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The Effect of the Beijing Olympics on Infrastructure

Effect of the Beijing Olympics on Infrastructure


From the perspective of a city hosting the Olympics, the expected benefits are immense. In 2008, Beijing hosted the most expensive Olympic Games in history; as a result, expectations were high. This paper seeks to review the literature to determine the infrastructural legacy associated with hosting the games. During the pre-Olympic period, Beijing investigated immensely infrastructural improvements, which were geared to provide sports facilities, improve transportation systems, ensure urban renewal, and clean the city. During the post-Olympic time, significant infrastructural facelift in Beijing has been documented in terms of improvements in roads and city’s overall design, which extended over other cities. The infrastructural legacy has been enduring; nevertheless, sport-related infrastructures remain underutilised after the Olympics ended.

Keywords: 2008 Beijing Olympics; Infrastructural legacy

Literature Review

China won the bid to host the 2008 Olympics in July 13, 2001 (Gursoy et al. 2011). After obtaining this opportunity, China’s expectations regarding the impacts of the Olympics were ambitious. Beijing leadership stated that the China’s preparedness for the Olympics and its infrastructure will be the first of its kind and promised that considerable investments in the games would have lasting effects on the quality of life for the residents (Gursoy et al. 2011). Being labelled as one of the most expensive Olympic Games in history, China initiated massive infrastructural investments in order to meet the requirements set by the International Olympic Committee for hosting the games. During the initial bid, China estimated that hosting the games would cost $1.625 billion; however, this figure was subsequently reviewed to at least $2 billion (Jinxia 2010). Nevertheless, this figure is related only to the construction costs of the sports facilities for hosting the games. The total costs of construction for both sport and non-sport infrastructure exceeded $40 billion (Grix 2013), which was allocated for transportation, energy, urban environment, and water resources.

In the build-up to the Olympics, China documented a massive infrastructural facelift, as evidenced by the planning and construction of key facilities needed to host the mega event. First, there was a change in the number of sports facilities. China planned and constructed the Olympic Park together with other 37 stadiums that were to host the Olympic Games (Lee 2010). Thirty new buildings were constructed in the city of Beijing, wherein 13 were refurbished and 19 were new developments. Moreover, in other cities in China, there were constructed numerous venues. For example, a sailing centre was built in Qingdao, while soccer stadiums were constructed in Shanghai, Shenyang, Qinhuangdao, and Tianjin. Additionally, China build 59 training centres and initiated infrastructure projects to host the Paralympic Games that were to be held in Beijing after the 2008 Olympics (Law 2010). Stadiums in the city of Beijing, especially the National Stadium, were well-designed to ensure that they will be useful even after the end of the Olympics.

Prior to the Olympics, China made significant investments in infrastructure and transportation. In the seven years between winning the bid and hosting the Olympics, China spent $1.1 billion to improve its transportation systems (Lee 2010). Notable developments included the extension of the Beijing subway system, the construction and refurbishment of at least 318 kilometres of city streets, completion of the light railway system of Beijing, construction of novel ring roads surrounding Beijing city, and installation of state-of-the-art systems for traffic control (Rose & Spiegel 2011). In addition, a new airport terminal was constructed at the Beijing Capital International Airport in combination with an extension of the toll road heading to the airport.

Another notable development in infrastructure in the run-up to the Olympics was urban renewal. China spent nearly $200 million towards demolishing rundown urban buildings and houses (Leung et al. 2012); refurbishing historic areas, including the corner residences that had been in existence since the imperial times, old streets, and landmarks; and restoring several historic places such as the Forbidden City. Furthermore, China allocated a budget of about $3.6 billion aimed at ensuring that Beijing transformed into a digital city as of 2008 through investments in networking technologies, wireless transmission, broadband and digital communications, and intelligent technologies such as smart cards (Mol 2010).

Another aspect in China that documented a massive infrastructural facelift before the Olympics was triggered by the need to enhance the quality of environment in Beijing. In this respect, the Beijing Sustainable Development Plan was initiated with an estimated budget of about $12.2 billion to enhance Beijing’s environment (Jinxia 2010). Under this plan, new solid waste processing facilities and wastewater treatment plants were established. Beijing also acquired a fleet of clean buses and green belts. Ozone-depleting substances were abandoned prior to the Olympics. Also, the city started using air-source heat pump systems for saving the energy consumed in the Olympic stadiums, while about 47000 old taxis were substituted with 7000 diesel buses. Moreover, Beijing imposed requirements for the use of vehicles that satisfied the emission standards set by the European Union (Lee 2010). The conventional source of energy (coal) was gradually replaced by renewable energy sources such as wind power, natural gas, and geothermal. As part of the environmental facelift, the major part of Beijing was covered by lawns, bushes, and trees. The city also established 20 natural reserves for protecting geological formations, wetlands, and wild plants and animals.

From the literature, it can be seen that massive infrastructural improvements were documented due to the preparation efforts before hosting the 2008 Olympics. Improvements in transportation systems, housing, and urban renewal were seen in the run-up to the games (Lee 2010). Beijing transformed into a digital city, as evidenced by the investments in communication systems. The environment was cleaner as the city adopted stricter standards regarding the vehicle emissions, leading to a facelift in Beijing’s environment. The key issue regarding the Olympic legacy is whether these improvements in infrastructure lasted long after the completion of the games. Therefore, there is a need to determine whether pre-Olympic infrastructural facelift remained or the situation returned to the one it was before the preparations for the Olympics.


