Boston Beware: The Olympics Are a Destroyer of Cities
The IOC’s ballyhooed reforms are really just strategic rebranding
When the United States Olympic Committee’s board of directors met in Denver last week, they voted to catapult Boston into the international competition for the 2024 Summer Olympics. For the past 16 months, bigwigs at the USOC have been buzzing over the games. Last month aspiring Olympic bidders from Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., presented their shiniest pitches to the USOC. Olympic mavens view the 2024 Games as the best chance in years for a U.S. city to land the five-ring circus. The USOC bestowed that chance on Boston.
But for Bostonians, the USOC’s choice should be a disquieting development. The modern Olympic Games have become notorious for massive overbuilding, debt, displacement, protests and repression. If Beantown hated the Big Dig — the most costly highway project in U.S. history, completed in 2007, nine years behind schedule — it will despise hosting the games. By losing the Olympic bid, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington have actually medaled.
The wider Olympic movement is experiencing epic flux. Its image has taken a hit in recent months, with numerous potential host cities spurning the games. Last month the International Olympic Committee met in Monaco to address the crisis with a swirl of face-saving changes it calls Olympic Agenda 2020 (PDF). With Prince Albert — an International Olympic Committee member — lending his pomp, IOC President Thomas Bach sounded the call for reform, and the committee ratified a wide-ranging slate of changes.
The media have been awash with platitudes about Agenda 2020 being a defining moment for the Olympic movement. But the proposals fall well short of substantive reform. Even Bach sounded tentative, saying, “I hope this will prove to be an important day for the Olympic movement. I’m positive that today we took the right decisions, with a vision for the future of the Olympic movement getting closer to the youth and to the people.”
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