Olympic costs always overrun, but nobody really cares

As we inch towards the start of the winter Olympics in Sochi, Putin’s government would be happy that soon they won’t have to keep draining their banks. All costs included, it is estimated that Russians will have spent $51 billion to host the event. This makes it the most expensive Olympic games ever held.

What’s worse is that Sochi has only one-third the number of events compared to the summer version of the games. On average, then, each Sochi event will cost $520m, nearly four times that of Beijing 2008 Olympic games, which costed an overall $43 billion.

The initial budget, according to the original bid, was about $12 billion. The spiralling costs have brought accusations of corruption and waste on the Kremlin. For instance, the Russians have spent $8.7 billion just to construct a 31-mile rail and road connection between Adler and Krasnaya Polyana. According to an estimate by the Russian Esquire magazine, that would be the same price if the road were to be covered with a one-centimetre layer of Beluga caviar.


According to an analysis by Bent Flyvbjerg, chair of major project management at the University of Oxford, and his colleague Allison Stewart, all Olympic games since 1960 have had a cost overrun. On average, they cost nearly three times the initial budget.

In their analysis Flyvbjerg and Stewart only considered sports-related direct costs, such as building stadiums and paying staff for running events. Other indirect costs, such as new infrastructure in the form of highways or hotels, were not included because of lack of reliable data. But these costs can be significant, especially in developing countries or completely new locations. And they are reflected in the price tag for the games in Sochi and Beijing.

According to Will Jennings at the University of Southampton, as he writes on The Conversation, such mega-events offer great opportunities to emerging economies with a potential audience of billions. However, their leaders often don’t take into account the spiralling financial and human costs associated with them.

Or, alternatively, it might be that they don’t care about those costs. Of the 27 games held between 1960 and 2012, only 16 could be duly analysed by Flyvbjerg and Stewart. They write that the lack of data means “for 41% of Olympic Games (we analysed) no one asked how well the budget held thus hampering learning regarding how to develop more reliable ones”.

So it is anybody’s guess whether these games are hosted to get a country that much-needed economic boost or just to showcase their global ambitions regardless of the price.The Conversation

First published on The Conversation.

Unemployment caused by the economic crisis set to worsen

While the rich countries were most affected by the global economic crisis, there are signs of recovery. Although India and China won’t go back to the days of double-digit growth, other emerging countries, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, paint a more hopeful picture. But the scale of the recovery won’t help the unemployed much, whose numbers are only set to be growing.

In 2013, the unemployed grew by 5m to 202m people globally. According to a new report published by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), this number is set to grow by a further 13m by 2018, even if the rate of underemployment remains same. In countries such as Greece and Spain, the average duration of unemployment has reached nearly nine months.


The ILO’s worries are threefold. First, the recovery is not strong enough to reduce the growing number of unemployed. Second, the fundamental causes of the global economic crisis are yet to be properly tackled. Third, the crisis has forced even those employed into more vulnerable jobs.

The young have suffered the most. About 74m people between the ages of 15 and 24 were unemployed in 2013, which is 1m more than 2012. The global youth unemployment rate has reached 13.9%, more than double the global average.

These numbers also mask the large number of underemployed people. In countries like India, where education has boomed in the last few decades, there are now more people with degrees than there are jobs for them.

According to Craig Jeffrey, professor of development geography at the University of Oxford, India has a whole class of educated people just “doing timepass” (passing the time). And, he writes on The Conversation, this is not just the case for India. Other Asian countries, Latin America, Africa and many Europen countries have such a group, too.

It seems whether you have a degree or not, that dream job might remain unreachable for a little longer.The Conversation

First published on The Conversation.

Image credit: truthout

Cyclists put pedestrians at risk, but it’s not their fault

Governments around the world are pushing to get their citizens to cycle more. Without necessary infrastructure, however, that is not good news for pedestrians or cyclists.

While on an evening stroll, no one likes a bike whizzing past on the same footpath. Many pedestrians worry about getting injured by cycles more than by cars, and their perception of risk in this case is not much off the mark. Data reveals that cyclists are nearly as likely to cause a serious injury to a pedestrian as motorists are—if you are a British pedestrian, that is.

The absolute number of people hurt by cyclists is quite small, but so is the corresponding distance travelled by cyclists. Thus the relative risk from cyclists and motorists is comparable.

According to the British government’s data, between 2003 and 2012, cyclists killed 23 pedestrians and injured 585, whereas motorists killed 4,894 and injured 45,496. But in 2012, motorists cover as much as 50 times the distance in urban areas as cyclists do. Using corresponding casualties data, the relative risk from motorists to pedestrians is five times as much as that from cyclists if the injury leads to death, but the risk of seriously injuring a pedestrian is about the same.


The data is comparable to that acquired from Transport for London (TfL), the city’s authority for all matters vehicular, through a freedom of information request by the National Cycling Charity. The request was to find out how much cyclists hurt pedestrians on footways only. (In legalese footway is one that runs alongside a carriageway, whereas a footpath is located away from it.)

In the period from 1998 to 2007, cyclists killed none and caused some injury to 98 pedestrians on footways in London. For motorists, the corresponding numbers were 54 and 4,460. If the distance travelled by motorists is assumed to be about 50 times that of cyclists, like the 2012 national average, the relative risk of causing some injury to pedestrians is nearly the same from cyclists as it is from motorists.

However, John Parkin, professor of transport engineering at the University of West England, said, “Provisions for cyclists are so appalling that it is not surprising some find it easier and safer on the footway. If cyclists need to go on pedestrian routes, then the government needs to provide better infrastructure.”

According to Parkin, the last decade has seen improvement in cycling infrastructure, at least in cities like London, but much remains to be done.

One solution being backed by Network Rail, operator of most British rail infrastructure, and TfL is the development of SkyCycle—a 220km car-free route installed above London’s suburban rail network. But, as Steven Fleming and Angelina Russo write on The Conversation, cyclists are not too pleased with this initiative. For the price tag of £220m, many argue there are cheaper ways to improve matters. But more worrying is the fact that SkyCycle may mean that the streets will be given over to the car, which in some places is already a problem.

Compared to the rest of Europe, the UK has among the smallest proportion of people using cycles as their main means of transport. Only about two in 100 Britons fall in that category, which is marginally better than Bulgaria, Malta and Cyprus.

Politicians want to change that. An all-party inquiry is considering how best to get Britons cycling. Hopefully they will heed the advice of not just cyclists but also pedestrians.The Conversation

First published at The Conversation.