Why Boston Said No to the Olympics

The estimated cost to Bostonians of US$8.6 billion was just too much

By Mike Chopowick, September 14, 2015

On July 27, 2015, the Mayor of Boston, Martin Walsh, went from being his city’s biggest cheerleader for hosting to the 2024 Olympics, to formally killing Boston’s bid. The fear of cost overruns and secrecy from the Boston 2024 bid committee put the final nail in the coffin of any Olympic dreams. The risk to citizens, and taxpayers, was just too great compared to any benefits.

“No benefit is so great that it is worth handing over the financial future of our City, and our citizens were rightly hesitant to be supportive as a result.” Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, NY Times July 27, 2015

As of today, Toronto Mayor John Tory is still trying to make up his mind on our city bidding for the 2024 summer games. I’m sure he is certainly considering the cost. How much would the games cost? In Boston’s case, the estimate for the 2024 games was US$8.6 billion (well over CDN$10 billion).

The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi were the most costly ever at US$51 billion
The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi were the most costly ever at US$51 billion

Supporters may argue that Toronto has three levels of government that can chip in for this cost, but regardless of how much is poured in from municipal, provincial and federal governments, $10 billion is staggering (approximately equal to Toronto’s operating budget for one year). But is this enough to cancel an Olympic bid and lose the economic benefits of hosting the Olympics?

With enough planning, a major city like Toronto (or Boston) should be able to stage and fund a $10 billion major event like the Olympics. But, as Mayor Walsh prudently considered, this isn’t the issue. Olympics in 2024 will not “cost” $10 billion. All we have to do is look at every past example to see that this is a wild underestimate. It is the “cost overruns” that should really give sober second thought to Toronto bidding for the games.

Consider the following past host cities (US Dollars):

• Sochi, Russia (2014 Winter) = $51 billion
• London, UK (2012 Summer) = $14 billion
• Vancouver, Canada (2010 Winter) = $6.4 billion
• Bejing, China (2008 Summer) = $44 billion
• Athens, Greece (2004 Summer) = $15 billion

In Canadian dollars, the London games would be close to $20 billion. Montreal’s 1976 games actually come in at the bargain basement price of $5.7 billion in 2015 dollars (based on its $1.4 billion cost in 1976). It is worth noting that the financial loss to Montreal was almost $1 billion (over $4 billion in today’s dollars).

Olympics do bring benefits to infrastructure, tourism and investment, not to mention civic pride. But these benefits come at a big cost. From a housing perspective we would also have to consider if housing supply could keep up with increased demand running up to 2024.

Toronto’s Mayor will have to decide soon if we throw our hat in the ring. Will costs and risks to taxpayers be the deciding factor? It is easy to see why they were for Boston. Stay tuned.