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Boston's Ride, Or Thanks But No Thanks, Olympic Committee

The Olympic flag flutters near the Cauldron at the Olympic Park during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
Adrian Dennis
/
AFP/Getty Images
The Olympic flag flutters near the Cauldron at the Olympic Park during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

What do you give a city that has everything? Maybe not the Olympic Games.

This week the city of Boston declined to sign what's called a host city contract that would make it liable to pay for any losses incurred by the Olympics, which effectively ended its bid for the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

"I cannot commit to putting the taxpayers at risk," said Mayor Martin Walsh, who had wanted the games for Boston. But spending by host cities has grown to be colossal in recent years. The costs for Sochi, Russia, to host the Winter Olympics last year have vaulted past $50 billion.

The Olympics are often presented as a chance to enrich a city with new public spending. But Bent Flyvbjerg and Allison Stewart, the Oxford economists, point out that every Olympics since 1960 has gone above budget an average of 179 percent. They call the Olympics "one of the most financially risky type of mega projects that exists, something that many cities and nations have learned to their peril."

Mayor Walsh of Boston said, "no benefit is so great that it is worth handing over the financial future of our city."

So with apologies to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.