Boston Olympic bid a silly diversion

Score Boston Mayor Tom Menino:1; Boston Globe:0  on the proposal to bring the Olympics to Boston in 2024.  Opined an editorial, a chance to host the Olympics is “too rare to pass up without further consideration.”  Really?

As the Mayor restated Thursday on WGBH’s Greater Boston, the city has too many other, higher priority needs – education, to name just one.  While the Globe admits it would be a long haul, it seems seduced by the notion that “there is every reason to believe that Boston would be viewed as a solid contender.”

But just being a solid contender is a waste of time and money, unless you’re one of the local poohbahs who wants to travel the world, performing site visits, dining at fine restaurants at someone else’s expense. Chicago was a solid contender last time. It  came up short, even after the intervention of favorite son Barak Obama, as did solid contender New York four years before.

Boston might be able to put together a credible bid. We have arenas, and rooms in colleges and universities to provide housing.  Venues outside Boston (e.g., Foxborough or Amherst, as the Globe suggested) could be part of the deal. We have a tradition of hosting international sporting events.  The Boston Marathon and the Head-of-the-Charles come to mind.  In Mitt Romney, we have just the local fellow who could run it. He’s done it before.

But, hosting an Olympic games is another order of magnitude. As columnist John Powers reminds us, we would also need an Olympic stadium (remember Beijing?), a velodrome, and an aquatic center with a diving tower.  (Harvard’s Olympic-sized pool isn’t enough.)Would we build them just for the events? and where?

About two decades ago, there was a similar gee whiz proposal to win the 2008 games for Boston, with Bill Weld, John Kerry and  John Hamill the public drumbeaters and Steve Freyer and Rik Larsen the worker bees.

At the time, Jim Barron was running  International Boston a private-public  initiative to help make Greater Boston a more world class competitive city. We used part of our vacations to do reality checks, meeting with Olympic organizers in Barcelona,  Sydney and Melbourne. They uniformly scoffed at Boston’s efforts. The Olympics, we were told is a European inside game, rife with corruption and sharp elbows. When European cities don’t win bids, the victors are usually parts of the world that deserve recognition, from symbolizing post-war reconciliation to coming of age celebrations,  or North American cities with sufficient public dollars and corporate underwriters to assure a good showcase. Although they weren’t sure who would get the games, they correctly predicted Sydney, Athens, Beijing, London and Rio as likely winners.

Boston, they said, couldn’t play in that league, and furthermore  its international reputation as a place unwelcoming to people of color made its bid a non-starter.

Today, Boston’s racial climate is much improved and its cosmopolitan reputation enhanced.  But we shouldn’t go for the golden rings  just because we think we can.  The cost is enormous. That “successful” Mitt Romney 2002 Olympics games still cost taxpayers $600 million.  The 2000 Sydney games stuck taxpayers for $2 billion; 2010 Vancouver was left holding the bag for close to $1 billion; London last summer cost taxpayers some $15 billion.  Graduate theses have documented that “the costs of hosting the games outweigh its tangible benefits.” The Atlanta games in 1996, hailed as a monetary success, relied heavily on corporate support, and  taxpayers still had to cover $500 million.

Boston  lacks the tradition of corporate support enjoyed in Atlanta.  Just ask zoo devotees. And now it’s even less a corporate headquarters city than before.

A committee has been formed to advance Boston Olympics 2024.  State Senator Eileen Donoghue has filed legislation to create a commission to assess the feasibility.  Bids would have to be in to the International Olympics Committe by 2015.   They should spend their time elsewhere!

In the 1990s, newly elected mayor  Tom Menino got sucked in to the hoopla. Today he knows better. He is wise to withhold his support.  If corporations want to help the city, there are much better ways to do so.

I welcome your comments in the section below.

5 thoughts on “Boston Olympic bid a silly diversion

  1. Pingback: Boston Olympics? costly diversion by Marjorie Arons-Barron |

  2. To M. Wise, The cities you cite prove my point. All four had tremendous private sector involvement and a long history of corporate sponsorship of municipal activities. In the case of Barcelona, the Olympics was a hook for getting major private investment in infrastructure changes (the creation of Barcelonetta and new mass transit) that never would have happened without the Olympics goals.. Officials there said they cared less about winning the Olymmpics bid than about getting significant private donations for public sector changes. Do you really think that Boston-area corporations can play in that league?
    Many large local corporations, like Gillette, were located here but never got seriously involved in local activities, and now their headquarters are elsewhere. We’re more a branch office than a headquarters town. Do you seriously think their absentee corporate headquarters are going to ante up multi-millions to support Boston’s long-shot bid?
    Sidney and Atlanta both needed many taxpayer dollars. How much are you prepared to have your taxes go up to subsidize the games?
    Oh, and, by the way, I wrote for major “relevant news sources” for 30 years. Thanks for commenting.


  3. Perhaps you should write for a relevant news source. Start with the facts—it isn’t always a waste of money if a city does it correctly. LA, Atlanta, Barcelona, and Sydney all had net positives so it’s not always a negative.


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