Remember a few months back when Boston proudly threw its tri-cornered hat into the ring to bid for the 2024 Olympics? Well, there are plenty of Bostonians among those who would really rather not with the Olympics. And now, they’re going to get a say. Democracy!
Yesterday, the group organising Boston’s bid said it will ask voters across Massachusetts to decide whether the city will compete for the Olympics — even though the city had originally said it wouldn’t put it to a vote.
The news signals just how against the bid most locals are. But Boston wouldn’t be the first to turn down the Olympics. In the 1970s, Denver actually went way further down the road than Boston has, clinching host duties over other countries, and making plans to develop venues in and around the (then-much smaller) city. A group of citizens against the idea managed to organise a citywide movement against it — and in the end, Denver ended up voting down the host duties it had competed to win. Meanwhile, many other bids by potential host cities have been voted down by citizens, as Deadspin reported last year.
Back in January, I talked to Victor Matheson, an economics professor at College of the Holy Cross who studies mega-events like the Olympics. He warned that it’s becoming tough for democratic nations to sell the Olympics to its citizens. “It’s easy for China’s leaders to spend the money, and it’s easy for Kazakhstan to spend the money,” he said. “It’s increasingly difficult to get regular taxpayers who have a say to put out that sort of money.”
As for Boston, asking voters to weigh in on the city’s bid is a big surprise, since Boston Mayor Marty Walsh had originally said the issue wouldn’t be put to a vote, ever.
But public outcry against the idea has grown louder since it was announced in January. A WBUR poll showed that 51 per cent of Bostonians supported the bid back then — and only 36 per cent support it now. City employees have even been contractually forbidden from speaking negatively about the bid. Facing so much ire, the bid organisers have changed their minds, telling The New York Times that a vote will actually insure “transparency and accountability” in the process. Here’s how Walsh explained his change of heart, according to The Boston Herald:
I don’t know that it’s changing, I think in the beginning I felt that we will still have to do an explanation to the people of Boston to explain what the Olympics are all about. If somebody puts forth a ballot question, certainly that’s the will of the voter. The voter can decide that and you can see what happens.
It doesn’t look good for Boston in 2024. Given how support is cratering right now (or what little support there ever was) , Boston’s bidding group is going to need to sell this idea hard–-to a group of people who have been through some stuff this winter, no less.
Picture: Boston Mayor Marty Walsh addresses the first public forum regarding the Boston 2024 Olympics bid on Feb. 5, 2015. AP Photo/Charles Krupa.