When the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) selected Boston – over Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, DC – to represent the US in its bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympic Games, many were surprised.
Some expected Los Angeles because of its organizational strength, although they’ve already hosted the Games, twice. San Francisco had the most tourist appeal but weakest plans. Washington had an excellent proposal outlining reduced security costs but is the heart of politics, and the USOC did not want to take a risk on the nation’s capital. Whether by default or on merit, Boston – which boasts great American history, passionate sport fans and a compact city – was selected.
With the bid in its hands, the Games are now essentially Boston’s to lose. The main obstacle may be Bostonians themselves who have thus far shown only tepid support for Mayor Martin Walsh’s bid and prefer a referendum on whether to go ahead or not, according to a recent survey.
Citizens have expressed concern for the bid’s transparency and the costs of hosting the Games. While these worries are valid, they will gradually pale compared with the opportunities gained from making Boston the center of the world for two weeks in the summer of 2024.
Why Boston stands a good chance of getting the Games
There are several reasons to be optimistic about Boston’s chances on the world stage against the likes of Rome, St Petersburg, Paris and Casablanca.
First, the IOC’s part has shown an interest in rotating the location to different continents, and North America hasn’t held one since Atlanta’s Summer Games in 1996. As a result, the odds are stacked in Boston’s favor as its bid is the only one from the region.
Second, while the USOC has had a rocky relationship with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) at times, the two bodies have recently mended things, particularly over how to split the revenue from sponsorships and broadcasting rights.
Lastly, Americans are known for being excellent hosts of large events, so no matter which city was selected, the management and marketing of the Games is not a major concern.
The big question will be whether or not IOC members enjoy visiting Boston and feel welcome here – more so than Paris or the other cities in the running – and don’t face public criticism from Bostonians who don’t back the bid. A poll released this week showed 48% of those surveyed are “excited” about the bid, while 43% said they’re not. Furthermore, about 75% said they’d like a vote on whether or not to bid. So, much work needs to be done.
Addressing concerns and staying focused
Once Boston was announced as the US candidate earlier this month, the mayor and the Boston 2024 team took action to address these concerns by announcing a series of public meetings and addressing opposition directly.
Although some damage has already been done by the dearth of details initially released on the bid, the public needs to understand that up to this point, there was not really that much to share, as the plans submitted to the USOC are initial concepts and nothing set in stone. There is still plenty of time for disclosure and public comment, and indeed the mayor released bidding documents this week and said he was even open to a referendum.
The way the city handles the opposition moving forward is critical so that the IOC feels confident about the support of the Games in Boston.
In a democratic society, 100% approval, however, is not expected. Those calling for a referendum should consider the public costs involved and the ultimate outcome. With the majority of funding coming from private sources, is this an appropriate reason for a referendum?
Costs won’t be a problem
What Bostonians need to understand is that although other Games have cost more than $50 billion, this doesn’t happen when the United States plays host because most of the infrastructure is already in place and reliable, as is the case with Boston. In areas where infrastructure needs to be upgraded, the Olympics accelerates such projects and often attracts federal dollars to help finance them. For example, federal transportation funds were allocated to Atlanta six years earlier than had been planned due to the Games.
Furthermore, depending on available resources, history shows that host cities prioritize “wants” versus “needs” and not all the improvements listed in the bid document are completed. The IOC’s Agenda 2020 Reforms also encourage Games to be more sustainable, affordable and beneficial to host cities.
The bid calls for a budget of less than $5 billion, which would be financed mainly through broadcast fees, corporate sponsorships and ticket sales. And organizers say they don’t intend to use public money on infrastructure improvements, beyond what’s already been set in motion.
Even if costs do go higher, any changes made for the Games will benefit Boston for years to come, and if new sources of funds can pay for improvements such as in transportation the city needs anyway over the coming decades, what’s not to like?
With the growing IOC revenues that the host city shares, the organizational budget of the Olympic Games is covered except for local infrastructure that will offer rewards long after the torch goes out.
Look at the benefits of the 1996 Games in Atlanta. Georgia Tech received a new dorm and swimming pool, and the Braves got a new baseball stadium, all without tax payer dollars. These are just a few examples of the gains that are often overlooked.
Once citizens understand the opportunities and the fact that Boston will not need to build much of the infrastructure from scratch like some previous host cities, public fears should calm down. As other US-hosted Olympic Games have illustrated, private and federal investments that would not otherwise be spent in the Boston area will flow in, and the city will become better for it.
Building a narrative
In reality, the bidding process right now is more about the competition and each city’s narrative than what technical plans are put in writing. Rio de Janeiro won the 2016 Games on the platform of being the first host in South America. Beijing is most likely going to host the 2022 Winter Games because the only other bidder is Almaty, Kazakhstan.
For 2024, if South Africa were to submit a serious bid for Johannesburg or Durbin, Boston’s could be in jeopardy. Africa has never hosted the Games, and with IOC members eager to spread the Olympics far and wide, it could make a compelling story.
For now, Boston needs to address the concerns of opponents by sharing information about revenue sources and use of existing and temporary venues. Examples from the Los Angeles 1984, Atlanta 1996 and Salt Lake City 2002 Games should also be highlighted.
For the long-haul, Boston should be confident but humble, offer a top-notch technical plan with an equally powerful story and welcome the world with limited disruption from opposition groups. Just as London showcased its passion for sport and focus on athletes and youth, Boston can do the same to win the bid.