“The Montreal Olympics can no more lose money than a man can have a baby,” proclaimed Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau (1954-57, 1960-86) in January, 1973. Boasting that Montreal’s 1976 Olympics would be the first-ever “self-financing” games, Drapeau claimed that sales of Olympic coins, stamps and lottery tickets would raise its entire budget of $300 million dollars (talk about low balling it!) Personally invested in all aspects of the Olympics (moreso than other host cities’ mayors,) he was undeterred. When reporters laughed at him, Drapeau retorted that “it won’t be very long before some argument is started throughout Canada to find out how the surplus will be spent.” This argument never did take place.
Responsible for Expo 67, the Montreal Expos’ arrival and the construction of the metro, Drapeau was a visionary. Yet he was also drunk on his own success and spectacularly wrong. Corruption, unions, incompetence and myriad other issues sent the cost of the 1976 Olympics ballooning to 13 times the original estimate. Though an inquiry partially blamed Drapeau’s micromanagement for this, he remained Mayor for another decade. Olympic Stadium is the symbol of this excess – once proudly called the “Big O,” it’s now a tenant-less white elephant known as “the big owe.” The “child” Drapeau left the city would grow to age 30, as the 1.6 billion dollar Olympic debt wasn’t paid off until 2006. While a man still can’t have a baby, politicians’ ability to give birth to overambitious promises and arrogant one-liners has not abated!
Photo: Daily Dose Sports