New Olympic Event: Host Dodging

It was announced last Monday that the USOC will not be continuing with the Boston 2024 Olympic bid. I think this a good thing, a very good thing.

First, though, I want to put all my cards on the table. I love the Olympics. There is almost no greater moment in our public lives for witnessing and celebrating excellence and achievement on such a grand and universal scale. I love all the pageantry, the exposure to athletes from all over the globe, and the excitement of discovering new sports I’d never heard of before. I even love Bob Costas’s cheesy human interest stories.

I also love Boston. Readers of the blog know that I am a fan of all things Boston sports. (Indeed, I am fan of most things from Boston: e.g. Cheers, Steven Wright, Boston (band), and Spenser.)

So one might think I’d be excited to see the Olympics in Boston. In the abstract, I would be. Boston is a great city and one worthy of hosting the games. But, as the clichéd saying goes, the devil is in the details.

As a member of the Boston Diaspora, I was not personally all that worried about the traffic problems that this event would have caused. This is much more about (1) the bid process and (2) the financing.

The IOC bid process is well-known for its corruption; maybe not quite at FIFA and Seth Blatter levels, but corrupt nonetheless. There is a long train of accusations from bribes to kickbacks. Boston is not exactly known for its transparent government (it’s not Chicago, but not from a lack of trying). Mix these two together and you have a recipe for a disastrous scandal.

The bigger concern, though, is the manner in which the games are financed. The public financing and taxpayer guarantees for cost overruns make the Olympics a loser for cities. Economists have shown for decades that public financing of stadiums and Olympic facilitates almost always lose money. Moreover, there is no greater economic gain for the city/region as whole that offsets these loses. There is little evidence that these public investments provide net increases in tourism, jobs, or business revenue in general. (Many sources: but here is a good review of the literature: “Do Economists Reach a Conclusion on Subsidies for Sports Franchises, Stadiums, and Mega-Events?”  )

This should make intuitive sense. If the Olympics were such a great way of building the local/regional economy, why not propose Detroit? Instead, what we see is that cities are starting to wise up and pull their bids. What are left are mostly autocratic regimes (Russia, China, Qatar) that are more than glad to overpay for the moral sanction offered by the Olympics (and the World Cup). That is, by being chosen to the host the Olympics or World Cup these regimes can pass themselves off as civilized and worthy members of the world community. Boycotts won’t change this. But the dwindling market for acceptable host cities might.

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