I’m assuming at some point we’ll all come to our collective senses.
Here’s hoping it happens before it’s too late.
Look, it was cute to dream about Boston hosting the 2024 Olympic Summer Games for a while. We had some dandy debates over the benefits (none) and pitfalls (everything) of the Hub opening its wallet and roadways to welcome the world. It was even fun to imagine a Boston-centric Opening Ceremonies, complete with Bobby Orr, Tom Brady, Bill Russell, or David Ortiz lighting the torch.
But the fact that we’re still discussing this as a viable undertaking is frightening.
Just last week, the Boston 2024 Partnership hosted an event with a number of local Olympians on hand to push the agenda of an Olympics in the city, with the message of "Everything is Awesome."
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh became the latest local figure to succumb to the nonsense. Once noncommittal on the idea, Walsh told the Globe this week that was beginning to slowly get on board with backing a Boston Olympus.
“I’m cautiously enthused about where we’re heading,” Walsh said. “If we got chosen as an Olympic site? I think it would be a tremendous opportunity for the city of Boston in so many different ways.
“I think just legacy, as far as Boston hosting the Olympics and being an Olympic city, puts us on a scale not too many cities can claim…I think it adds value to our convention business. I think it adds value to our tourism business.”
Right. Because why experience the history of the Freedom Trail when the city has a new velodrome to check out?
If there’s one benefit of all this discussion, as Walsh rightfully notes, it’s that at least we’re conjuring new ways to improve Boston as a city. The mayor points to Brooklyn’s unsuccessful bid for the 2012 Games as an example in that the city has transformed into one with the opportunity to go after manufacturing jobs and middle class housing, “ all of the same initiatives that I’m trying to do as mayor of the city of Boston,” Walsh said.
Noted. But the Olympic ideal is just that. More often than not, host cities are left with little more than an enormous mess and an even bigger tab to deal with, all for a two-week headache for Massachusetts residents.
But hey, think of the commemorative DVD.
Here’s the most daunting thing about all this though: It’s probably going to happen.
Boston might just be the U.S. Olympic Committee’s favorite to be our country’s sole bid, due into the International Olympic Committee next year, with an announcement made in 2017. Los Angeles makes the most sense, and so might San Francisco or Washington, D.C. to a much lesser degree. But Boston would give the USOC a bid for the Northeast, where the Games haven’t visited since 1980 in Lake Placid.
By the time the 2024 Games come along, the U.S. will not have hosted the Summer Games in nearly 30 years (’96, Atlanta), and the Olympics in general for 22 years (’02, Salt Lake City). That likely means that the IOC is going to look favorably on awarding the U.S. the next time around, with only Berlin, Paris, and Melbourne remaining as really the only potential bidders which might challenge having the Olympics on American soil.
If we make that assumption, then essentially there’s a 1-in-4 chance of the Boston Olympics coming to fruition.
Be scared, people.
If Boston does indeed dip its toe into a pool it has no business swimming in, it is going to cost some $20-$40 billion in infrastructure. Can you imagine? The Big Dig cost an estimated $24.3 billion (in legitimate business costs, at least), and now here we are, not even seven years after that exhaustive project’s completion, ready to dump similar funds into bringing track and field and shot-put to Allston?
At least we’re reaping the benefits of the Big Dig, which, among its many positives, opened up the Seaport and Fort Point to levels some of us only could imagine. It allowed for a new, expansive convention center to welcome big business dollars in a way that the Hynes can’t handle. What the Olympics could do is prompt an immediate upgrade in the subway system and city bridges, both long overdue.
Perfect. Do we have to invite the country of Andorra here in order to get that done?
Twenty billion dollars can buy a lot. It can drastically improve our schools, and roadways. It can provide middle class housing without the headache of potentially bending over and schmoozing every U.S. and International committee member with God knows what. Look no further than Sochi, Russia, which spent $50 billion transforming its subtropical atmosphere into a winter wonderland, one that it hopes will become one of Europe’s most traveled-to winter playgrounds. Less than a year later, the place is a ghost town.
Maybe Boston and London can be the outliers as far as being host cities where the venues don’t go to die. London is doing its best to keep its venues from 2012 in active shape, but even that comes at a cost. It’s not as simple as having Bob Kraft build a stadium at Suffolk Downs for the Revolution to play at. The Opening and Closing Ceremonies venue needs to set 80,000 people, which defeats the purpose of Kraft need a soccer-specific stadium away from Gillette. In fact, in London, they are spending an additional $320 million to remodel its Olympic stadium for the West Ham soccer club.
“The Summer Games bring in around $5 billion to $6 billion from television, sponsorships, ticket sales, licensing, and merchandise. Less than half of this sum goes to the host city,” Smith College professor of economics Andrew Zimbalist recently wrote. “Beijing and London actually experienced a decrease in international tourism during their host month and year. This balance of revenues and expenses is not encouraging for a prospective host city.
“The notion that hosting will promote sustainability in Boston also lacks credibility. There will be billions of dollars spent on sport facility construction, much of it for facilities that will find no financially viable use going forward. This construction will not lower Boston’s carbon footprint.”
It’s no surprise with the kind of commitment it entails and a track record of post-Olympic realities that countries are running away from the “honor” and “prestige.” Earlier this month, Oslo, Norway pulled out of the running for the 2022 Winter Games, which may end up going to last country standing. Krakow, Munich, St. Moritz, Stockholm, and Lviv, Ukraine have all surrendered their bids, with Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan the only two cities remaining. The same will happen the further we get into the 2024 bidding process.
That’s why the longer Boston acts like its serious about this ordeal, the higher the probability the Olympic flame will burn brightly over the city in a decade. Everybody else eventually smartens up.
If talking about the Olympics means having a discussion about civic improvement, then great. Mission accomplished. Now let’s move onto ways to figure out how to implement those changes before we seriously get too deep into a $40 billion waste of time.
Except, I feel we may already there.