Leisure: Montreal costs soared as athletes' village stood empty

The 1976 Olympics in Montreal were a financial fiasco, leaving behind $1bn in debt. Billed as "the modest games" by the mayor of Montreal, they quadrupled in cost in the four years of preparation from an initial estimate of $350m to $1.4bn.

It could have been worse. After the Games were over, a huge crane still rose over the Olympic Stadium, a reminder that construction on the complex had never been completed. In fact, the Olympic Installations Board had recommended six months before the Games were due that the chances of the stadium being finished on time were only 20 per cent.

They recommended to the government that construction should stop, that they should make do with the sports facilities already available. But building went ahead because half the contracts had already been signed and there was no going back. The stadium might have turned out to be something of an embarrassment but the Olympic Village was a disaster. Plans to rent out the facilities as homes came to nothing because of high cost, unattractive location and zero demand.

On the other hand, Montrealers turned out in huge numbers to attend the competitions and in surveys afterwards most declared themselves proud and happy that their city had staged the event.

As the mayor observed at the time, and without exaggeration: "Whatever the moral and financial costs, regardless of all the incidents and handicaps, the putting of questions and the raising of questions, it was worth it. No matter the difficulties, I would do it again."

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