For me the Olympics is like the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) or the National Football League (NFL) or the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA). Those groups are big organizations run by a handful of people who become extremely wealthy providing games as the Romans used to do for the enjoyment of the masses while demanding the public provide facilities for them. Gangsters, gambling, cheating and other corrupt activities hover over them like the cloud over Joe Btfsplk.
FIFA officials are now in a little bit of trouble having lost seven of its officials from its conference in Lucerne to the Swiss police. They and seven others were indicted by the federals in DC for corruption. This is one of those federal cases where guys have already pleaded guilty in exchange for their cooperation against others. It seems one of their big wheels Charles “Chuck” Blazer who “failed to pay income taxes for more than a decade while hauling in tens of millions of dollars,” has avoided real punishment by becoming an FBI informant. Knowing the FBI he’ll walk while the small fish fry. (I wonder why Holder didn’t indict them and left it to Lynch?)
It did not take much brain power to know FIFA was crooked. How else explain awarding the next two World Cup games to the two worst places in the world for them: Russia and Qatar. The Cup normally played in the summer to accommodate Qatar’s heat will end up a week before Christmas.
The Olympics have seen their share of scandals. Even the 2002 Romney Winter Olympics had its problems. There the Olympic officials had their hands out looking for bribed. An investigation showed that bribing Olympic officials had gone on for decades.
Given that it would seem natural that Boston wants to get into the Olympic game. It will be our next Big Dig, a mammoth project involving huge public expenditures good for the construction industry but enormously bad for the taxpayer. I would have to forget Boston history to not believe there will be many hands out palms facing up seeking a share of the booty.
That got me wondering whether any American city ever benefited from an Olympics. Did Los Angeles or Atlanta become different or better because of it?
It seems the gold standard for hosting an Olympics was the 1984 Los Angeles summer games. They cost $546 million but returned a profit of $232.5 million of which 93 million stayed in the LA area with the rest going to the U.S. Olympic Committee. They were not financed by the government. No major structures were built other than a velodrome and aquatic center which were privately financed and are still in existence. The more recent Atlanta Olympics in 1996 tell a different story.
The real problem with the Olympics coming to Boston is that it is not a Los Angeles the second most populous city in the United States with its almost 4 million people but more like an Atlanta which has a population of 450,000. But unlike Atlanta it is an old city that is just not prepared to hold something that would draw the crowds an Olympics will draw without a huge, a very huge, expenditure of public funds something Los Angeles avoided doing.
The main problem with Boston aside from its antiquated infrastructure is it is not foreigner friendly. It is a horrid place to arrive from a foreign country and attempt to find your way around. There are no understandable signs directing a stranger to the desired destination; the Silver Line from Logan is as disgrace; if you are carrying suitcases you have to lug them up and down stairs; if you want to go on the commuter rail with them you have no place to put them.
I realized all this after I returned from a trip to Barcelona a city that benefited greatly from hosting the Olympics. There travelling from the airport and around the city on public transportation was a delight. Modern buses, a bright friendly feeling transit system, new and clean trains, plenty of space for luggage, clear signs giving directions to those that did not speak Spanish or Catalan. I came back to Boston and seeing the stark difference opened my parochial eyes to the backwardness of the city.
I suggest Bostonians and people of Massachusetts look to the 2004 Athens Olympics to see what they can do to an old city. It cost over 6 billion in public money. The games lost 14 – 15 billion dollars. It is reported on Wikipedia that “The cost of the 2004 Athens Summer Games has been cited as a contributor to the Greek government-debt crisis. Many of the venues lie vacant and rotting; the Independent newspaper reports as many as 21 out of 22 are unused.” It cites this report. Or we could look north to the
1975 1976 Montreal Olympics that took the city three decades to recover from its debt.
Aside from poor public transportation and little space for Boston to catch up it will cost many billions I wonder if the closure of the Long Island homeless facility was done to help this along.
Then we have the added problem of the planners credibility. From telling us it was going to be privately financed while secretly telling the Olympic people that increased taxes would pay of the bonds issued to pay for the infrastructure (which having been disclosed they are now changing ) tells me that games are afoot and why not nip them in the bud and walk away from this.
Right now I have grave doubts about the wisdom of having it in Boston. It will last for 17 days but the scars may go on forever. We should all ask Cui Bono!