Culture, Science & Faith

Olympic Size Price Tag Too Much for Boston

The Games sure are a grand spectacle, but the cost is daunting.

Nate Jackson · Jul. 29, 2015

Everybody loves the Olympics, right? The grit, the feats, the glory, the decathlon champ who later decides he’s a woman. All kidding aside, every two years (summer and winter, respectively), the world gathers its best athletes to compete for sport and national pride. But is it worth the price of admission?

Boston and the International Olympics Committee (IOC) came to an agreement of sorts: No, it isn’t worth the enormous cost for Boston to host the 2024 Olympic Games.

It’s revealing that both parties agreed because neither wanted to be liable for the inevitable cost overruns. Boston Mayor Martin Walsh refused to sign a host city contract with the United States Olympic Committee that would put Boston’s taxpayers on the hook for the extra costs (i.e., absolving the IOC), so the committee cut Boston out of the running. Walsh said, “This is me letting the taxpayers of Boston know … that I will not sign a document that puts one dollar of taxpayers' money on the line for one penny of overruns for the Olympics.”

Walsh is right in a sense; the spectacle of the Olympics is an expensive façade, and there are always cost overruns. Cities and countries spend billions of dollars updating or building infrastructure, with the accompanying traffic delays and detours for citizens, all for two weeks of glory on the world stage. That isn’t to say those two weeks aren’t really fun and glorious…

As a side note, this phenomenon is certainly not limited to the Olympics. American taxpayers fork over billions of dollars in what are essentially subsidies to our own major national sports. For example, the National Football League, a “nonprofit” until it dropped the charade in April, has secured billions for stadiums around the country, which are then replaced a couple of decades later when they’re deemed “outdated.”

The last time the summer Olympics were held in the U.S. was 1996 in Atlanta. But what of the Olympic venues in Atlanta today? Turner Field, formerly known as Olympic Stadium, is home to Major League Baseball’s Braves, but it will be demolished when the team moves in 2017 to another venue built with $450 million in taxpayer money in suburban Cobb County. And Turner Field is the only Olympic venue in Georgia’s biggest city still in operation. So much for the “investment” in 1996.

What about more recent years? Mark Alexander described his first-hand experience at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which cost China $40 billion:

“China put on its best face, rather like a movie set. Beijing’s new airport is among the world’s finest. Every main Olympic thoroughfare was newly paved, signed, landscaped and lighted. Even the primary rural routes outside the city had makeovers, with fresh paint and greenery covering 100 feet on either side of those roads. Beyond that makeup, however, was the dirt and dilapidation that makes up most of China’s rural areas.

"The new Olympic structures were certainly impressive, though few of the 250,000 people who were ejected from Soviet-era block housing that formerly blighted the Olympic green were adequately compensated. Indeed, many of them did not receive alternate housing.”

Just four years later, Beijing’s shining venues looked no different than much of the rest of the country — worn and abandoned monuments to failed central planning. And the subjects of the “People’s Republic” are certainly no better off, which is why Chinese activists are pushing the IOC to reject Beijing’s 2022 Winter Olympics bid.

Finally, remember when the IOC rejected Chicago’s (and, by extension, Barack Obama’s) bid for the 2016 games? The Windy City blew $100 million on that rejection.

All that said, there is a spirit about the Olympics that’s tough to quantify with a price tag. National Review’s Jay Nordlinger, for one, is sorry to see Boston give up. “Generations ago,” he writes, “when we were a much poorer country than now, we did things like host the Olympics, because we felt we should. We wanted to. Such deeds comported with our sense of ourselves — with the way we thought of our place in the world, and what we had to offer mankind.”

Who can forget the overwhelming national pride after the 1980 USA hockey team defeated the mighty and heavily favored Soviets in the “Miracle on Ice” at Lake Placid? Is there a price tag applicable to such a moment?

Perhaps it’s the utter waste of the last decade in Washington that has left so many Americans feeling like saving rather than spending. Perhaps no one thinks all that much of Barack Obama’s America any more — that was his goal, after all — and they conclude the Olympics just aren’t worth hosting. We’d only note this irony: The Olympics are becoming unaffordable because other nations are driving up the cost with Obama-style “stimulus” bids. America can do better. But it won’t happen in Boston 2024.

Click here to show comments