As I’ve noted in previous posts, I’m originally from the Boston area. Most of my family still lives there, as do a great number of my friends. Thus, when the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) announced late last year that Boston was America’s Bid City for the 2024 Olympics, I was not elated, but depressed. This was going to be the Big Dig 2.0. This belief was reinforced when it was revealed the cushy jobs the governor had received to lobby on its behalf and how Boston2024, the group organizing it all, had withheld documents showing they expected the citizens of Boston were expected to foot the bill for any overruns. Despite the lukewarm popularity, the powerbrokers seemed to be pushing for it to happen.
So I was pleasantly surprised Monday when Boston Mayor Martin Walsh made it clear he would not sign the contract with the USOC unless he had guarantees Boston taxpayers would not be on the hook for cost overruns. The Governor of Massachusetts, Charles Baker, was as insistent the State wasn’t going to pick up the tab. Face with surprisingly resolute opposition to how the Olympics work, the USOC pulled the bid from Boston2024. As of publishing time, the search is on for another sucker city to be USA’s bid for the games.
(By the way, there is no truth to the rumors USOC officials have been humming Randy Newman’s I love LA).
Surprisingly, this bout of fiscal sanity has caused a bit of gnashing of teeth by conservatives. National Review’s Jay Nordlinger lamented:
Boston’s shrinking from the Olympics is a sign of just that: American shrinkage, American withering, American smallness.
With all due respect to Mr. Nordlinger, no it’s not. In fact, it is the exact opposite. It is proof not only of American Exceptionalism, but of an acknowledgment of American confidence. The people of Boston know they don’t need the Olympics to show themselves or the world the specialness of Boston. It is not shrinkage, withering or smallness to refuse to hand a bunch of foreign autocrats a blank check backed by American taxpayers. Giving kleptocrats a credit card with no limit is proof not of American bigness, but of monumental stupidity. And truly, is there nothing more Bostonian, more American than standing when people on the other side of the Atlantic start expecting our tax revenue.
The Olympics were not going to be a financial boon to the Boston, Massachusetts, or even New England. It never is. Just like there is no economic bounce to municipalities building sports arenas for private entities. It is reported Beijing spent about $40 Billion on the 2008 Summer Games. Russia is said to have spent at least $51 Billion on Sochi. The cost for the Rio games will probably be less, but that is because Brazil is using some of the venues for the Soccer 2014 World Cup for the Olympic Games. However, the construction of these entertainment venues has led to unrest and is probably a factor in the President Dilma Rouseff’s decreasing popularity (though admittedly, the crony-capitalist corruption seems to be the main reason.
Indeed, a recent study by Bent Flyvbjerg and Allison Stewart, Oxford University economists, looked at venue cities for every summer and winter Olympiad between 1960 and 2012. Not one came in on budget. The overruns, in real terms averaged 179%. There is no evidence hosting the games has any meaningful effect on tourism and the cities end up with white elephant structures that are never used again. In short, it is foolish to assume a City (or nation) will profit from hosting the Olympics.
That being said, do we really need to go into hock to get pumped and jacked about America? Has the concept of patriotism been so debased that the only we can feel pride in our country is by binge spending for a 2 week extravaganza and ensuring special driving privileges and temperatures of the hotel rooms are perfectly regulated for rich foreigners? Of course not. In fact, I would be perfectly happy if the massive waste of taxpayer dollars never comes upon the blessed shores of American ever again. I suspect part of the thrill of watching the Olympics is seeing different exoctic locations.
(This isn’t some sort of lament that Americans don’t travel enough outside our country. The United States is the third largest nation in the world, in terms of geography. It is about 42 hours to drive from New York to Los Angeles. To put that in perspective, driving from London to Moscow, takes about 31 hours. In the US, 31 hours puts you an hour outside of Salt Lake City on your journey from New York to LA. This is why foreign ex-pats question whether to return home)
It is an opportunity for Americans to see all these cities they will probably never get a chance to see in person: London, Beijing, Sochi, Rio, Tokyo, Turin, Athens and so on. So, let’s not have the games in the United States ever again. Let’s keep them overseas. Let other countries about toxic waterways, whether they will ever recoup the money spent, etc. If only autocratic countries want to host, let them. The IOC has a long history of dubious involvement with totalitarian regimes. Maybe that’s why Beijing will be hosting the Winter Games in 2022, despite the fact it doesn’t normally snow in Beijing.
Or better yet instead of the IOC using the billions in revenue generated from the games (mainly from US broadcasting rights) to feather their own beds, maybe they should just buy Greece. Given that country’s economic woes, I imagine you could buy it for a song. The games could be perpetually held in one location and many of the venues need only some repairs since they were last used in 2004. With everything in place, and the entire country focused solely on running the Olympics, the games might even break even. And if they don’t, well I’m sure the EU will bail them out.
We won’t. But we’ll watch from afar.