progress and severe delays, the first ATHOC Chief was removed and Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki (who was responsible for the successful bid and retired immediately afterwards) was appointed as the new Chief of the local organizing committee.
“Mrs. A” is credited for resolving the many issues that plagued the organizing committee, under her leadership the Games were planned and organized within the shortest timeframe in Olympic history.
These self-inflicting wounds gave Athens less than 3-years to design and build all the new train lines, improved roadways, a brand new airport at a new site, sport venues, the Olympic Village and Media Village – everything they needed for the Olympic Games.
At the time, Jacques Rogge (who later became the IOC President), said it best: “Greece had to run a marathon at sprint speed to make it.” And they certainly did, with major construction occurring 24/7 across the city, Athens finished building their infrastructure and venues just days before the Opening Ceremony.
The international media spotlight on Athens in the months leading up to the Games was highly negative and (appropriately) critical, the main question being asked was: “Will the Greeks be ready?”
In the weeks leading up to the Opening Ceremony, there was even a potato chip commercial that mocked the ill-preparation of Athens 2004 (click here to view YouTube video). What happened in that video (which you must watch in order to understand the following quote) was quite real for Montreal 1976, “there’s still the memory of the parade of nations marching down a ramp toward the floor of Olympic Stadium [during the Opening Ceremony],…their path nearly blocked by construction workers hustling – though not too quickly, being paid overtime wages – to make way.”
However, with such a tight design and construction timeline, it meant overruns and ill-fated designs. With construction tied to around-the-clock schedules, overtime and additional construction labour, costs to build venues and infrastructure grew exponentially.
It was also marked by the desire to build architecture that would impress, these were billed as the “homecoming Olympics.” The official motto for Athens 2004 was “Welcome Home.” In addition, the compressed timeline did not give organizers and the government time to plan for the appropriate design of venues and their post-Games usage/configuration.
After all, for instance, does any city really need a permanent 9,600-seat beach volleyball stadium (that now sits extremely derelict in Athens)? In some cases, venues were not even completed in time.
A roof to cover swimmers and spectators from the scathing summer Athens heat at the Olympic Pool, where Michael Phelps made his famous debut, was canceled midway into construction in March 2004 for fears it would not be completed in time.
With venues barely meeting the absolute deadlines before the 2004 Games, the venues at Athens were also not tested beforehand – international competitions and World Cups of the Olympic sport are usually held at the Olympic sport venues in the year prior to the Games, as was the case with Sydney, Salt Lake, Vancouver, Beijing, and London’s sports venues.
The derelict permanent Olympic Beach Volleyball Stadium in Athens (Source: Crikey)
Today, 8 years later, nearly all venues from the 2004 Olympic Games are unmaintained, sitting completely unused and are falling into deep disrepair. The only occupants at many of the weed, trash, and graffiti covered venues are stray dogs.
The legacy of Athens 2004 is also highly symbolic to the government mismanagement that has led to Greece’s current fiscal and economic crisis. Unlike the legacy of Vancouver 2010, and apart from the new transportation infrastructure built in Athens (which Greeks greatly benefit from, having suffered from highly inadequate infrastructure prior to 2004), Greeks have not been able to benefit from the competition sports venues built for their Olympics.
Beijing has faired much better than Athens with its 2008 Games sports venues, although it does have its share of white elephants as well. The 2008 Games were the coming out party for China and, to this day, many Chinese and their government see great value in their Olympic investment. There is significant national pride associated with the 2008 Games, and Beijing citizens greatly enjoy the vastly improved transportation infrastructure built for their rapidly expanding city.
Most sports venues are relatively well used, thanks to relatively good legacy planning (Chinese officials were highly criticized internationally for their pre-Games construction practices and evictions to make way for Olympic venues and sites), a high and dense Chinese population, and with several new venues located at university campuses becoming “a hub for the students’ sporting and cultural activities.” Building sports venues at university campuses is a great model host cities should follow.
However, of special note, two venues faired somewhat quite differently. Prior to the Beijing 2008 Games, the “starchitectual” designs of the “Bird’s Nest” Olympic Stadium and “Water Cube” Aquatic Centre were widely hailed by the Chinese government and world as some of China’s newest wonders.
