Sell the Olympics to Me: A Skeptic’s Take
January 21, 2015
January 21, 2015
I have to admit: my reaction to the announcement that Boston would be backed by the US Olympic Committee was less than enthusiastic. I enjoy the pageantry and the spectacle of the games, sure, but when it comes to the planning, execution and financing, I feel it’s better left for someone else to worry about.
Unfortunately, we won’t know who’s hosting the 2024 Olympics until the games are awarded in 2017. Until then, it’s three more years of agonizing over the pros and cons of hosting. We’ve written before about how leaders can properly position this bid to its people, but this is no small undertaking. There’s plenty of information available on the impact of the games on host cities (here, here, here, here…you get the picture) so I don’t think my skepticism is unwarranted
That being said, I can be persuaded. If Boston wants its staunchest critics to come around, here’s a list of important items that must be addressed:
Transparency in planning
Among the biggest gripes in Boston’s bid to get chosen as the US city was the closed door meetings (as has been pointed out, a massive juxtaposition to Mayor Walsh mandating referendums on casinos). The announcement of nine public meetings on Olympic planning is a good start to achieving greater transparency.
Who’s footing the bill
We keep hearing that these Olympics will be privately funded, but like any politician’s promise, I’m taking a “believe it when I see it” approach. Keeping Olympic-specific costs (anything other than general infrastructure upgrades) private is essential to earning the blessing of the public. A recent poll from WBUR noted this as the top issue for the “lukewarm” reception to a Boston Olympics.
Permanent use of venues
We love our sports in Boston, but there’s simply no need for the one-off stadiums that will be unused when the games end. An appropriately-sized soccer stadium will happily fall into the laps of the Kraft family to relocate the Revolution, but existing facilities make new ones redundant. We need to hear concrete redevelopment plans for Olympics-only structures that are in line with Boston’s current and future needs.
Last week’s I-93 protests should serve as a reminder of what we could be in for over the next decade. Likewise, the Marathon Bombing remains fresh in our memories as a reminder of what we want to avoid. A Boston Olympics means the threat of both protest and terrorism (to varying degrees). The public will need reassurance that the Olympics will not pose a risk or a critical disturbance to their lives; and that Boston will not fall into a police state. A delicate balance must be struck on this item or it could tarnish Boston’s Olympic legacy.
Olympic planning vs. city planning
Ultimately, this is the biggest matter of concern for me. While the Olympics are a nice shiny new toy that everyone’s excited about, there are bigger fish to fry in Boston’s future. We need to see that Olympic planning is one element of Boston’s future plans rather than the focal point. While a massive undertaking, the Olympics need to serve as a means to an end to support city growth and to provide opportunities for Bostonians. Infrastructure upgrades (especially to public transit) will be welcomed with open arms, but if we turn over the city to the Olympics for a month, what do we, the people, get out of it? Winning public opinion will require conveying all of the positives Olympic planning will bear out on the city’s growth.