Spreading the economic benefits of a Boston 2024 Olympics around all of Massachusetts isn’t just a good idea; it’s a political necessity. Why would residents of Holyoke, for instance, a city beset with problems of its own, vote to put their taxpayer money at risk for a Boston Olympics unless they were getting something out of the deal too? As proponents are finding out, merely getting the chance to bask in reflected Olympic glory isn’t proving to be a sufficient enticement for Massachusetts voters to support the Olympics.
And the rest of the state — especially in the so-called gateway cities — often still trails the Boston area in economic growth. Once industrial powerhouses, midsized cities like Holyoke, Springfield, Fall River, New Bedford, Lowell, and Lawrence have been ailing for years, with higher unemployment than the rest of the state and limited growth. An Olympic legacy that includes some meaningful benefit for those cities would help sell the Games to voters, and also contribute to long-term economic equity in the Commonwealth.
Organizers already envision holding events in one gateway city, Lowell. Others are angling for a piece of the action, too. New Bedford wants sailing. As the birthplace of volleyball, Holyoke wants to host some matches. Springfield, where basketball was invented, could host early-round games.
A potentially better way to spread the benefit — one that would not undermine a key selling point of the Boston bid — involves the training camps that many national Olympic teams operate in the weeks before the Games. Before the 2012 Olympics in London, organizers offered each team that agreed to train in the United Kingdom a £25,000 grant, and helped match them with communities outside the capital city. The teams spent, in some cases, millions of pounds on hotels, restaurants, and other services.
Expanding on the British approach, the Boston Olympics could offer a sliding scale of higher payments to teams that agree to train in the state’s neediest cities. Would that be enough to win over voters outside of Boston, who are already leery of the idea of a public guarantee against overruns? Maybe not. But it would be a start — and at least gives gateway cities a fighting chance to grab some of the economic activity that an Olympics would generate.