I read a great piece in the Boston Globe the other day titled “Can We Talk About the 2024 Olympics?” In in Yvonne Abraham discusses the fact that the US Olympic Committee will be making a decision in the next few months about which US host city they will be submitting to the IOC for consideration for the Summer 2024 Olympics. Four cities are in the running, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington DC and…(cue dramatic music)…Boston. I admit to hearing some murmurings about Boston putting in a bid to host the Olympics, but I didn’t realize this was really happening…you may think me naive, but I don’t think I am the only one who isn’t paying a lot of attention.
“Boston has somehow become a finalist without ever saying officially that it wants to do this, and now it could actually win without any political body saying we want to do this,” said Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College…
I didn’t really think this would go anywhere, and now I read that by January we may be the US pick to enter the running to host. I have to admit to feeling a bit panicky when I read the Boston Globe article…the LAST thing I want is to be a host city for the Olympics. When I was ten or so I probably would have thought it really exciting, but being now older (and wiser, much wiser) I find the idea frightening. Not only do I see it as a royal pain in the you-know-what for those who actually live in (or in my case, near) the host city, I just don’t think that the lure of hosting the “world’s largest party” makes a lot of economic sense.
Of course, I’m speaking in the public sense…it doesn’t make much economic sense to me, a taxpayer. But it probably makes loads of sense to the leader of the local committee supporting Boston’s bid, who just so happens to be the CEO of a large….wait for it…construction company. Yeah, makes loads of economic sense for them. How much are they projecting that the Olympics will cost Boston? $4.5 billion? Seriously? Athens cost $16 billion, Beijing $40 billion, and London $20 billion. Where is $4.5 billion coming from? That would be difficult to say, as John Fish, the CEO of Suffolk Construction, has said that it is too early in the bidding process to have “any real discussions about the bid,” that such things should wait until Boston has actually received the blessing from the US Olympic Committee. At which point, as Yvonne Abraham points out in her article, it might be too late. Fish seems to think that by putting Boston forward as a host city he is helping both Boston and the state of Massachusetts. And yet, history (of which there is a lot of) doesn’t seem to support the idea that hosting an Olympics brings economic benefits to the host.
The reigning idea that hosting an Olympics boosts tourism and economic development is not borne out by the actual numbers. In fact, some hosts (most recently London and Beijing) actually see a decrease in tourism. As Victor Matheson, professor of Economics at Holy Cross says, “Boston is already overrun with tourists in the summer.” We don’t need an Olympics to boost tourism. And building stadiums ~ not a lot of economic sense. Los Angeles, one of the few economically successful Olympics, did not build new stadiums. There has been talk recently of the Kraft family building a new soccer stadium, which could potentially play into the need for an Olympic venue. Except that a soccer stadium is generally built to hold around 20,000, whereas the Olympic stadium would need to hold 80,000. Boston apparently has enough hotel rooms, basketball courts, soccer stadiums and baseball parks, but lacks four necessary venues.
The biggest — the 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium and 100-acre Olympic Village, with 16,500 beds and a 5,000-seat dining hall — would ideally be built close to the city center, to satisfy the IOC’s recommendations. However, land in Boston’s urban core is scarce, the report said. The state would also need an Olympic-sized velodrome for the cycling events and a large aquatics center.
And then there’s the transportation issue.
The public transit system would need to be expanded, “requiring additional and significant investments in our infrastructure to handle the capacity that an Olympics would bring to Boston,” the report said. Traffic — already a notorious bugaboo of life in Boston — would also be a concern, the report noted.
I don’t think a lot of Massachusetts residents are paying all that much attention. And they should. Certainly Boston could benefit from some infrastructure improvements and some see hosting an Olympics as a way to “fast track” that. But along with the infrastructure improvements would come a lot of headache and unnecessary expense. As Eric Wilbur wrote in his sports blog on boston.com
What the Olympics could do is prompt an immediate upgrade in the subway system and city bridges, both long overdue.
Studies show high levels of public support from the host nation before, during and after an Olympics. I’m just wondering if the high level of support would actually be realized in the state of Massachusetts.
What do you think? As a Massachusetts resident, are you supportive of an Olympic bid (and just because I’m not doesn’t make me right)? If you live elsewhere, what do you think of a Boston bid? What if your state was putting forth a bid, would you feel any differently?