The aim of the literature review was to explore the impact of the 2008 Beijing Olympics on infrastructure. In performing the review of literature, a systematic methodology was employed to make sure that only quality sources were included in the review. An electronic search of various databases was conducted to obtain literature pertinent to the topic. The databases searched included Scopus, ScienceDirect, Emerald, and Google Scholar. In order to locate relevant literature, several search terms were utilised, including “Beijing 2008 Olympics,” “Beijing Olympics legacy,” “Impact of Olympics on infrastructure,” and “effects/impacts of Beijing Olympics on Infrastructure.” The selection criteria were limited to sources published after 2010. It was assumed that the impacts of the Olympics would be felt after some time has lapsed. An additional web search was performed to locate evidence presented in the form of newspaper reports, company information, and Olympics Committee publications. The focus of the analysis was to compare the pre-Olympic and post-Olympic state of infrastructure to determine the effect of the 2008 Beijing Olympics on the country’s infrastructure.


The findings from the literature provide mixed insights regarding the infrastructural legacy associated with the 2008 Beijing Olympics. A widely held expectation is that Olympics lead to the development of infrastructure in the host city, which leaves a legacy of state-of-the-art facilities due to the expansion as well as renovation of host facilities (Grix 2013). However, these infrastructural facelifts have been criticised as having high initial costs during the pre-Olympic period. Most scholars remain critical of the infrastructural legacy associated with hosting the Olympics. Moreover, during the post-Olympic period, these facilities are underused or left unused (Zhang & Zhao 2009). The maintenance costs for these facilities are also high. A commonly held perspective among the scholars interested in the infrastructural legacy associated with hosting the Olympics is that justifying infrastructural developments using the Olympics is a weak argument since infrastructures could be development, regardless of whether or not a city hosts the Olympics. Additionally, some authors reported that the justifying infrastructural facelifts using the Olympics often limit funding for other important social programs. Also, the infrastructural legacy has been described as being of no use to residents due to the low utilization rates (Leung et al. 2012). For instance, during the 2008 Olympics held in Beijing, residents were forcefully evacuated to construct a back-up route to the airport. Rather than adopting forced evacuations, Beijing could have elected to develop the infrastructure elsewhere; thus, only local residents experienced the detrimental outcomes of the infrastructure developments due to the Olympics. The quality of the infrastructural legacy of the 2008 Beijing Olympics has also been questioned (Rose & Spiegel 2011). For instance, it is observed that China developed 31 gyms for hosting the games concurrently within 15-61 days. Concerns have been expressed with such a massive infrastructural development taking place simultaneously. Thereafter, this has been used as an indication of the poor planning that accompany infrastructural improvements associated with hosting the Olympics.

Some authors question the impact of the Olympics on the quality of the city’s environment, especially after the 2008 Olympics (Grix 2013). Before the Olympics, the quality of air in Beijing was below the acceptable standards. Beijing was forced to clean its environment to ensure it is healthy for athletes and visitors. In the case of China, it has been noted that the environmental impacts were only short-lived. For instance, Beijing authorities eased the restrictions it had imposed on traffic before the Olympics; as a result, there was a resurgence of pollutants in the environment. Even after spending an estimated $19 billion in the run-up to the Olympics (Law 2010), Beijing was unsuccessful in maintaining the newly gained state of environmental cleanliness.

Despite the criticisms levelled against the infrastructural legacy of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, some scholars were optimistic about the effects of the Olympics with respect to the city’s infrastructure (Law 2010; Mol 2010). They noted that the investments to enhance the city’s environment led to enduring benefits. For instance, Beijing implemented a green technology for the sport infrastructure as well as the transportation system, which is being replicated in other cities. Essentially, other cities in China are adopting environmental design concepts. It is also noted that China satisfied the majority of its pledges regarding the reduction of energy consumption, raising the use of renewable energy, and increasing forest cover (Lee 2010). In addition, China is now the world leader with respect to investments in clean energy. Some authors also noted that the construction blitz before the games caused the transformation of Beijing into a modern city having beautiful architecture and a transport system that is efficient even after the Olympics have long ended. A survey of residents revealed improvements in the flow of traffic, which is attributable to widened roads and the construction of railway links and highways (Mol 2010). Overall, it is seen that the Olympics had an enduring infrastructure legacy, especially for non-sport facilities such as transportation systems, which transformed the city even after the end of the Olympics.

Discussion and Conclusion

With the Olympics becoming costly and bigger, an issue of concern is whether it is still reasonable to host them. Countries are still fascinated about hosting the games due to the excitement associated with the expected impacts. A widely held belief is that hosting the Olympics will precipitate infrastructural improvements with respect to changes in the city design, enhancement of the physical environment, and developments in transportation systems among others. In the case of Beijing, significant investments in infrastructure were made during the pre-Olympic period, including the transportation systems, digitalization of the city, sport facilities, and clean environment, which present a mix of both sport and non-sport infrastructure improvements.

After an extensive review of literature, it is possible to conclude that the 2008 Olympics led to a significant infrastructural facelift for Beijing in terms of improvements in roads and city’s overall design, which also extended over other cities. However, a major downside is related to the use of sport-related infrastructures, which remain underutilised after the Olympics ended. Therefore, an issue worth investigating is how cities hosting the Olympics can ensure sustained use of developed sport infrastructure after the completion of the Olympics.

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