[Updated] Five Reason Why Hosting The Olympics Is A Terrible Idea

[Updated] Five Reason Why Hosting The Olympics Is A Terrible Idea

Olympic fever grips the Hub elite; Cambridge should resist

  • Posted on: 26 November 2014
  • By: stannenb

Since the original publication of this article:

  • The Cambridge City Council voted not to support a "Boston" Olympic bid.
  • The United States Olympic Committee has chosen Boston to represent the United States bid to host the 2024 games.
  • While the full bid made by Boston 2024 is still not public, more details have been leaked.
  • MIT's Killian Court is the proposed archery venue. MIT is also the proposed host for fencing.
  • The budget is, apparently, $4.4 billion. This is widely regarded as a joke. Similar numbers were projected for the London Olympics whose real cost ended up to be 2-3 times as much.
  • The insurance policy for cost overruns, which was touted by organizers to show they really meant it with a "frugal" Olympics, was revealed to actually cover only $25 million, and only under conditions of breach of contract.
  • John Fish, the construction executive leading the Boston Olympic organization, has recused his company from bidding on any Olympic construction
  • Boston's Mayor, Marty Walsh, has announced a series of public forums about the Olympic bid. No public meetings in any of the other communities involved – Cambridge, Somerville, Lowell, Foxboro – have been announced.
  • The Olympics remain a terrible idea. The problems are structural ones that come from the nature of large, international sporting events that come to a locality for 3 weeks. No amount of tweaking of the proposals can change that.

Two months from now, the United States Olympic Committee will decide which city will host the 2024 Olympic Games.represent the United States in its bid to host the 2024 Olympic games. Boston - and  "Boston" means "Cambridge, too" - has, according to a Boston Globe report, has nearly secured its place as a host city. If the Olympics come to Boston, Cambridge will be heavily involved. Athletic events, including archery and fencing, are expected to be hosted at MIT. Organizers are working to involve local educational institutions as part of the fabric of the Olympic bid. MIT's Executive Vice President, Israel Ruiz, answering questions for the MIT News Office cites positively his experience as student, providing unpaid labor to Barcelona's 1992 Olympics. This is the strange boosterism of the Olympics, one where the impossibility to actually pay for all the labor required to hold the games becomes a benefit.

Hosting the Olympics is a terrible idea, one that will benefit a few at the cost of the many. Here are five reasons why.

  1. The Olympic bid process is corrupt.
    This process by which Boston is seeking the Olympics is corrupt. This is not bags-of-money-under-the-table corrupt, at least not yet, but corrupt in the sense that the real scandal is what's legal. The chair of Boston Olympics 2024 Partnership is John Fish, who is also Chairman and CEO of Suffolk Construction, the region's largest construction company and this, will profit enormously should Boston host the Olympics. By all rights, this should end the discussion about Boston's bid for the Olympics and should make it radioactive for any politician.
  2. The Olympic planning process is opaque and proceeding without any public input.
    Despite promises from Fish to hold public hearings, none have happened. Even the Boston Globe, most of whose "reporting" is thinly veiled Olympics cheerleading,  has called for a real public process. Should Boston host the Olympics, it will define public priorities for the next decade and crowd out any other effort to address problems in our region. Housing Olympic athletes will command more resources than efforts to attack our housing crisis. Cambridge activists like to point to any pro-development decision as lacking public input and not reflecting the will of the people. They should look at the Olympic process to see what that really means.
  3. The Olympics never turn out well for the host city.
    As Smith College economist Andrew Zimbalist href="http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2014/10/09/private-group-wants-olympics-boston-let-them-pay-for/Lhszp3SJirPrwAsrfpWz5J/story.html">wrote in the Boston Globe:

    The independent scholarship on the return to hosting the Olympics suggests that it does not pay off economically. Beijing 2008 spent over $40 billion; London 2012 spent close to $20 billion; Rio de Janeiro 2016 is projected to spend over $20 billion; and, Tokyo 2020, just having won the bid a year ago, is already facing political protests and reformulating its plan to reduce costs. The Summer Games bring in around $5 billion to $6 billion from television, sponsorships, ticket sales, licensing, and merchandise. Less than half of this sum goes to the host city. Beijing and London actually experienced a decrease in international tourism during their host month and year. This balance of revenues and expenses is not encouraging for a prospective host city.

