The U.S. Olympic Committee has selected Boston as its official bid city for the 2024 Olympics. Good for Boston, I say, and the rest of New England.
Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., also were in the running, but the USOC chose our neighbor to the north. Why not? Boston is the Hub of the Universe, right? Boston is home to Fenway Park, the most charming ball park in America; the Boston Marathon, the most famous 26-mile, 385-yard footrace in the world, and the Head of the Charles, one of the most cherished rowing regattas around. Boston boasts the Old North Church, a light from which launched Paul Revere on his legendary ride. Boston is where Sam Adams and the Sons of Liberty plotted the American Revolution and dumped tea into Boston Harbor. Massachusetts General Hospital is one of the best on the planet.
Just across the Charles River in Cambridge lie Harvard and MIT, two of the leading universities in the world.
What more is there to say?
Sure, promoters of Boston 2024 must clear a few high hurdles to bring the Olympics to the U.S. for the first time since Atlanta in 1996 and to The Hub for the first time ever. The city lacks a 60,000-set stadium suitable for opening and closing ceremonies and track and field events; an aquatics center of Olympic caliber for swimming and diving; a velodrome for cycling, and a village to house 10,500 athletes.
Those challenges can be met. The Kraft Family, owner of the Patriots empire in Foxboro, has expressed interest in building a 20,000 to 30,000-seat stadium for its Revoltion MLS franchise, which plays now in Gillette Stadium. Organizers could build a stadium twice that size in South Boston with 30,000 permanent and 30,000 temporary seats. Harvard, MIT, Boston College, Boston University and Northeastern could pitch in for the aquatics center and share it after the games leave town. I don’t know anything abut the construction of velodromes, but there’s a lot of space in the Convention Center in South Boston. As for the Olympic Village, the city has been looking to increase its supply of affordable housing. This could be the impetus to make it happen. Covering the Winter Olympics, I stayed in quarters that became public housing or were moved to areas where low-income housing was needed.
Questions about cost and transportation are legitimate. Boston organizers say that corporate support and private donations will be sufficient to pay for the necessary facilities and vow that no taxpayer funds will be involved. We’ll see about that one. The T, Boston’s surface and subway rail system, needs updating, as do roads and bridges in the metropolitan area. Government officials acknowledge as much and no doubt will respond to the challenge of getting it done by 2024.
Dormitories at area colleges should provide ample housing for visiting journalists and spectators, and the city’s 51,000 hotel rooms should take care of dignitaries and folks with pockets deep enough to afford what surely will be an exorbitant rate
There will be challenges from cities abroad. Rome, site of the 1960 Games, is already in the race, and there is speculation that Paris, which hosted in 1924, and Berlin, the host in 1936, will mount bids. But Boston has the advantages of compact size, walkability, location at the head of the heavily populated Northeast Corridor, proximity to New York’s international gateways – a convenient supplement to Logan – and Eastern Time for television purposes in the huge U.S. market.
Think of the potential venues for a program of close to 30 sports. Baseball, which would be revived for Boston, at Fenway Park with preliminary games at minor-league parks in Pawtucket, Lowell and perhaps even Manchester, N.H. Rowing on the Charles River. Sailing at the Charles River Basin and in Boston Harbor. Soccer at Harvard Stadium and Gillette Stadium. Rugby Sevens at Boston College’s Alumni Stadium. Field hockey at Boston University’s Nickerson Field. Tennis at the Longwood Cricket Club in Brookline or indoors at BU’s Agganis Arena. Basketball at TD Garden with preliminary games in Providence and Worcester. Gymnastics at the Garden. Beach volleyball on Boston Common. The Olympic marathon on part of the famed Hopkinton-to-Boston route. Golf at The Country Club in Brookline or TPC in Norton. Mountain biking at Wachusett near Worcester. Road racing on Storrow Drive and across the river on Memorial Drive. Boxing in Northeastern’s Matthews Arena.
And for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, how about Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops?
The huge expense of staging the Olympics in Bejing, London and Sochi ($51 billion) has made many cities wary of bidding for the Games. The IOC has responded by relaxing its requirements and favoring less expensive options. That’s another plus for Boston. Organizers project a budget of $4.5 billion, a figure so low that folks who track such things predict it will be impossible to meet. Still, even with inevitable cost overruns, it should take a lot less that $51 billion.
It is easy to say that staging the Olympics in Boston and vicinity would be too expensive and too disruptive and that the money would be better spent elsewhere. I say sports-crazy Boston would live with two weeks of disruption for a chance to be the unquestioned Hub of the Sports Universe. And there’s no guarantee that money spent to host the Games would be spent on affordable housing.
So, bravo, Boston! Good luck!