Op-ed: Olympic Bid Lacks Transparency and Public Process

The Cambridge City Council recently voted to go on record opposing the hosting of the 2024 Olympic Games in Boston. After the vote, I wrote the following op-ed to help explain my opposition. It appeared in the Cambridge Chronicle and Cambridge Day last week. -Tim

I have just one question for Boston 2024, the private group that put Boston into the running as a potential host for the 2024 Olympic Games: “Just who asked you, anyway?”

It certainly wasn’t the public. Not a single vote, public meeting or hearing preceded the submission of Boston 2024’s bid to the U.S. Olympic Committee this month. In fact, we don’t even know what is in the bid – when asked, the organizers have refused to reveal any of the bid documents to the public.

The idea that an undertaking as big as hosting the Olympic Games is even being contemplated without an ounce of public review, input or consent is deeply troublesome. The future of the greater Boston region, its citizens and our scarce tax dollars are being gambled with by a handful of unelected people who stand to reap huge profits if the International Olympic Committee selects Boston as host city.

So far, anyone who has dared to question the bid organizers has been met with answers that are the equivalent of “trust us.” This worrying lack of transparency, coupled with the half-truths that we are being sold about the Olympics – such as its low-ball price tag of $4.5 billion, which includes none of the public investment in transportation and security that will be required to prop up the Games – make any of the promises being thrown out by Boston 2024 tough to swallow.

We know from the history of the games that the promises made to host cities are rarely delivered upon. Local and state governments emerge from the games saddled with debt that puts important public projects on hold, while advertisers, corporate sponsors and fat-cat members of the IOC cash in. Public resources are stretched thin and important initiatives are put on hold as the attention of legislators and other public officials becomes dominated for years by Olympic preparation. Issues that are far more important than any sporting event ever could be – homelessness, hunger, workforce development and the education of our children – are pushed aside.

Even if it were true that hosting the Olympics would be the outside motivation we need to fix our transit system, I am very afraid that in doing so we would run the risk of prioritizing the interests and needs of the IOC and the Olympic Games over those of the MBTA ridership, who will have to live with whatever changes we make to the system decades after the closing ceremonies.

In Boston 2024, we see a small group of people promising us that we will all benefit from their success, and that once they have finished throwing a party for the world’s elite, the rest of us will get a crack at the leftovers the next morning. Those of us who have lived through the era of “trickle-down” economics – and who are still waiting, 30 years later, to see any benefit at all from tax cuts for top earners and deregulation of the financial industry – should be wary of this thinking.

If hosting the Olympic Games is as good of an idea as Boston 2024 says, they should be welcoming public input, not hiding from it. Unfortunately, the most transparent thing about this group so far has been how little they care about what the rest of us think.

 

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