The U.S. Olympic Committee announced that it will back Boston’s bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics.
Boston beat out Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington D.C., and now has to be considered one of the frontrunners to host the games.
For decades the International Olympics Committee has sold the Olympics on one big economic lie: spending billions of dollars to host the Olympics is a smart investment. Academics have long argued that this isn’t true.
The Olympics are almost always more expensive than the original estimates. The traditional economic impact studies that promise host cities an economic boom are deeply flawed. And when it comes to investing in infrastructure, as the writer Simon Kuper put it, the things a city needs for daily life are not the things a city needs to host a one-off sporting event.
Cities have figured this out. That’s why every potential host city with a democratically elected government pulled out of the bidding for the 2020 games.
One of the central selling points of Boston’s bid is that no public money will be used on venues or operating costs. From the Boston 2024 website:
“The Games are not dependent on government funding. The only public investment will be in roadway, transportation, and infrastructure improvements, most of which are already in the planning stages and are needed with or without the Olympics.”
But these “infrastructure improvements” will cost an estimated $US5 billion in public money, more than half of the total cost of hosting. Much of the transportation spending is part of a preexisting bond bill that’s making it’s way through the state legislature, according to MassLive.
The problem is that there’s a long history of cost overruns related to Olympic infrastructure improvements. The average Olympics goes 200% over the initial estimated cost, according to Dr. Will Jennings of University of Southampton. Boston’s last big transportation project, the Big Dig, ended up costing tens of billions of dollars more than expected.
No Boston Olympics, a group that’s lobbying against the city hosting the 2024 games, argues that Boston will be on the hook for any cost overruns:
“The International Olympic Committee requires a public official from each bidding city to ‘guarantee’ the Games, meaning Massachusetts taxpayers would be on the hook as costs go over the initial budget, as they have in every modern Olympic Games. And just like the Big Dig, the final price tag doesn’t include ongoing maintenance expenses, which are the true, costly legacy of being an Olympic host — anyone who has ever owned a swimming pool knows you don’t stop paying for it once it’s built!”
Boston 2024 promises that the $US4.5 billion in venue construction and organisation costs will be financed privately. The group’s feasibility report, which was published in February 2014, calls for four venues to be built from scratch — an Olympic Stadium, Olympic Village, Velodrome, and Aquatics Center.
History shows that the ideal number of venues that ought to be built from scratch is zero. While the group calls for the use of temporary and/or modular venues that can be converted for alternate uses after the games, spending $US4.5 billion on venues that get two weeks of use is the height of waste.
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