The recently concluded Winter Olympics in Sochi, and the prominent role that many New England athletes played there, raised an obvious question for this region’s nascent Olympics movement: Should Boston be considering a bid for the 2026 Winter Games, rather than the Summer Games in 2024? At the behest of the Legislature, a commission led by local business leaders such as Suffolk Construction CEO John Fish is considering the latter. But a bid for the Winter Olympics is also worth exploring — as long as organizers establish, in either case, that the International Olympic Committee would entertain a pragmatic bid that avoids glitzy projects that would only get two weeks of use.
Hosting the Olympics would raise Boston’s profile and connect the surrounding region with the world. And the Winter Olympics are more manageable than their summer counterpart. There were fewer than 100 events in Sochi, compared with around 300 for the summer games in London in 2012 — which means fewer athletes to house and fewer logistical woes.
The key to carrying off any Olympics is taking maximum advantage of previously existing infrastructure. All of the indoor winter events involve ice rinks, a task that could be divided between, say, TD Garden, which hosted the US Figure Skating Championships earlier this year, and Agganis Arena, which is the home of Boston University men’s hockey team. Mountains in Vermont and New Hampshire, while small by the standards of the Rockies, should still be capable of hosting Olympic-class skiing. Northern New England’s main ski areas are roughly as far away from Boston as the slopes of Whistler were from host city Vancouver in 2010.
The savings from avoiding unnecessary construction could be spent instead on MBTA upgrades and other long-lasting improvements. No, Beacon Hill shouldn’t need an Olympics to invest in better transportation, but such an event would provide what’s often lacking: firm deadlines and a sense of common purpose.
For its part, the Olympic committee should reward, not punish, would-be host cities that show a concern for frugality. Authoritarian governments such as Russia and China may happily spend tens of billions of dollars to buff up their own images. Democracies can’t justify such spending, and nor should they try. Any realistic bid to host the games will have to be affordable and offer Boston tangible improvements for the future.