Is the Fact the Olympic Games

Run Late or Over Budget a Project Management Failure?



By Laurianne Vaity

SKEMA Business School

Paris, France



Megaprojects are very common today, and the Olympic Games are amongst the most well-known of them. Appreciated by a very large and cosmopolite public, they take place every four years in a host country chosen by the International Olympic Committee.

However, the organization of such an event is far from being easy in term of Project Management. Indeed, it always suffers from cost overruns and delays.

To identify and understand what lead to such problems, and then finding what could be the best solution, several tools such as root cause analysis, and qualitative and quantitative methods will be used. The results coming from these studies will help us to understand why the IOC should implement some change such as the modifying of existing infrastructures by the host country instead of their construction.

Keywords: unrealistic schedule, megaproject, over budget, failure, delay


It is official: for the second time of its history, Tokyo, Japan’s capital will welcome the Olympic Games of August 2020[1]. Every four years, this major event considered as the biggest rendezvous for sports lovers generally gathers hundreds of athletes and several thousands of tourists from all around the world. Strongly broadcasted, millions of people will be able to follow the competition daily and support their favorite athletes without even moving from their houses, and from their countries. Of course, the enthusiasm caused by the tumult of the Olympic Games will offer a magnificent advertising to the greeting country.

However, if this is an extraordinary opportunity for the Land of the Rising Sun to be in the spotlight, a hidden and big part of the iceberg needs to be more deeply analyzed. Indeed, the Olympic Games have very often been controversial because of its social fallouts: the destruction of houses to make the space free for the Olympic facilities in Brazil, massive deaths of stray dogs in Russia… the list is quite long and scary. And from an economical and project management point of view, the Olympic Games have always been a disaster as far as they have been created and as far as they have existed.

On the one hand, there are the Olympic swimming-pools, stadiums and velodromes, etc. – all sports infrastructures in other words – that have to be built for the continuity of the competition. On the other hand, there is the Olympic Village for the accommodation of the athletes, without forgetting the huge public infrastructures such as the construction of new bridges, railway lines, and the power station that will have to be thought to facilitate the transportation of the people present in the country for the occasion. This is obvious that these facilities are not heaven-sent and represent several thousand million euros for the organizing country.

The Olympic Games represent one of the biggest projects realized, from a project management perspective and it is what is called a megaproject, that is to say … large-scale, complex ventures that typically cost a billion dollars or more, take many years to develop and build, involving multiple public and private stakeholders, are transformational, and impact millions of people. »[2].

In term of project management, the Olympic Games are considered to be a programme if we consider the following definition: “a programme is a portfolio of projects selected and planned in a coordinated way so as to achieve a set of defined objectives, giving effect to various (and often overlapping) initiatives and/or implementing a strategy[3]. Simultaneously, the Olympic Games are related to project management as the vocabulary that follows and steps are applied during the creation of the event. During the initiating and planning phases, the IOC (International Olympic Committee) defines a project manager (which is the hosting country in our case) and becomes the sponsor of the latter. Then, in the executing phase, both work on how they are going to conduct the project efficiently. In the monitoring and controlling phases, all infrastructures are checked to make sure they are performant and safe. At last, in the closing phase, the project of the greeting country is delivered to the IOC under the form of the Olympic Games event.


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Editor’s note: This paper was prepared for the course “International Contract Management” facilitated by Dr Paul D. Giammalvo of PT Mitratata Citragraha, Jakarta, Indonesia as an Adjunct Professor under contract to SKEMA Business School for the program Master of Science in Project and Programme Management and Business Development.  http://www.skema.edu/programmes/masters-of-science. For more information on this global program (Lille and Paris in France; Belo Horizonte in Brazil), contact Dr Paul Gardiner, Global Programme Director [email protected].

How to cite this paper: Vaity, L. (2018). Is the Fact the Olympic Games Run Late or Over Budget a Project Management Failure?, PM World Journal, Vol. VII, Issue XII (December).  Available online at https://pmworldjournal.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/pmwj77-Dec2018-Vaity-are-olympic-games-project-management-failure.pdf

About the Author

Laurianne Vaity

Paris, France




Laurianne Vaity is a French university student, is 23 years old and comes from Reunion Island – a French Island located in the Indian Ocean next to Mauritius and Madagascar. She was born, grew and studied on this little and welcoming island before leaving for Skema Business School in 2015 after her economic preparatory class.

She has had had the opportunity to spend a semester in Raleigh, North Carolina (USA) during her studies in Skema, in partnership with an American university: NC State University. It was a rich human and professional experience. Then she realized a six-months internship in Project Management, in the field of Telecoms.

At the beginning of year 2018, she chose to study Project Management as a specialization and integrated Skema’s Master in Science in Project and Program Management and Business Development. She strongly believes that Project Management is more than a subject, a competence, that is absolutely needed today to make successful projects and have a clear approach of how to deal with schedule and stakeholders within projects in every single topic. Her studies have been really helpful for her to acquire and improve several values/qualities such as humility, team spirit, organization, autonomy and leadership.

Laurianne can be contacted at [email protected].  You can also have access to her LinkedIn profile by clicking on the following: https://www.linkedin.com/in/laurianne-vaity/


[1] Olympic.org, (2013, September 07), IOC Select Tokyo as Host of 2020 Summer Olympic Games.

[2] According to the definition of Bent Flyvbjerg, Professor & Chair at the University of Oxford

[3] Based on Wideman’s comparative Glossary