I might just be the least likely torchbearer for Boston as a host city for Summer Olympics 2024. A few years ago I thought it was preposterous that the city would even be considered. Now Boston has made the short list for four possible host cities, including Los Angeles and Washington. And I’ve been following the efforts of a small group of well-connected local Olympic boosters led by business heavyweight John Fish of Suffolk Construction.
Fish’s wide spread stumping has been met with some robust vocal opposition, and pushback from an anti-Olympics volunteer group, No Boston Olympics. No Boston Olympics has pulled together an arsenal of damaging documentation arguing against “a three week party for the global elite.” The group points out the potential for corruption, a legacy of cost overruns in other Olympic host cities, and a diversion of precious tax dollars from resource starved schools and transportation infrastructure.
I get it. However, former Massachusetts Sen. Mo Cowan now persuades me that, “it’s a conversation worth having.” Cowan, appearing recently on Boston Public Radio, reminded us, “We’re a small city but we do big things, and the Olympics could be one of those big things.”
Everybody knows you spruce up when company comes, so I’d like to think we’d make big improvements in transportation and housing. Boston would greet its world guests with gleaming, overhauled MBTA subway cars, a high-speed train from Springfield, and reinforced roads and bridges. Thousands of housing units would be refurbished or newly built. Costly investments.
Sure, I’ve heard the horror stories of Olympic host cities stuck with expensive custom structures — abandoned rundown eyesores. And frankly, I’m nervous about poor and minority communities bearing the brunt of Olympic gentrification. But I’ve also learned about London’s poor East End community, now the beneficiary of Olympic-built public transportation, as well as the Sydney and Barcelona residents who live in repurposed Olympic villages.
Do I wish that private money would be offered freely to disadvantaged schools, crumbling roads, and patch-as-patch-can subways and trains? I do. But the reality is that the deep-pocketed see the Olympics as a gilded networking opportunity for Boston business. “It puts us on a world stage,” says Mayor Marty Walsh, who admits to trepidation, but also says a Boston Olympics could be transformative.
John Fish insists this is far from a done deal, just a conversation. I suggest he include more voices — innovation incubator types, neighborhood and civic leaders from across the state, and most importantly, post-games city planners.
I reserve the right to change my mind if the touted conversation devolves into simple boosterism. It may be that Boston is not the right venue for the Olympics, but right now I’m not ready to extinguish the flame.
Callie Crossley is the host of Under the Radar.