Boston Olympic bid a silly diversion by Marjorie Arons-Barron

The entry below is being cross posted from Marjorie Arons Barron’s own blog.

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.

2 Responses to Boston Olympic bid a silly diversion by Marjorie Arons-Barron

  1. Christopher says:

    What a party pooper she is! It’s an honor to host the Olympics and Boston should go for it. There may be a place for Lowell in the plan as well.

  2. Dean says:

    Having been involved in pre-1994 with the Olympic Boston Organizing Committee. I have the study on the feasibility of hosting the Olympic games in Boston for 2008. The study was issued in 1994 and well over 200 pages. The question is where are you going to build a 70,000 plus seat stadium in Boston city limits.( Foxboro stadium can not be used because it is not in the city limits.) It also has to be near public transportation. The locations to build a stadium for 70,000 spectators in the 1990’s have been built up. The state should save it money for consultation fees on this matter.