News comes this morning that Beijing has been awarded the 2022 Winter Olympics, beating out Almaty, Kazakhstan. Which touches on a point I made in this morning’s Boston Herald:
Columnist Anne Applebaum predicted a year ago that future Olympics would likely be held only in “authoritarian countries where the voters’ views will not be taken into account” — such as the two bidders for the 2022 Winter Olympics, Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan.
Fortunately, Boston is not such a place. The voters’ views can be ignored and dismissed for only so long.
Indeed, Boston should be celebrating more than Beijing this week. A small band of opponents of Boston’s bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics beat the city’s elite – business leaders, construction companies, university presidents, the mayor and other establishment figures – because they knew what Olympic Games really mean for host cities and nations:
E.M. Swift, who covered the Olympics for Sports Illustrated for more than 30 years, wrote on the Cognoscenti blog a few years ago that Olympic budgets “always soar.”
“Montreal is the poster child for cost overruns, running a whopping 796 percent over budget in 1976, accumulating a deficit that took 30 years to repay. In 1996 the Atlanta Games came in 147 percent over budget. Sydney was 90 percent over its projected budget in 2000. And the Athens Games cost $12.8 billion, 60 percent over what the government projected.”
Bent Flyvbjerg of Oxford University, the world’s leading expert on megaprojects, and his co-author Allison Stewart found that Olympic Games differ from other such large projects in two ways: They always exceed their budgets, and the cost overruns are significantly larger than other megaprojects. Adjusted for inflation, the average cost overrun for an Olympics is 179 percent.
Bostonians, of course, had memories of the Big Dig, a huge and hugely disruptive highway and tunnel project that over the course of 15 years produced a cost overrun of 190 percent.