The future of the Olympic Games: a permanent site needed

The United States Olympic Committee decided for some reason to pick Boston as the site for their bid.  Boston was a bad idea from the beginning.  Geographically too small, it would have destroyed neighborhoods even if some venues went to other parts of Massachusetts and New England.  From the beginning, it was promised that no taxpayer money would be spent on the Games.  How could that have been?  The Boston public transit system needs desperate upgrades already, and the crush of visitors would have overwhelmed it.  There would have to be investment in commuter rail upgrades to get people to out of town venues.  The final straw was, so it seems, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh refusing to sign a taxpayer guarantee.  Combined with strong opposition it spelled the end.

Hosting the Games has become expensive and disruptive.  Yes, I know there are countries that want the Games, but I worry about Brazil and how they can afford the games.  They will likely end up razing huge swaths of housing, as Boston probably would have done.  Actually, I worry about any place that wants the Games.

So I have a proposal.  Move the Summer Games permanently to Athens.  The facilities there are unused and deteriorating.

IN AN obscure corner of a park sits a forlorn reminder that, 10 years ago, Athens hosted the 2004 Summer Olympics.

The crumbling miniature theatre is inscribed with the words “glory, wealth, wisdom, victory, triumph, hero, labour” — and it is where visiting Olympic officials planted an olive sapling that would bear their names for posterity.

Once a symbol of pomp, the marble theatre is now an emblem of pointless waste in a venture that left a mixed legacy: a brand-new subway, airport and other vital infrastructure that significantly improved everyday life in a city of 4 million, set against scores of decrepit sports venues built in a mad rush to meet deadlines — with little thought for post-Olympic use.

This story is from last year.  And while no one blames the Olympics for the current meltdown of the Greek economy, it couldn’t have helped.

As Greece groans under a cruel economic depression, questions linger as to whether the Athens Games were too ambitious an undertaking for a weak economy. While economists agree it would be unfair to blame Greece’s meltdown on the 17-day Games, the post-Olympic era is seen as a decade of lost opportunities — including failure to significantly boost the country’s sporting culture. It’s a lesson to which Brazil may pay heed, as it races to complete projects ahead of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“We didn’t take advantage of this dynamic that we got in 2004,” said former Olympic weightlifting champion Pyrros Dimas, a Greek sporting hero-turned-Socialist member of Parliament.

“We simply made the biggest mistake in our history: We switched off, locked up the stadiums, let them fall to pieces, and everything finished there.”

“We spent a lot of money for some projects (that) are shut and rotting,” said Dimas, who won his last Olympic medal in an Athens arena now reinvented as a lecture and conference venue. “There were projects that should have cost 2 and 3 million (euros) and suddenly became so big that they cost 13 and 14 million. There was no control.”

The latest government estimate sets the final cost of the Games at 8.5 billion euros ($12.2 billion), double the original budget but a drop in the ocean of the country’s subsequent 320 billion-euro ($460 billion) debt, which spun out of control after 2008.

Instead of picking still another host city, pick Athens.  Make it the permanent home of the Summer Games. Greece is, after all, the birthplace of the Olympics.  The countries and cities that would normally spent millions of dollars just preparing a bid could pool that money to fix all the Greek venues.  They can start work anytime.  In fact, maybe the 2020 games (I’m assuming the Brazilians are too far along to cancel now, but maybe not.) scheduled for Tokyo could be moved.  The Japanese probably could use the money for something else – and maybe they could contribute a restoration/redesign to a venue in Athens.  In fact, various countries could take different venues in Greece.  I think that would be real Olympic spirit.  And it couldn’t hurt Greece.

Meanwhile the Boston Games are down the drain.

Boston Globe cartoon by Dan Wasserman.

Boston Globe cartoon by Dan Wasserman.