Olympics comes with big local impacts, prof says

February 6, 2015
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Jules Boykoff, a former professional soccer player turned Olympics-studying academic, says Boston can expect a major trade-off of fun versus community impacts if it hosts the 2024 Summer Olympics.

Boykoff said that residents on the one hand can watch “the best athletes in the world for a really fun two-and-a-half-week party.” But on the other hand, residents can expect an “intensification of the militarization of public spaces”; host an event that has gone “way over budget” since 1960; and be subjected to gentrification.

With Northeastern University pegged in Boston 2024’s Olympic plan as housing for thousands of reporters, Mission Hill and the Longwood Medical Area could see some such impacts.

Boykoff, who teaches at Pacific University in Oregon, has written two books critical of the Olympics. He said he was in London during the 2012 Summer Olympics, witnessing surface-to-air missiles mounted on top of apartments for security, and in Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics, where he saw medium-range acoustic devices that could blast ear-splitting sounds at protesters.

But, Boykoff said, because of a concerted effort by civil liberty activists, the authorities in Vancouver agreed only to use the acoustic devices as “glorified bullhorns.”

He commented on the Olympics protest activism that has already taken place in Boston from such groups as No Boston Olympics, saying he was impressed with the “historical research” and “expects that will continue.”

Boykoff said Boston residents can expect large areas of the city to be set up as “Olympic zones” where no one can enter unless “you have the right passes.” He said residents of the city and surrounding communities will be subjected to a whole set of rules and laws from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Switzerland-based organization that operates the Games.

“City codes will have to be harmonized with the dictates of the IOC,” said Boykoff.

He said a “striking example” of that was in Vancouver, where the City Council passed a law banning signs or posters critical of Olympics, even on private property. Boykoff said that is “especially striking” in light of Boston Mayor Martin Walsh signing an agreement with the U.S. Olympic Committee that bans Boston employees from criticizing the Olympics. Walsh has claimed that part of the agreement will not be enforced, but its legal status remains unclear.

Boykoff said that every Olympics since 1960 has gone over budget and that the security costs have “gone through the roof” since the 1972 Munich Olympics, where Israel athletes and coaches were kidnapped and killed by terrorists. He said at least $1 billion, if not closer to $2 billion, needs to be budgeted for security.

“If it is not that high, it needs to be adjusted,” said Boykoff. “It is absolutely a cost that tends to balloon.”

He added that some major terrorist event could happen between now and 2024, and that organizers of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah never expected 9/11 to happen.

Boykoff said gentrification has also been a problem, even at those Olympics that have been viewed as successes, such as London. He said there is a segment of people who “get incredibly boxed out” in the name of development.

Boykoff said the gentrification happens on two fronts. He said there is the “brutal displacement by force,” such as the 1.5 million people who were displaced in Beijing for the 2008 Summer Olympics and the 1,200 people who were displaced in London to make way for the “Olympic Village” athlete housing.

He said on another front, there is the “quiet, legalized displacement.” Boykoff said when he was in London, he spoke to one group of people who had to uproot and move because of rents skyrocketing in one particular neighborhood.

“For some people that is not a problem,” he said, mentioning developers, people who own rental properties and big construction firms who are well-connected.

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