In Olympics, Few Winners: Contesting Boston 2024

Touting its collegiate strength and ease of travel, Boston is hoping to become the seventh U.S. city to host the Olympic Games. On January 8, Boston was chosen by the U.S. Olympic Committee as its candidate for the 2024 Summer Olympics, bringing the city one step closer to that goal.

If Boston did in fact secure the final nomination, the Olympics would be one of the most “walkable,” contributing to the city’s intent to make the event as sustainable as possible. Boston also intends to keep the budget under $5 billion—in comparison, the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi cost around $51 billion.

One of the ways Boston hopes to keep costs down is by partnering with the city’s universities, reducing the number of new venues that would be built. During the initial bid process, Tufts was being considered as a potential site for the aquatic events, but according to Athletic Director Bill Gehling it is no longer likely that anything will be built on campus for the Games. According to plans released on January 22, Boston is considering having events like hockey and tennis at Harvard, archery at MIT and badminton at Boston University. There are also plans to expand UMass Boston to house the Athlete Village. Outside of the universities’ involvement, the Olympics would be a chance to revitalize the city.

Kristina Egan is the director of Transportation for Massachusetts, a coalition of 45 organizations working to improve transportation systems in the state.

“The Olympics would mean a lot of focus on how to improve our transportation and the housing stock in our community, and I think there’s the ability if the Olympics are done right to leapfrog Boston into a stronger economy,” Egan said.

By setting a deadline to improve infrastructure, the Games would force Boston to complete long-delayed projects.

Transportation for Massachusetts is currently reviewing the bid documents and creating a set of recommendations for Boston 2024, the group in charge of the bid, to help maximize the positive effects of the Games. They are emphasizing the importance of making investments that will help the city long term and benefit all communities equally.

“We want to make sure the Olympic plans don’t leave out people of color and low income neighborhoods and will help us face the climate of the 21st century and help improve accessibility for people with disabilities,” Egan told the Tufts Observer.

Another benefit of hosting the Games would be an increase in the number of construction jobs available in the city. Although these would be short term, they could potentially employ thousands of workers. Additionally, Boston 2024 hopes that the Olympics will help increase the city’s appeal for tourists after the event is over by making Boston more visible on the world stage.

Some are concerned, however, that these benefits do not outweigh the costs of hosting the Games.

No Boston Olympics is a group concerned with the exorbitant costs brought on by an event like the Olympics. Aaron Leibowitz (A’14), a spokesperson for No Boston Olympics, says, “We feel that there are bigger priorities that Boston and Massachusetts should focus on; things like homelessness, housing, education, infrastructure improvement, things that matter on a day-to-day basis. These are issues that should be consuming the time and energy and resources of public officials, not planning a three week party that costs billions of dollars.”

No Boston Olympics is concerned that, were the Games to be held here, there would be sweeps to arrest the homeless similar to those that happened before the 1996 Atlanta Games.

One of the biggest concerns is how Boston would fund this type of event. Although the city’s bid focused on reducing the host’s costs, Leibowitz pointed out that every Olympic Games since 1960 has gone over its budget.

“It’s hard to trust [city officials] when they haven’t told us much about how they’re going to [put on this event]. Bid documents are a vague, early-stage plan. It’s unclear how they’re going to do it without a using any public money and without harming any communities with the structures having to be built,” Leibowitz said.

These structures often end up in the poorest neighborhoods, where the money used to build them is most needed for other municipal projects.

No Boston Olympics is hoping that citizens will be able to participate in a referendum, ideally a ballot question for the city or the state. This could mean that voters are given the option to choose whether or not the city would host the Olympics at all or if the government would be allowed to use public funding for the event.

Denver followed a similar process in 1970 when they were bidding for the 1976 Winter Olympics. Coloradans voted down a referendum that would have allowed the city to use tax dollars to finance construction, and left without sufficient funds, the Games went to Austria instead.

To put a question on the ballot would require collecting signatures and likely not be raised until 2016.

Meanwhile, No Boston Olympics “is trying to stay loud and have a presence and keep annoying people,” Leibowitz said. Leibowitz believes that as exciting as major sporting events can be, they often do more harm than good. “Sports have been a huge part of my life. I write about sports, I play sports, but I’ve also learned in recent years how these big sporting events are hijacked by private interests and these ridiculous groups like the International Olympic Committee and FIFA. I’ve learned about their effects on communities like the World Cup in Brazil displacing thousands of people and I didn’t want that to come to Boston,” Leibowitz said.

Much of the controversy over hosting the Olympics in Boston has yet to play out. Rome and possibly Paris, Berlin, and a South African city will submit their own bids. The International Olympic Committee will choose candidate cities in the Spring of 2016 and the final host will be selected in the Summer of 2017. Until then, Boston will be wrestling with how to best serve its citizens while finding a way to step onto the world stage.

Photos courtesy of Boston 2024.

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