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Boston not alone in public opposition to Olympics

Evident in European cities as well

All the hand-wringing over fading public support for Boston’s Olympic bid might leave the impression that the city is unique in its misgivings about hosting the 2024 Summer Games.

But a cursory look at the commentary coming from Hamburg and Rome, two cities competing with Boston for the 2024 Olympics, reveals that we are not alone in our Sturm und Drang and agita.

Indeed, many of the critical voices rising out of Germany and Italy would, if not for their accents, sound right at home at a community meeting in Dorchester, as they vent about costs, construction delays, and unelected Olympic honchos seizing control of city affairs.


Anguished Romans are pointing to their troubled rail link, Metro Line C, which was marred by blown construction deadlines and ballooning costs, criticism that will sound familiar to Bostonians loath to cope with the Olympics after the headaches of the Big Dig.

Bellyaching Germans are warning that their own construction albatross — Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, a concert hall with a price tag that has skyrocketed to $870 million — would cost “peanuts” compared with the Olympics. As in Boston, a proposed referendum on the Olympics has also sparked debate.

A third European city could soon enter the competition for the 2024 Olympics. The Paris city council is expected to vote Monday on a proposal to bid for the Games by Mayor Anne Hildago, who had earlier expressed caution about whether the French capital could afford the world’s largest sporting event.

The naysaying in Italy is being fueled by a scandal, dubbed Mafia Capital, that has revealed the long reach of organized crime into city contracts and the halls of political power in Rome.

“The Games have often proved to be a big waste, and we are a country that doesn’t have it in our blood to avoid trouble with big projects,” Giuseppe “Pippo” Civati, a member of the Italian Parliament, warned recently in La Repubblica, a leading Italian daily.


“The Games have often proved to be a big waste,” wrote Giuseppe “Pippo” Civati, a member of the Italian Parliament. Pictured: The Colosseum in Rome.Tiziana Fabi/AFP/Getty Images/AFP/Getty Images

Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right Northern League, also derided Rome’s Olympic aspirations, linking it to the arrest last year of dozens of Mafia associates on charges of rigging government contracts.

“Holding the Olympics in Rome is madness,” La Repubblica quoted him as saying. “The Mafia Capital case is still open, and we want to feed them the Olympics?”

Italy’s populist Five Star Movement, pointing to Metro Line C, argued that such projects have long been marked by “two constants” — fiscal waste and the failure to get the job done. The group argued that public money would be better spent on other priorities, such as reducing taxes and creating jobs for Italians.

Giovanni Malagò, president of the Italian National Olympic Committee, speaking to the mayor of Rome in January, said there would be time to address such criticism before the International Olympic Committee selects the host city in 2017.

“We have almost three years before the host city of the 2024 Olympics is chosen, and during this time we will need to find a way to show, once and for all, that Mafia Capital will not return,” he said. He added, however, “It’s clear that our rivals will use these elements to highlight our weaknesses, as we will do to them.”

The only polls readily available on the Roman bid are online surveys, like one in Gazzetta dello Sport that found 64 percent of readers opposed the effort.


John Hoberman, an Olympic historian at the University of Texas-Austin, said rising opposition to international sporting events is one reason more of them are being hosted by countries with authoritarian governments. China and Kazakhstan have emerged as the two candidates vying for the 2022 Winter Games.

“The bloom has come off the rose when it comes to these mega-sporting events, and the prestige argument just doesn’t work anymore,” Hoberman said. “The proof of that is the number of cities in democratic countries saying, ‘No, thank you. Not worth it.’ ”

A recent poll by Germany’s Olympic committee, however, indicated that 64 percent of Hamburg residents support that city’s drive for the 2024 Games. Such strong backing helped persuade the committee to nominate Hamburg over Berlin, where 55 percent of residents supported the German capital’s bid.

A recent poll by Germany’s Olympic committee indicated that 64 percent of Hamburg residents support that city’s drive for the 2024 Games.Axel Heimken/Associated Press

Nevertheless, a chorus of German critics has voiced opposition to Hamburg’s effort, warning of busted budgets, rising rents, and the shady influence of Olympic bosses.

The Games are “a threat to social harmony,” Mehmet Yildiz, a member of the Hamburg state Parliament, warned recently in Die Tageszeitung, a left-leaning Germany daily. “Once you’re in the hands of the International Olympic Committee, the door to megalomania and corruption opens.”

In a column in Die Zeit, a German weekly, Marc Widmann urged voters not to be swayed by the promises of Olympic boosters to rebuild Hamburg’s storied port on the River Elbe.


“To convince the citizens, rich, colorful plans of a new harbor district are not sufficient,” he wrote. “A referendum will only be successful if the citizens, at least, know the cost of what they’re voting for. But there is no number for how much the Games in Hamburg would cost, although citizens asked for it last May.”

Norbert Hackbusch, a left-leaning member of Hamburg’s state Parliament, predicted that popular support for the bid would crumble by the time voters head to the polls in the fall. “We will ensure that there is no majority in this city for the Olympics,” he said in Die Tageszeitung.

A Teutonic version of No Boston Olympics has also formed to crush Hamburg’s Olympic hopes.

The group, called the Anti-Olympic Committee, argues that the massive cost overruns of Hamburg’s new concert hall would be dwarfed by the price tag of the Olympics.

“We need affordable housing for all,” the group declares on its website. “We need adequately funded day care centers, schools, universities and social institutions. We need something better than the Olympics!”

Opponents of bids in Rome and Hamburg make use of logos based on the interlocking Olympic rings.

Material from the Associated Press was included in this report. Shira Springer of the Globe staff also contributed. Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.