Fast forward to 2012, the famous Bird’s Nest has (since 2008) “failed to attract a major sports team and has only hosted a few music concerts, a snowboard competition and a couple of friendly soccer competitions, involving top sides like Arsenal and Manchester City from England and Italy’s Juventus and Napoli.”
China’s iconic Olympic Stadium was also turned into a winter wonderland for a winter festival, covering the entire stadium floor with ice and snow to host a wide variety of winter activities. The Bird’s Nest differs from Vancouver’s BC Place quite differently, which is booked by events for 220 days per year and is of course home to both the MLS Whitecaps FC and CFL Lions – it is far from being a white elephant.
The Bird’s Nest was also billed to be a major tourist destination (in fact, you can visit the stadium as a tourist for an admission fee), however, attendance numbers are nowhere near original expectations. Venues complexly designed like the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube are also certainly quite costly to maintain and operate. The famous Water Cube, located directly across from the Bird’s Nest, fairs marginally better than its monolith next door. The famous pool has since been converted into a water park.
However, China does have its share of derelict white elephants. Two venues of the 2008 Games – the slalom kayaking course and the rowing lake – have both been abandoned.
According to Reuters, “the kayaking venue sits all but abandoned, what water remaining in it being sucked up by a large pipe to quench a surrounding park in the midst of a typically parched Beijing spring…[and] the rowing venue, located in a remote and hard to reach northeastern suburb, now hosts mostly small dinghys. Neither sport is well-known in China, which partly explains the almost total abandonment.”
A population’s accessibility and usability to any sport venues is key to their post-Games legacy success; building significant permanent venues that are in the outskirts of a region is not a wise practice and should be discouraged, if possible.
In addition, the population’s usability of the venue is equally as important: for instance, if the Richmond Olympic Oval had not been converted into other configurations and sport usages, and remained as its Olympic speed skating oval form, it would likely have turned into a white elephant following Vancouver 2010.
Left image – Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium turned into a winter wonderland for a winter festival (click to enlarge, source: MDN Photo); Right image – Beijing’s Water Cube turned into a water park (click to enlarge, source: World of Architecture)
In the shadow of the above mentioned Athens and Beijing legacies, and due to typical British prudence, the sports venues built for the London 2012 Games will likely enjoy positive post-Games legacies. These were billed as Games that would “Inspire a Generation,” from the outset a positive post-Games legacy was the key goal of hosting the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
One main difference between London and Athens or Beijing is that the British host city already had many existing facilities that could be utilized to host the Summer Games sports competitions.
This includes the 2-km Olympic rowing lake, which already existed and is owned by a nearby private college, and the O2 dome in Greenwich. In fact, only 8 permanent venues were built and 6 of these venues already have a feasible post-Games legacy.
Other venues that did not exist. but were required to be newly built, were only temporary structures. This includes the temporary beach volleyball stadium inside the iconic Horse Guards Parade and the temporary water polo arena.
The greatest legacy touted is perhaps the Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park in East London, one of London’s poorest neighbourhoods – a legacy of World War II bombardment by Nazi Germany. The regeneration of what was once a radioactive toxin disposal site and dirty industrial land is one of London’s biggest redevelopments, it promises London’s East End residents “that over the coming years, the Games will deliver to them the ‘same social and economic chances as their neighbours across London.'”
The 2.5-square kilometre Olympic Park was home to some of London’s most famous Olympic sports venues, including the Olympic Stadium and Aquatic Centre. In total, the Olympic Park was the site of 8 competition sport venues, the Olympic Village, the International Broadcast Centre, the Main Press Centre, and a major train station and shopping centre complex (the largest shopping centre in Europe).
There are also some notable post-Games legacy planning in the sports venue designs at the Olympic Park, which also features 22 miles of pathways, new waterways/canals, and cycling paths. The Olympic Stadium can be dismantled; its upper seating tear and fabric roof can be removed to reduce seating from 80,000 to just 25,000 seats (a far cry from Beijing’s Bird’s Nest inflexible complex and permanent design).
