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Bostonians Could Foil The City’s Bid To Host The Olympics

CREDIT: AP
CREDIT: AP

Just months after the United States Olympic Committee selected Boston as the American bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics, exactly half of Boston-area residents oppose hosting the event, a new poll released Thursday found. Forty percent of Boston-area registered voters support the bid, according to the poll from local NPR affiliate WBUR. That is a marginal improvement over a March poll that showed just 36 percent of in favor of the effort, and by a 47–41 margin, voters within the city of Boston favor the bid for the first time since January. Still, support remains significantly lower than it was when the USOC tapped Boston instead of San Francisco, Los Angeles, or Washington D.C. three months ago.

The poll comes nearly a month after Boston 2024, the organizing committee behind the bid, switched course and called for a statewide referendum to determine the future of its effort. If a majority of Boston-area residents do not support the Olympics in the planned November 2016 referendum, organizers said, they would pull the city out of consideration for the Games.

The bid had broader support before the USOC made its decision, but opposition quickly sprang up in the form of public protests and organized groups, like No Boston Olympics, that opposed bringing the games to the city. And though Boston 2024’s organizing committee is now willing to engage with opponents and hold a referendum, lack of transparency from the committee and the city — the city initially refused to make documents related to the bid available to the public and told public employees not to speak negatively about the bid — no doubt contributed to the event falling out of favor.

Public support matters, since the International Olympic Committee takes it into consideration in its selection process, and it is even more important given that Boston is likely a long-shot against international competition that includes both Rome and Paris. But increasing opposition to the Games is hardly unique to Boston. Obscene amounts of spending on recent Olympics — the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia cost an estimated $50 billion, more than every other Winter Olympics combined — has contributed to plummeting public perception, especially in democratic countries.

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Boston organizers have tried to remedy those mistakes by returning to the roots of the bid: arguing that the estimated $9 billion budget is limited by Olympic standards, and that it will be sustainable in nature, relying heavily on private financing and already-existing sporting infrastructure. Other plans sound similar to previous Games, and the arguments used to secure them, like the insistence that these Games will contribute to $5 billion in transportation upgrades and other needed projects and that new facilities will be re-used after the Games.

But best-laid Olympic plans, as critics have argued and recent Games have shown, rarely seem to pan out. Boston may enter with a seemingly minuscule budget aim, especially compared to more recent efforts, but “Olympics overrun with 100 percent consistency,” according to a 2012 report from the Centre for Major Programme Management at the University of Oxford. The average Games exceeds its original projections by 179 percent, the report found. That average would raise Boston’s Olympic-specific cost above $16 billion, and though proponents argue that the Games bring needed exposure and economic benefits to cities, economists, including some at universities in this bid’s backyard, have published research refuting those claims for years.

The long-term upgrades, meanwhile, don’t always take place as promised, as Brazil’s efforts around the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics have shown. And even when they do, there are almost always deleterious effects on surrounding communities, like the displacement of low-income residents or public spaces. That has been illustrated in Rio, Sochi, and Beijing recently, but it also took place around the 1996 Atlanta Olympics in the United States.

Opponents have raised all of these concerns in Boston, and though support could certainly rebound in part thanks to a merciful end to a terrible winter, it is possible that Boston residents will come to the conclusion that those in other cities and countries have reached before them: that the IOC’s current demands simply aren’t worth the costs and risks that come with hosting the Olympics.