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When John Winthrop enjoined his fellow Puritans to make the Massachusetts Bay Colony “a city upon a hill” in 1630, he did not have hosting the Games of the XXXIII Olympiad—otherwise known as the 2024 Summer Olympics—in mind. Now, however, 384 years after Winthrop’s speech on the Arbella and three years before the International Olympic Committee picks the 2024 host city, Boston is in serious contention for the honor. Mayor Martin J. “Marty” Walsh is even on board, saying the games “would be Boston leading the United States.” While the games’ supporters are undoubtedly right that Boston could host a successful Olympics, the demands of the IOC and the lack of transparency in the current local discussions would make hosting the 2024 games far too much of a burden for the city and the region.
Currently, the campaign in favor of having Boston host the 2024 Olympics is led by the Boston 2024 Committee, an organization headed mostly by business owners like its chair, John Fish. The group No Boston Olympics is spearheading the anti-Olympics effort. Notably, both sides largely accept that Boston could make a great Olympic city. As the Boston 2024 Committee is fond of noting, the city has a dedicated corps of civic leaders in politics, academia, and business who could ensure that public-private cooperation and “state-of-the-art” planning make the Boston Olympics successful.
Unfortunately, the evidence does not bear out the Boston 2024 Committee’s conjecture that hosting the summer Olympics would be a net benefit for the area. The main issue for Boston will be the lavish demands of the International Olympic Committee. According to Smith College Economics Professor Andrew Zimbalist, who has studied the issue extensively, the IOC “has had great leverage” over potential hosts, and “costs have steadily escalated.” Moreover, the IOC gets half of all revenue from the games. Given that the research of Professor Zimbalists and others shows no gains in tourism or any other sector from hosting the games, the financial case for Boston 2024 is weak indeed.
The integrity of the Olympics is starting to decline because of the IOC’s domineering attitude towards host cities. So many cities have dropped out of the race to host the 2022 that the only remaining options are Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan, both in nations with what might charitably be termed spotty human rights records. In addition to providing fodder for comedian John Oliver, this situation underscores the extent to which the demands on hosts and the paucity of benefits have made being an Olympic city more a burden than an honor.
A further lesson of the ongoing 2022 debacle—which saw Oslo, Norway; St. Mortitz, Switzerland; Stockholm, Sweden; Munich, Germany; Krakow, Poland; and Lviv, Ukraine, all withdraw—is that, when presented with the costs, the public is not enthused by hosting the games. This phenomenon may explain why the Boston 2024 Committee has done such a poor job of communicating its plans openly, drawing the concern of local commentators. Polling shows that, when presented with the cases for and against the games, Massachusetts residents are not in favor of putting the Commonwealth and the City of Boston at the mercy of the IOC’s demands to the detriment of other public projects.
Ultimately, sometimes being an example for the world means not participating in a system run amok. While hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics would undoubtedly be a source of pride for Boston, Massachusetts, and New England, the venture would bring with it unspecified and likely enormous costs, and would require far more public participation than supporters appear willing to allow. Boston should not host the 2024 games, and should instead focus its considerable energies on other world-class endeavors.
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