  4. The supposed "benefits" are things taxpayers are going to pay for.
    After touting infrastructure improvements that the Olympics were said to bring, rhetoric from the organizing has started to change. Feeling the need to portray their proposal as "frugal", those improvements, largely to the transportation systems, are now described as things we'd be doing anyway with tax dollars. We'll have to do them faster to meet the Olympic schedule, something that will just increase the cost.
  5. Metro Boston will become a virtual police state.
    Unlike many purported national security threats, the Olympics is a genuine target and Boston has already experienced one mass sports event tragically disrupted. A source told David Zirin of The Nation "how the city was able to shut itself down after the Boston Marathon bombing" was why Boston is in top contention. For the Sochi Winter Olympics, Russia created a 60 mile-wide "ring of steel" in which everyone was "subjected to near total surveillance." Security will not be under the control of local authorities. The Olympics will be a designated National Special Security Event which will place the entire region under the jurisdiction of the Secret Service. Forget Cambridge's resistance to government surveillance cameras. They'll be installed, along with face recognition, biometrics, and whatever happens to be state-of-the-art in a decade. And they won't be uninstalled when the Olympics leaves town, they'll become the new normal.

The Cambridge City Council, which is prepared to opine on almost anything, has stood mute as the Olympic juggernaut moves forward. It's time for the City Council to speak to Cambridge values and declare its resistance to The Olympics.

No Boston Olympics, a citizens' group organizing to keep the Olympics out of Boston, can be found on the web at http://www.nobostonolympics.org/.

Updated January 10, 2015 to include events since original publication and correct lede sentence.

Read CambridgeHappenings, a daily Cambridge news summary, curated from fresh, local sources.

Creative Commons License
This work by Saul Tannenbaum is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


This is a rare moment. I am in full agreement with the basic concept of the five concerns mentioned. Here are a few additional thoughts.

[A] Remember the Issue of Corruption in the selection of Salt Lake City in 2002

We tend to forget that the issue giving Mitt Romney the inside track to become Governor of Massachusetts (and later to run for President) started with his taking over the investigation of corrupt efforts to win the winter Olympics for Salt Lake City a dozen years ago.

It seems City Fathers set up a special committee to win the selection of Salt Lake City as the host for the Winter Olympics. The answer for the artful Organizers was to buy off a voting majority of the almost 100 committee members. Representatives from lesser developed countries were paid off with suitcases of cash. Those from more developed countries used a more modern and more subtle technique. Ultimately the committee spent upwards of $650,000 on college scholarships for young relatives of Olympic officials. It was payoff time. Some people called it bribery, while others tried to whitewash the payments as “gifts.”

Everything went fine at first. Salt Lake City won the selection, and things looked right on track. The father of a scholarship beneficiary was a little too brazen. He took a trip to the Eastern U.S. seaboard and began visits to prestigious American universities. He idly boasted of his good fortune in discussing matters with college officials. It seems someone decided to drop a dime on him.

The word got back to Utah. The careless braggart was confronted and confirmed the source of his good fortune. Soon the word spread to Europe, where veteran Olympic officials exposed the pattern of Olympic corruption in in previous Olympiads hosted by Japan, U.S. and other countries. It was the biggest Olympic scandal ever.

The Utah Mormons now had the problem of finding someone they could trust to clean up the mess. For this task, they chose a fellow Mormon, Mitt Romney, a respected businessman whose father had been Governor of Michigan.

The full details of the cleanup have not been fully disclosed, but one of the first challenges Romney faced was what to do with the main consultant selected to manage the whole Olympic affair : the Bechtel Corporation. Yes, this is the same Bechtel that was prime manager for Boston's infamous Big Dig project and ended up refunding the better part of a billion dollars in undeserved overcharges. Romney was highly successful in getting the 2002 Olympics back on track.

To win the 2024 Olympics for Boston, there is reason to doubt that the state of ethical behavior will be so strong that another scandal can be prevented.

[B] The Olympics is too much entrenched in money, power and prestige. It has corrupted the ideal of the Olympic games as concentrated on sporting events among worldwide athletes.

[C] Past Olympics have had drug scandals, the PED controversies have dogged cycling, baseball, marathons, weightlifting, and other sports. There is too much pressure to win and thus to cheat using drugs.

[D] The Boston Plan too closely involves the universities and would further entangle them in the interests of Olympic money and power.

[E] Unsavory Real Estate practices as a form of modern “urban renewal” could distort the stability and future growth of established areas of Boston and Cambridge.

[F] Basing the Olympic games on an existing city might save money in the short run, but it would cause much of the existing infrastructure to be used beyond capacity, most notably the mass transit system.

[G] The MBTA system is struggling to survive simply by treading water : old decrepit cars will be replaced by new ones. No comprehensive plan exists to build up transit capacity and reliability.

These are some initial thoughts, and it would be most interesting to make a list of the claimed reasons the Olympic plan should be supported, and then compare the two lists. We should do what John Fish refuses to do.