The choice of Boston on Thursday as the American nominee to bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics is a great honor — but one that should only begin the public discussion of the wisdom of hosting the Games here, not end it.
Indeed, that was the promise of the city’s Olympic boosters, who justified the inordinate secrecy around the bid by describing it as only a preliminary step that would still leave plenty of time for discussion later. Now that the United States Olympic Committee has picked Boston over three other applicants, the boosters should begin that discussion by making public all of their bid documents.
The bid was organized by a private group called Boston 2024, which proposed a $4.5 billion event. It was led by John Fish, the local construction executive, and supported by many other business interests in the city. Hosting an Olympics would be a mammoth undertaking: The city would need an Olympic village to house thousands of athletes, new venues for sports from swimming to cycling, and adequate infrastructure to ferry staff and media around a crowded city in the heat of summer. Since there is little evidence to suggest that Olympics yield public benefits for host cities, boosters shouldn’t expect any public investment or government guarantees; the burden is on them to provide a plan for a privately funded Games.
Financing, though, is only one of the problems that Olympics boosters will need to do a better job explaining to the public. Would the construction require use of eminent domain? What would happen to the facilities after the Games?
Should Boston proceed with a bid, the public must also be kept informed of what the International Olympic Committee, an organization with a history of corruption, demands from the city. Olympic costs have a habit of ballooning; London ended up paying three times what it expected to host the 2012 Olympics. And it was the extravagant demands for free booze and other perks by the IOC, which were leaked to a Norwegian newspaper, that helped convince Oslo to pull out of competition for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Above all, there can be no presumption that the city’s invitation to bid means that Boston must actually do so. Backers may attempt to create a sense of inevitability — who wants to be the stick in the mud? — but Boston deserves better than that. The apparent hunger of advocates to use the Olympics to show that Boston is a world-class city cuts both ways. Dozens of cities have hosted the Olympics. A more select group, including such provincial backwaters as Rome and Stockholm, have dropped out of consideration at one time or another after concluding it wasn’t right for them. The invitation to bid is great news, and a credit to Boston 2024. But Boston is, and will remain, a world-class city whether it chooses to bid for the Olympics or not.