Boston’s 2024 Olympics bid leaves some wanting in Florence

Last modified: Sunday, March 08, 2015

NORTHAMPTON — Former independent gubernatorial candidate Evan Falchuk and Smith College sports economics professor Andrew Zimbalist discussed the statewide consequences if Boston hosts the 2024 Olympic Games with over 30 local residents at the Florence Community Center auditorium Sunday.

Husband and wife George Kohout, 61, and Deb Orgera, 62, of State Street in Northampton, organized the public discussion to hear from the other side of the issue not being discussed by supporters of the Olympics according to Orgera.

“I think yeah, it’s a good idea but I don’t want it to cost me anything if I don’t plan to attend,” Orgera said, “More importantly though, if the games might come to Massachusetts I want to vote on this.”

Andy Tosswill of Florence said before the discussion began that he was opposed to the Olympics in Boston because there were much more important issues that needed to be addressed.

“A dozen things come to mind before the Olympics. I don’t want the Olympics here unless they can ironclad guarantee that we don’t get stuck with the bill.”

His wife Patty Tosswill shared similar concerns.

“ I just want the roads fixed,” Patty Tosswill said.

Zimbalist opened the discussion by claiming that cost proposals cited by Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and 2024 Boston greatly undersell the actual costs of hosting the Olympics. He said that a host city’s economy does not benefit from the increased activity or international exposure and taxpayers would inevitably end up footing the bill.

“The economic history of the Olympics is dismal, to put it bluntly,” Zimbalist said.

Zimbalist said that all the proposed economics and venues for a 2024 Olympics in Boston are based on unconfirmed commitments that could fall through before the games, leaving taxpayers out to dry. He said there are a range of unforeseen costs such as private land compensation and reimbursement for advertisements replaced by the International Olympic Committee.

He also mentioned security costs, which drew the criticism of Ted Fay, an Amherst resident and sports management professor at CUNY in New York.

“Let’s be forthright here — the security for the Olympics would fall under the supervision of Homeland Security and the federal government,” Fay said.

“You’re wrong, sir, actually you’re only partially right. The fed would cover security costs but any city police officers and firefighters that would likely be used would either require massive amounts of overtime or additional hirings. It would also detract from the police presence throughout the city,” Zimbalist said.

Fay pointed out his experience with economics of sports and the Olympic Games and was one of the few members that sought to challenge the information Zimbalist and Falchuk presented.

“I study this, I teach this, I live this. I’ve been inside 10 Olympic Games,” Fay said.

He said the question needs to be examined from angles other than the economics.

“At meetings in support of the Olympics, you’re going to get pro-Olympic opinions, and at meetings like these you’ll get ones against them. Only one voice is being presented,” Fay said.

Falchuk was more concerned that voters are not included in the decision process. Falchuk helped create the People Vote Olympic Committee, which is in the process of building support for the Olympic question to be put on a statewide ballot.

Falchuk called the private nature of the process and the lack of any discussion about the Olympics outside city limits concerning, especially if taxpayers are expected to cover any potential deficits.

He said the committees and legislators spearheading the bidding process are serving the interests of a small group such as construction leaders and businessmen that would make a large profit from the Olympics in Boston.

“There’s a strange crossover between the government and the executives of 2024 Boston which makes you wonder whose interests are our legislators serving, whose benefits are they considering and whose opinions are they listening to?” Falchuk said.

Falchuk said he believes the Olympics will supersede the concerns and needs of citizens while taking advantage of state-owned assets. He called the Olympics a distraction that will consume the mental efforts and time of legislators while legitimate matters go unaddressed.

Falchuk’s political framing of the issue drew the ire of attendee Joel Spiro.

“If there’s such a strong economic argument, then why can’t we avoid this political talk? You present us with all this information about how terrible the Olympics will be. Well, if it’s that easy, then why is our government so supportive? Are we to believe that they are greedy or dumb or gone crazy?” Spiro said.

Falchuk and Zimbalist responded that the response has largely been silence from legislators across the state. The few who have voiced dissent only did so to argue for more inclusion in the games.

Zimbalist called the lack of opposition a result of the “old-boy mentality” that still exists in the Statehouse. The government is being lobbied by powerful interest groups who want the Olympics in Boston, and any sign of resistance would likely be the ruin of a political career, he said.

The two speakers concluded that the argument for the Olympics as a benefit to fast-track infrastructure improvements and to make Boston plan for long-term development should make citizens reconsider their priorities.

“Long-term planning is built into the job as a legislator and shouldn’t need a mega-event to guide it. What does it say about us that we need some mega event to make the improvements that this state needs? More importantly, what about after the Olympics? Where will we be then?” Zimbalist said.


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