Boston beat out Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco two weeks ago to become the U.S. bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics. Only Rome has joined Boston in formally applying; interested cities have until 2016 to apply. As an intellectual hub of the world and strategic U.S. port city, however, Boston has a fighting chance at becoming the 2024 Summer Olympics host city. But if Boston is awarded the coveted status of host city, the city should turn down the offer for economic reasons.
There are many vocal proponents for hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics in Boston, including politicians like Mitt Romney and Mayor Martin Walsh. These proponents attempt to convince us that hosting the Boston Olympics is not only feasible but will bring long-term economic benefits.
They tell us about the spike in tourism the city will receive and the flow of foreign investment that will come with it. They urge us to ignore past trends of massive housing displacement in past Olympics host cities and spending that has ballooned out of control. Most of all, they woo us with the tantalizing vision of Boston as an even stronger city than it is now, united within and supported by the world.
However, there are glaring incongruities between how these proponents say Boston will be financially responsible and the empirically established accounts of the financial disasters of the Olympics in London and Sochi. London spent $13.61 billion for the 2012 Summer Olympics — $3.06 billion over their promised budget.
Much of the extra spending was not included in public announcements and was only brought to light after investigators cited the Freedom of Information Act, according to the Daily Telegraph. Sochi’s 2014 Winter Olympics spending ballooned beyond its budget of $12 billion to a jaw- dropping $50 billion, becoming the most expensive Olympic Games of all time. Notably, five out of eight of the most expensive Olympics of all time occurred after 2000, even after adjusting for inflation. Boston promises to raise all $10 billion of its proposed Olympic budget from private sources such as investors and businesses.
Regardless of initial budget promises and oaths of fiscal responsibility, it has simply became very expensive to host a successful Olympics in this century due to the way budgets tend to increase as the games continue because of previously unforeseen costs. Do the economic benefits of Boston hosting the Olympics outweigh the exorbitant costs? Even though many politicians and the general population believe they do, economists beg to differ.
The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) released a 2009 paper concluding that while short- term net exports and overall trade is 30 percent higher for Olympics hosts, the same trend also applies to unsuccessful bidding cities. NBER concluded that actually hosting mega-events like the Olympics and World Cup brings little more than a short-term spike in tourism and astronomical infrastructure costs.
From this research, we must conclude that Boston gains more economically by merely staying a candidate city and not becoming a host.
Another economically troubling part of the Olympics is its tendency to uproot neighborhoods by forcing residents to move. According to the Guardian, two million people have been displaced by the Olympics in the past 20 years. The poor and minorities have been disproportionately affected, and have often been forcibly evicted with little or no compensation.
With their homes demolished, these displaced people face a very real danger of becoming homeless in the shadow of the Olympics. Boston plans to reduce leases from 12 to nine months in the year of the Games, suggesting that at least some will be asked to leave as tourists come to visit and temporary stadiums are built. Parties like the New Boston Food Market do not plan on leaving to make room for a new stadium, and Somerville residents are unhappy with the proposition of installing a permanent velodrome in Assembly Square.
Dissatisfaction with a lack of public meetings and opportunities to participate in the democratic process is not limited to these few parties. When one looks up “Boston Olympics” on Google, nobostonolympics.org appears before the official Boston 2024 website.
This fact and the surprisingly large number of articles written against Boston’s choice to host the Olympics suggests that a large segment of the population does not want the city to host the Games. The good news is that both sides are trying to meet each other halfway.
The city of Boston is providing a series of informational public meetings about the city’s plan to host the Olympics that will also serve as a place for discussion. These meetings will be an excellent opportunity for Bostonians to show their government how their city would be better off not hosting the Olympics.