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The wins and losses of hosting the Olympics

david wilson for the boston globe

Andrew Zimbalist was a development economist focusing on Latin America when his 11-year-old son asked him to write a book on the economics of baseball in 1990. The request changed his focus and his field. Now a leading sports economist, Zimbalist has emerged as one of the most vocal critics of Boston's bid to host the Olympic Games in 2024.

In his recent book "Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup," Zimbalist lays out some of the pitfalls in bringing a mega sporting event to town. For one thing, he said in a telephone interview, these projects nearly always result in "a bad financial balance." Proponents, he went on, "like to claim that there are long-term gains in tourism, foreign investment, and trade, but empirically the evidence doesn't suggest that there are those gains."


Instead, he said, what happens is that "there's a small group of companies or particular branches of the local economy that will benefit, and they tend to be powerful actors in the city's political economy.'' In the case of the Boston Olympics bid, Zimbalist added, "one of the things that jumps out at you is that this was an activity that was undertaken entirely by a private organization."

That group, Boston 2024, "has done everything it possibly can to paint a pretty picture, so they go out and get economic experts like Larry Bird and Big Papi to join the executive committee and that's somehow supposed to convince people that this is a good idea for Boston. It's really quite silly," Zimbalist said. The idea that Boston could or would host the Olympics without using any public funds, he added, "is completely pie in the sky."

Zimbalist reads Monday at 6:30 p.m. at the First Church of JP, 6 Eliot St., Jamaica Plain.


Kate Tuttle, a writer and editor, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.