Anti-Olympics group holds 1st public meeting in Boston

More than 100 people gathered to protest the selection of Boston as the site for the summer Olympics

BOSTON (AP) – In order to start the first public meeting – pro or con – since Boston was chosen as the American nominee for the 2024 Olympics, the head of the group opposed to bringing the Summer Games here asked those in the crowd to raise their hands and stop talking.

“That’s the most civic participation in the process we’ve had so far,” Liam Kerr, the head of the group No Boston Olympics, said to laughter from the crowd.

A crowd of more than 100 people gathered in a Back Bay church to discuss the problems they anticipate for an Olympic host, including traffic, runaway budgets and a lack of transparency from the IOC and the local bid committee alike. Attendees groaned and hissed as an economist detailed past Olympic cost overruns and the drain on local budgets.

One man arrived in the sub-freezing temperatures wearing shorts and a Beijing 2008 t-shirt with a piece of electrical tape across the logo. Others shouted out support for the local sports teams. Many associated themselves with liberal causes, but one man said he had run for office as a Tea Party candidate and said opposing the Olympics cuts across political lines.

Chris Dempsey, a No Boston Olympics founder, said he wanted the group to focus not just on opposing the Olympics, but on the ways the resources that would be devoted to the Games could be better spent.

“We are not curmudgeons, naysayers, NIMBYs, or trolls. We’re not anti-Olympics. We’re not Indianapolis Colts fans, especially this week,” he said. “We believe that Boston can host an Olympics. It would be safe. It would be exciting. It would be fun. The question is: Should Boston host the Olympics?

“It’s an immense distraction from other pressing priorities. And I think you come to the conclusion that while it’s something you can do, it’s something we shouldn’t do.”

Smith College economist Andrew Zimbalist, whose new book “Circus Maximus” looks into the economic risks of hosting the Olympics, said studies have shown that the Games don’t deliver the financial benefits that are often promised. He derided the promise of no public money for the 2024 Games, saying the initial budget is unrealistically low and adding that the Olympics would rely on local police and fire services that are ultimately billed to the taxpayers.

“To say that there’s going to be no public money is ridiculous on a number of levels,” he said.

But the complaint that seemed to galvanize everyone is the lack of information about the bid that convinced the USOC to pick Boston over San Francisco, Washington and Los Angeles as the American nominee. The city will compete against Rome and potential bids from Paris, Germany and South Africa, as well as others.

“I think one of the most important things No Boston Olympics can do is to insist upon the documents,” Zimbalist said.

Bid organizers said they will soon be opening up the process. In a statement emailed to The Associated Press on Monday night, Boston 2024 vice president Erin Murphy said the bid book – minus proprietary details that the USOC said would put the bid at a competitive disadvantage – will be released before a public meeting next week.

“Boston 2024 is committed to an open civic engagement process and looks forward to our first community meeting on Wednesday,” Murphy said. “Boston 2024 will work with our elected leaders to conduct a robust public process that will inform and shape our bid proposal to the IOC.”

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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