The US Olympic Committee has picked Boston as the official nominee for the 2024 Summer Olympics. But don’t get too ready to welcome the Games; it’s still a long road to opening ceremonies.
Over the next two years, the city will face off against bidders from around the world for the right to host an event of immense global interest, but also one that research has shown costs billions of dollars, does little to increase tourism, and can leave behind massive stadiums and other big projects with little long-term use.
Are the Olympics definitely coming to Boston?
What we learned Thursday is that Boston beat out San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., to become the official US nominee. However, the toughest competition may still lie ahead.
Rome has already submitted a bid for the 2024 Olympics, and many other cities have expressed a similar interest, including Paris, Berlin, Johannesburg, Casablanca, Melbourne, St. Petersburg, and Istanbul. If even a fraction of these bids get submitted by the initial deadline this September, it could make for a rather crowded field.
One reason for the wide appeal is that the International Olympic Committee recently adopted new policies to encourage more sustainable and less grandiose Olympic plans.
What would a Boston Olympics look like?
We don’t know much about the precise plans for a Boston Olympics. The process is not being organized by the city or state but by a nonprofit group of business and cultural leaders called the “Boston 2024 Partnership” — and it hasn’t shared the official bid. In describing the bid, however, the group has emphasized the importance of a compact Olympics, with many venues accessible from existing transit stops. They’re also hoping to keep costs down by partnering with local universities and building structures that can be reused for other purposes.
Still, Boston doesn’t have a large stadium or an aquatic center or a velodrome (for biking), and these are three of the most expensive Olympic facilities. What is more, finding places for them could be just as challenging as raising the money. For example, while there has been talk of building an Olympic stadium at Widett Circle, off I-93 south of downtown Boston, there’s already a meat and seafood wholesaler business at that spot whose owners don’t seem eager to sell.
How much will this cost?
Without seeing the bid, it’s impossible to say for sure how much a Boston Olympics would cost. Estimates from “Boston 2024 Partnership” suggest about $5 billion to run the games and another $13 billion in already-approved public transit improvements.
Recent Olympic games have tended to cost at least $15 billion, and sometimes far more.
And in virtually every case, final costs vastly exceed the initial estimates.
While the Olympic Games do generate some revenue — from ticket sales, advertising, and TV rights — it’s not usually enough to cover the full cost. “Boston 2024 partnership” has said that Massachusetts taxpayers would not have to make up the difference, but for now there’s no plan to ensure that.
A lot depends on how you think about the $13 billion in already-approved transportation funding. Ultimately, that’s taxpayer money, so diverting some of it to pay for Olympics-related infrastructure — like a stadium — should probably count as public funding. But it’s also possible to argue that since that money has already been authorized, it’s not really a new taxpayer expense.
What are the benefits of hosting?
The games are good for local construction companies and do provide a short burst of happiness for local residents basking in the global spotlight. Beyond that, the proven benefits are few.
Does everyone support Boston’s bid?
The most public face of that opposition has been a group called “No Boston Olympics,” which has been working to prevent what they see as a dangerous distraction from more pressing needs in the Commonwealth.
What happens next?
Debate will likely intensify as provisional plans get more definite and decisions have to be made about where to build and how to pay. The “Boston 2024 Partnership” has long promised to share information and hold public meetings, and an endorsement from the US Olympic Committee would increase the urgency of greater disclosure and transparency.
The number of interested parties may increase as well. Major corporate sponsors may line up behind the Boston bid, since US-hosted Olympics tend to attract strong TV audiences. Local universities will clarify their own willingness-- or reluctance-- to contribute land, dorms, and dollars. And the International Olympic Committee will start expressing its preferences as the bid takes final form over the next two years.
Finally, state politicians will have to decide whether they’re really willing to risk taxpayer dollars. Without an official guarantee that the state will cover all necessary costs, the bid can’t go forward.
And what if we ultimately lose?
At the end of this long process, it’s still possible that Boston won’t be chosen as the host city. In that case, we’ll have to watch the Olympics on TV and do without a velodrome for the foreseeable future. But we can continue to invest in vital infrastructure. And for really committed boosters, there’s always 2032.