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November 21, 2014

This week the Boston Globe’s Evan Horowitz reported that Boston is the “odds on favorite” for January selection as the United States' nominee city to host the 2024 Olympic Games.  Journalist Dave Zurin contextualized that “Boston had rocketed to the top of [the International Olympic Committee’s] consideration list because of how the city was able to shut itself down after the Boston Marathon bombing.”  Well if that doesn’t just warm one’s Olympic heart…

I have written before how modern Olympic games are sold as an economic panacea to the host city but, in actuality, end up being a Pandora’s box exacerbating economic inequality, displacing the city’s most vulnerable, and providing fertile, domestic testing ground for surveillance via the military industrial complex. These empirical realities run counter to Massachusetts’ progressive self-image. For all the feel good moments that an Olympics undoubtedly brings, the sad reality is the stadiums regularly become decrepit and most citizens do not have access to the events because of exorbitant ticket prices and set-asides for corporate sponsors.  

Dramatic cost overruns are also the norm – Athens spent 14.4 billion more than they estimated in their bid.  By conservative estimates, London’s actual spending outpaced their initial bid by 11 billion dollars and the Sochi Games outspent by 39 billion dollars.  And it is not the International Olympic Committee (IOC) left holding the bill as citizens of Greece, England, and Russia can attest.  Sure, corporate money makes up some of the overrun but citizens are undoubtedly left responsible for much of the dramatic cost uptick.  Boston’s current bid estimate? 4.5 billion not including infrastructure costs.

All this should matter to residents of the Commonwealth. Note: I did not say Bostonians. The IOC is a tricky body and in order for Boston's bid to move forward “Massachusetts has to agree to cover all necessary costs.”  So while much of the debate and discussion has rightfully been in Boston regarding what it will or will not do for the city, or how unrepresentative the “Boston 2024 Partnership” spearheaded the effort is, another fact goes unnoticed:

A Boston Olympics Hurts Massachusetts

That’s right. Given the pattern of substantial cost overruns, and the state’s responsibility to meet the gap, as well as provide key loan guarantees, residents of Commonwealth are likely to be on the financial hook for an event that they neither get to go to nor materially benefit from.  It’s no secret that a defining theme of Massachusetts politics--when one leaves Beantown--is that it is BOSTON …and then everyplace else.

Boston is surely the main economic engine for the region but Worcester, Springfield, the North and South Shores, Berkshires, Cape and Islands as well as the numerous towns and locales in between contribute mightily and have long lived in the budgetary shadow of Boston.  Each region has economic, infrastructure, and other priorities.  But one need only look to the Big Dig as an extreme case of the typical economic and policy prioritization in the Governor’s Office and Beacon Hill:  Boston comes first to the detriment of other locale’s needs.

“Bostonides” creates a love-hate relationship with the city and Massachusetts residents outside of it.  Bay Staters love Beantown but understandably resent it when their own roads, infrastructure needs, and other projects run a perpetual, and distant, second place. A Boston Olympics will only exacerbate this trend.  The economic  burdens the Games inevitably bring thus merit the attention they are increasingly getting in Boston but it is also vital that the rest of the state take heed as well.  

Just because the name says Boston, the bill says Massachusetts. 

So, residents beyond Beantown, I suggest you bag the current Olympic anthem as your battle cry.  Rather, in the moving words of Twisted Sister, “We’re Not Gonna Take It Anymore” is the music to be cued when you take the stand opposing the Boston Olympics. 

Massachusetts, Olympic games, Boston Olympics, Boston v Massachusetts, budget, IOC

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