The Aquatic Centre’s large stadium grandstands are also designed as temporary structures, once removed it will reduce the size of the building significantly, reducing its 17,500 seats to just 2,500. Other remarkable designs of note at the Olympic Park include the temporary basketball stadium, which can be dismantled and reassembled elsewhere.
Like Vancouver 2010’s new Richmond Olympic Oval and Hillcrest Community Centre (the venue for 2010 curling; turned into aquatic centre, gym, library, hockey rink, curling sheets, and community space; it will replace Riley Park Community Centre’s facilities across the street, including its aging pool and rink), the venues of London 2012 were designed to be versatile in use.
Unlike the dead Olympic spaces and parks of Athens and Beijing, London hopes to turn its own Olympic Park into a vibrant community and, in turn, a feasible and realistic tourist attraction: “the Park will include health centres, schools, parks and over 2,800 new homes, as well as the already open Westfield shopping centre. Over the next 20 years, five new neighbourhoods will also be established in the Park…Once the Queen Elizabeth Park has been re opened [in 2013] it will attract nine million visitors a year and be one of the top ten must see sites in London.”
In other words, London also hopes to turn Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park into the East End’s very own Hyde Park. The new community set to arise in the Olympic Park will help sustain the venues and the greenery, similar to what is anticipated for the Richmond Olympic Oval (the River Green development, adjacent to the Oval, will compose of 2,600 condo units at completion and is just one of the many major residential projects in Richmond).
While there are signs of positive and sustainable legacies, only time will tell whether London 2012, as LOCOG Chair Sebastian Coe put it during his speech at the Closing Ceremony, “did it right.” Nevertheless, the London 2012 (and Vancouver 2010) model is a model that any future Olympic host city should build and expand on.
A Summer Games Olympic Park at Vancouver’s False Creek Flats could look similar to London’s Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park (click to enlarge for detailed map), from Visual.ly.
A diagram of the London Olympic Stadium at Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park (Source: Olympic Games London 2012)
Note that this does not include venue specifications for golf and rugby, which were added as 2016 Olympic sports after Rio de Janeiro was awarded the Games. In addition, softball and baseball are no longer part of the Olympic program. These specifications were taken from this IOC evaluation document on the candidates for the 2016 Olympic Games, it is the basis for the Vancouver Summer Games sports venue plan outlined below.
To remind you of the purpose and intent of this special series, as stated in Part One, “this Vancity Buzz special’s main goal is to identify what it would take for Vancouver to host the Summer Olympics, expanding on the idea that we are only capable of hosting these Games through sacrificing the well-being of the province in the long-term. For all people know, it will take “a lot” to organize the event and it will be “very expensive.” But we can be much more precise than that.
Put aside technical and logistical capability, Vancouver has no chance with hosting the Summer Olympics in the near-future, given that we have recently hosted the Winter Olympics and there are many cities on the rise and desiring to bid for the quadrennial, but that’s not the point: instead, we are focusing on mere technical capability. There is no telling how much larger the Summer Games will become or what kind of city and world we will live in during the decades to come, we can only base our details on the Games as we know them today and the Metro Vancouver and Greater Victoria region that currently exists.“
The Vancouver Summer Olympic Games competition sports venue plan that we have imagined below follows the same 2010 Games principles highlighted by Brent Toderian, learns from the mistakes of Athens and Beijing, and builds on the model London has established.
It maximizes the usage of existing Metro Vancouver and Greater Victoria venues, builds temporary venues and components whenever possible, while also planning ahead for post-Games usage. For instance, several venues are located at UBC, SFU, and UVIC to maximize on venue usage following the Games. More importantly, many venues are also located in Victoria to increase the feasibility of venues, disperse traffic and economic benefits, allowing for a more positive and sustainable post-Games legacy that benefits more of the B.C. population.
31 different sport venues/competition sites will be required. This includes:
Approximately 4-5 million event tickets will be available – a size similar to Athens 2004 (or about half the quotas of London 2012, Beijing 2008 and Sydney 2000).
