Countries that host the Olympic Games tend to not win more medals than competitors when controlling for economic factors, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports, findings that challenge the notion of the “host effect,” the widely-held belief that countries win more medals when they host the games.
Nations bidding to host the Olympics claim having a home advantage will help their athletes perform better and win more medals and previous research has indicated nations will typically win 1.8% more medals when they host the Summer Olympics, according to the report.
When researchers Gergely Csurilla and Imre Fertő (who have published multiple studies about the Olympics) compared medal count data for countries that hosted the summer games between 1996 and 2021 (the U.S., Australia, Greece, the U.K., China, Brazil and Japan), they found other factors were likely at play when hosts won more medals.
When they adjusted for socioeconomic factors like GDP per capita and population size—which can benefit Olympic teams though better living standards for athletes and a larger talent pool—researchers found that the “host effect” was effectively neutralized for most countries.
Researchers said only Australia (2000) and the U.K. (2012) saw significant increases in medal counts the years they hosted the games.
Male athletes representing the host country won a higher proportion of medals in the UK and Brazil (2016), while Australian women athletes also won significantly more medals than expected when the Games were held there, researchers said.
The authors suggest that countries bidding to host the Olympics should “be cautious about expecting to win more medals than usual,” and noted more research is needed into a wider range of Olympic Games to confirm their findings.
Hosting the Olympics can be a mixed bag in terms of how much it benefits the host cities and countries. Cities spend millions in preparing bids for the International Olympic Committee, and typically spend between $50 million and $100 million on the bidding process alone, according to a report from the Council on Foreign Relations. Once a city has secured a game to host, building new infrastructure and updating existing facilities to support the event costs anywhere from $5 billion to more than $50 billion. According to the CFR, the most expensive games were the 2016 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, which cost nearly $60 billion. While the games can boost tourism and spending in the area, revenue often covers only a fraction of the expenses related to hosting, according to the CFR, which wrote “there is little evidence for an overall positive economic impact,” especially long-term. For the next Summer Olympic Games, scheduled for 2024 in Paris, the taxpayer bill could be as much as roughly $3.3 billion, officials estimated earlier this month.
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