US Olympic Committee Offers a Raw Deal to Boston Youth

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Supporters of Boston’s bid to host the 2024 Olympics are using the June 23 “Olympic Day” holiday to drum up support for a plan that, if approved, is sure to result in gentrification, displacement and increased surveillance throughout the city of Boston.

Boston 2024, the private group that is supporting the bid, has had the most success in garnering support by touting Boston’s Olympic bid as a way to invest in youth sports. In fact, one of Boston 2024’s core principles is that the bid would ensure that “youth sports opportunities are created for the young people of Massachusetts.” But in Boston – a city where roughly half of public schools do not have a gymnasium and 30 percent don’t have physical education of any kind, and where public schools continue to face huge budget cuts – it seems that promoting the Olympics as an investment in youth sports is misguided at best.

When Boston received the news that it had been “chosen” to receive the United States’ bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games in December 2014, Bostonians weren’t celebrating. Residents of Boston had no idea that their city was even up for the bid: Boston Mayor Marty Walsh had flown to California to pitch to the US Olympic Committee behind closed doors without hosting a public meeting to see if Boston even wanted to host the Games.

Since then, Boston 2024 has been on a campaign to win over residents. The group has hosted contentious community meetings, which have involved the mayor’s cousin heckling and intimidating opponents of the bid. Boston 2024 has been unable to answer many questions about the bid itself and though its members have promised transparency, they have yet to provide it. They’ve attempted damage control, changing leadership just months after the bid was announced, and revising the bid after their initial one was poorly received. None of this seems to be helping; public support has sunk to a dismal 39 percent, according to the most recent polling data by WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station.

To sell its pro-Olympics narrative, Boston 2024 has been gearing up to ensure that Olympic Day (a holiday created by the International Olympic Committee to “commemorate the birth of the modern Olympic Games”) is celebrated throughout Massachusetts on June 23.

Looking at the promotional materials, Olympic Day seems like a fun, innocuous event for kids to participate in. They even get free shirts, stickers and other swag to take home with them.

But it’s not that simple or harmless. If you read the fine print about what participating groups actually agree to when they sign up to host an Olympic Day event, they grant the US Olympic Committee, the International Olympic Committee, and their licensees and assignees a royalty-free right to use, modify and distribute all submitted photos and videos for noncommercial purposes on a worldwide basis in perpetuity without restriction.

In other words, when people host Olympic Day events, they are agreeing to allow the Olympic committees to use photos of their children in whatever way they see fit. In other words, the International Olympic Committee is using kids’ naïveté and selling the adults around them a feel-good narrative about the “transformative power of sport” in order to get free promotional materials that exploit children.

This promotional material is then used to sell a false narrative to cities that could potentially host the Olympics. While the Olympic Committee sells the Olympic legacies of “fair play, perseverance, respect and sportsmanship” to the unsuspecting public, the real legacies of “debt, displacement and the militarization of public space” (according to Dave Zirin, who says he has attended and covered every Olympics since 9/11) go unmentioned.

If Boston hosts the Olympic Games in 2024, it stands to experience what every host city before it has: thousands of residents displaced, massive cost overruns, security and surveillance that target Black and Brown citizens and accelerated gentrification – all outcomes that will disproportionately affect the city’s most vulnerable residents. Like Boston, London was promised the Olympics would be an investment in youth sports in 2012. But looking at the numbers, participation in sports has actually gone down in Britain since 2012, particularly among lower socioeconomic classes.

Neither the Olympic committees nor Boston 2024 care about Boston’s youth. They care about making money. The CEOs and corporate lobbyists behind Boston 2024 are seeking to exploit and deceive the next generation, the generation they claim to be building a city for, as a means to an end. Boston’s children deserve something better than the exploitation, displacement, gentrification and surveillance that would result from a successful bid to host the Olympics.