What is the significance of Olympic Village? Couldn't athletes stay at local accommodations?
The Olympic Village is a complex of accommodations used to house athletes, trainers, and officials during the games.
In early Olympic games, organizers had to rent rooms all over the host city to house athletes and trainers. This was expensive and inconvenient. In the 1924 Paris Summer games, some cabins were built near the Olympic Stadium, which they called the Olympic Village, to house some athletes.
For the 1932 Summer Games in Los Angeles, a full Olympic Village was constructed, housing 1,836 male athletes. (The 126 female athletes stayed at a hotel.) This first Olympic Village featured dining halls, a fire station, a hospital, a post office, a movie theater, and other amenities. This Olympic Village has served as a model for the Olympics ever since.
An article in the Los Angeles Times after the 1932 games reveals the concern some had about the Village:
"Never," was the general opinion. "You can't pen men of all nations together; men from countries, perhaps, who believe they have age-old hatreds; young men whose races, beliefs and ideals conflict." But Los Angeles did it. They were not penned, these men from all over the world; they were offered a beautiful home that became more than home to them.
Besides the practical advantages in cost and transportation of having all the athletes housed together near the venues, the Olympic Village is seen as encouraging the Olympic Spirit, allowing athletes from around the world to spend time together away from the competition. At the closing ceremonies in Sochi 2014, IOC president Thomas Bach said to the athletes:
By living together under one roof in the Olympic Village you send a powerful message from Sochi to the world: that of a society of peace, tolerance and respect. I appeal to everybody implicated in confrontation, oppression, and violence to act on this Olympic message of dialogue and peace.
Different host cities have found different solutions for the Olympic Village. Often new buildings are constructed, some intended as temporary buildings, others with plans for use after the games. For some games, the organizers have chosen to utilize existing buildings (for example, university student housing) rather than build new buildings.
Since the massacre at the 1972 Munich Games, security at the Olympic Village has been very tight. Only athletes, trainers, officials, and guests with credentials are allowed in; the media is barred from the Village. For many of the athletes, this is seen as another advantage to staying at the Village.
Some of the bigger name athletes in recent times have chosen not to stay in the Olympic Village, choosing instead to make their own housing arrangements. John Stockton, who played in the 1992 American men's basketball team (the Dream Team), in choosing not to stay in the Village, said, "We don't intend to make a whole lot of friends here. The Olympic spirit is beating people, not living with them."
For the Sochi 2014 Olympics, three different Olympic Villages have been constructed: the Coastal Olympic Village, for athletes competing in events at the Olympic Park; the Mountain Olympic Village, for alpine skiing and track events; and Endurance Village for cross-country skiing and the biathlon.
There certainly is a convenience factor in having space for the athletes close to the facility, when local hotels are likely to be crammed full of spectators.
There are also security considerations that favor a concentrated location that can be isolated from crowds.