With regards to the location of the venues:
In total, $1.81 to 2.5-billion will theoretically (based on educated estimates and cost comparisons) be required to acquire/prepare/build the competition sport venues necessary to host the Summer Games in Vancouver today:
Please note that these are educated estimates, and does not include construction costs for the Olympic Village(s), IBC, MPC, transportation infrastructure, and much more.
In comparison, $880-million combined was spent on sports venues for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games by VANOC ($580-million VANOC contribution) and municipal governments (City of Richmond – Olympic Oval; City of Vancouver – Curling Venue). Richmond and Vancouver were funding partners of the new sports venues built in their cities.
Of the $580-million that VANOC contributed towards constructing its 2010 sports venues, it included a $110-million legacy fund that would go towards the costs of operating and maintaining the new Whistler Olympic Park, Whistler Sliding Centre, and Richmond Olympic Oval for the next 30 years.
Construction costs rose dramatically due to a labour shortage and rapidly rising construction materials costs (in midst of a local transportation infrastructure and condo construction boom), and such were not the faults of VANOC. These market fluctuation causes were far outside the influence of the organizing committee, and also affected market housing and hotel projects by private developers. Rapid development in China (spurred by rapid urbanization, the construction of Three Gorges Dam, and 2008 Olympic Games projects) and Dubai (which was home to 24% of the world’s 120,000 construction cranes in 2006) were also causal to driving up world market prices.
Furthermore, it should also be noted that these Vancouver Summer Games costs do not include the costs for the construction/preparation/allocation of numerous training venues (click here to see the list of London 2012’s Games-Time training venues) for the many sports that require such additional practice facilities.
For instance, swimming requires several additional 50-metre Olympic-sized pools (although, such pools are already in existence throughout the city and could be upgraded; new Olympic-sized swimming and diving pools are being built in Surrey and UBC; existing OIympic-sized pools include the aging Vancouver Aquatic Centre in Downtown Vancouver, the aging Canada Games Pool in New Westminster, and Richmond’s Watermania).
Tennis and volleyball also require additional courts for athletes to train and warm-up in. A Summer Games in the region could utilize the Richmond Olympic Oval as a training venue for rowing, table tennis, badminton, indoor volleyball and basketball.
In total, dozens of additional practice and training facilities would be required. For the 2010 Winter Games, two new ice rinks (at Killarney and Trout Lake) were built for short-track, figure skating and ice hockey athletes to use for practices (both new rinks were jointly funded by VANOC and the City of Vancouver).
With regards to the football (soccer) stadium venues, which are some of the largest and most expensive venues of the Summer Olympics, they are often scattered across a certain region of the host nation. Existing football-capable venues in the host nation are used whenever possible, and should such large new stadiums be required they are built in other cities of the country (no host city needs 5 to 6 mega-sized football stadiums).
For instance, most of the 2008 Games football stadiums (new and existing venues) were located far from Beijing at Qinghuangdao, Shanghai, Shenyang, and Tianjin.
Similarly, all but one of London 2012’s football stadiums were also located away from the main host city: LOCOG utilized some of the world’s famous football club stadiums at Coventry (Coventry Stadium), Glasgow (Hampden Park), Cardiff in Wales (Millennium Stadium), Manchester (Old Trafford, home to Manchester United), and Newcastle (St. James Park).
The New Wembley in London also hosted football tournaments, including the finals. Other sport venues that have been located away from the main host city include the sailing venue (Beijing 2008 at Qingdao; London 2012 at Weymouth/Portland) and equestrian (Beijing 2008 at Hong Kong).
The upcoming final part of this special 3-part series will conclude our insight on the feasibility of a Summer Olympic Games held here in Metro Vancouver and Greater Victoria. It will also explore our feasibility (and chance) of hosting other international events, and look at why the Olympic Games have become the giant event and commercial monster we know them today. Click here to read Part 3.
Featured image credit: Victoria 1994 Commonwealth Games Bid Book (the original venue for the 1994 Opening and Closing Ceremonies was slated for Victoria Inner Harbour, it was later relocated to the athletics stadium at UVIC: Centennial Stadium).