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.
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