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opinion | Chris Dempsey and Conor Yunits

Boosters for Boston Olympics are asking the wrong question

Boston is absolutely capable of hosting the Olympics. Let’s settle that question right away and shake off the moniker of “cynic” used by Olympic boosters to describe anyone opposed to bringing the games here. With our brilliant engineers, dedicated civic leaders, and strong sporting traditions, we would build beautiful venues and run a smooth, safe international event.

Boston Olympic boosters find it easy to paint opponents as negative cynics, but really the opposite is true. We are optimistic about Boston’s future and don’t want to see it derailed by an extravagant, one-off expenditure that benefits the global elite at the expense of those of us who actually live and work here. For our budding organization of Olympic skeptics, the question is not “Can Boston host the Olympics,’’ but “Should Boston host the Olympics?’’

Boston is booming. Look at the skyline on the South Boston waterfront, or in the Back Bay, or even in Downtown Crossing. More cranes appear every day, raising new towers of offices or condos. We have more green space than ever before, more options for food and drink, more five-star hotels, and more tourists. Our hotels average better than 90 percent capacity in the summer months, drawn by our history, our baseball, our harbor, and our people. World leaders send their children to our colleges and universities, and they visit our hospitals for the best treatment. Logan Airport has direct connections with more than 30 international destinations, and new flights to South America and Asia bring business travelers and tourists that contribute to our economy. In every corner of the globe, Boston is known for academic excellence, cutting-edge health care innovation, and championship sports teams. Let’s enhance that image by building schools instead of stadiums, and affordable homes instead of media centers.

Supporters will tell you that it’s not an either/or scenario — that the Olympics will finally push us to invest in our crumbling infrastructure, particularly our public transit system. Everyone shares that same goal. Greater Boston’s MBTA and roads are desperately overdue for an upgrade, but that’s an investment that should be made regardless of whether Boston hosts the Olympics. What would it say about us as a city if we only commit to fixing our infrastructure because we made promises to the International Olympic Committee, a shadowy organization with a history of corruption?


Boosters argue that the Olympics will be an economic boon to Boston, and that costs will be born by the private sector. This is the same tired rhetoric that was pitched in Athens, Vancouver, and London. Similar promises were made in each of those cities, but in every case the public was left on the hook for billions of dollars in overruns, one-time security costs, and ongoing maintenance. Those dollars could instead go to education or job training or social services. They could be reinvested in neighborhoods in need of help, and expand economic opportunities for communities of color. Funds could be set aside for urban planning competitions that reward innovative designs for middle-class housing, or hack-a-thons searching for clever technology solutions that improve civic services. Whatever our priorities, it’s clear that $15 billion, the average cost of a summer games, could be better spent on other things.


Boston has a reputation for cynicism. But are the cynics those who believe in our status as a world-class city, or those who feel we won’t be a global capital unless we announce our presence by bidding in the world’s most expensive auction? Boston is one of the great cities on the earth, and we don’t need rings to prove it.

Chris Dempsey and Conor Yunits are co-chairmen of No Boston Olympics.