Boston, Bay State Don’t Need the Olympics

Under most all circumstances, a business magazine like this one would support any effort that would bring people, dollars, and attention to this state and, when possible, this region.

But in the case of 2024 Olympics, we’ll make an exception. Now that Boston has been selected as this country’s entry, or candidate, for those games, speculation has run rampant, expectations are soaring, and political officials, including many from this area code, are seeing dollar signs and a chance to showcase their communities.

We can’t end all that, and we certainly won’t, but maybe we can add a few much-needed doses of reality to this equation, starting with what some might consider a bold pronouncement: Boston and Massachusetts don’t need the Olympics!

That’s right. We don’t. Those who think we do, or are quite sure we do, are focused on three, perhaps four things: money, exposure, prestige, and jobs. And it’s really all about the first item on that list.

The money comes from building the infrastructure and facilities that would be required to host an Olympics, and perhaps from the spectators who would come to watch them and the media who would come to cover it. Revenue is always welcome, but there must be easier ways to amass it and more effective means to spread that wealth.

As for exposure and prestige, first we have to debate whether the Olympics actually supply those things, and if so, what does it amount to? Did Athens gain any real exposure in 2004, and did it gain any prestige? How about Moscow in 1980? Los Angeles in 1984? Atlanta in 1996? Or London in 2012? The answer in each case is ‘no.’

As for Massachusetts, it has always been known around the world for its institutions of higher learning, its hospitals and medical centers, and its noted vacation spots — Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and the Berkshires (and none of those locales would be hosting any Olympic events). What is there to gain?

How does a few weeks’ worth of 45-second aerial shots of Boston and its suburbs at the start of each Olympics broadcast help put the Bay State on the map? It’s already on the map in every way that it needs to be.

As for jobs, yes, there will be some of those — mostly construction jobs, and those are important to that industry. But the benefit will be concentrated to a few huge firms and for a relatively short period of time. And a city doesn’t host the Olympics to gain a few thousand construction jobs — or, at least, it shouldn’t.

No, a city hosts the Olympics to do what Barcelona did in 1992 and, to a lesser extent, what Beijing did in 2008, and what Rio de Janeiro hopes to do in 2016 — announce its presence and make a statement.

Barcelona was an industrial backwater into the late ’80s, granted one with stunning architecture, great weather, and one of the best harbors in the world. It used the Olympics to showcase itself and make itself into one of the top tourist destinations in Europe, if not the world.

Boston in 2014 (let alone 2024) is not Barcelona in 1983. Cranes fill the skies in the Hub, and there are more than 15 million square feet of new buildings under construction. Boston doesn’t have to tell the world it has arrived any more than London did in 2012.

Overall, we see the Olympics as an unneeded extravagance. Worse, it is a distraction at a time when the state and individual communities need to be focused on other, more pertinent matters, such as creating viable, long-term sources of jobs. Instead, the mayor of Fall River is trying to get the rowing competition on Watuppa Pond, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno is trying to bring the basketball competition to the city where the game was invented (good luck with that one), and Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse is pushing hard to bring Olympic volleyball to his city, where that sport was conceived (where they would host those matches, we don’t know).

As we said, this is a distraction, one this state just doesn’t need for the next nine years.