Schools Eye Olympics Benefits, Drawbacks

By Keiko Talley
BU News Service

Although plans are up in the air, Boston-area colleges and universities are weighing the idea of their campuses being used as venues for the 2024 Summer Olympics.

Schools that could play a part include Harvard University, Boston University, Tufts University, Boston College,the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, Northeastern University, and the University of Massachusetts-Boston.

Because of the large amount of space that Harvard University has to offer, it could play a key role in any plans, hosting as many as seven Olympic sporting events. Some events could be held off-campus on campus-owned property.

Because the bid process is still in the preliminary stages, many factors determining which schools would participate are unknown.

“Nobody can really determine exactly whether we would do it and if we did exactly what precise ways it would involve and engage the campus, we just don’t know that yet,” said Stephen Burgay, Senior Vice President of External Affairs at Boston University.

Burgay and representatives from several other schools feel that there are some factors that need to be reviewed before they make a decision on their participation in the Summer Olympics.

The Olympic bid committee is in preliminary stages of speaking with the colleges and universities in creating a potential plan for their intended use.

“We know in general terms the ways in which they would like to use the Boston University campus, and we also know the issues that we have to think about in determining whether to play or not,” said Burgay.

Universities need to consider the impact that hosting the Summer Olympics would have on their summer programs, classes, sports, and conferences. Boston University has been approached about using Agganis Arena for badminton and on-campus housing for international media.

Boston University rents space in student housing to various groups during the summer for conferences and houses summer school students. The university has estimated that they would be able to rent 25 percent of their Student Village 2 housing for the Summer Olympics should they agree to participate.

“We’re not going to use tuition dollars to subsidize it, so the bid committee would have to pay us some type of fair rental value to use our facilities,” Burgay said to lessen worries of students having to pay more for their education due to the university’s choice to participate in the Summer Olympics.

Senior Vice President of External Affairs at Northeastern University, Michael Armini, also says they are in talks with the Olympic bid committee to use Northeastern University’s student housing, West Village, for media housing.

“The dorm that we’ve offered for the international press is one that we believe that we can accommodate them in that particular building, but it’s true that many of our other residence halls will be occupied with people who are in summer programs. But obviously we wouldn’t offer a building that we already have in use for a summer program,” said Armini.

College and university campuses are fairly open, allowing people to pass through freely. However, with the influx of media, athletes, volunteers, workers, and spectators, that would change should the schools hold various Olympic events in 2024.

When the Olympic committee was asked about a possible safety plan for summer programs and current students, committee members reiterated their excitement to be in the talks with so many schools that were interested in participating,

With the concerns also come benefits to hosting Olympic events. The last US cities to host a Summer Olympics were Atlanta and Los Angeles. Both Olympic plans relied heavily on the participation of surrounding colleges and universities in the area, much like the plan for Boston. In the past, colleges and universities in those cities received renovated or new facilities, or money to help their existing facilities.

For example, in 1996 when Atlanta hosted the Summer Olympics, Georgia Tech received more than $240 million in new housing. Morris Brown College and Clark Atlanta University both inherited new stadiums that were built for the field hockey events.

According to the Boston Globe, if Boston is chosen as a host city for the 2024 Summer Olympics, Tufts University would get their seven-decade-old, undersized pool replaced. The University of Massachusetts-Boston would also be keeping 6,000 of the 16,500 beds that would be used for student housing.

The host city will not be determined until 2017, but the decision of participation by colleges and universities in Boston would not come until a few years after, giving the Olympic organizers plenty of time to create a more concrete plan to present to surrounding schools.

“At the end of the day we have an obligation both to our students in terms of the education that we’re delivering during the summer and fiduciary responsibility to the bottom line,” said Burgay.

Although nothing is concrete at such an early stage several schools said that they are accepting of the ideas and think that bringing the Summer 2024 Olympics to Boston would be a great benefit to Boston as a community and to the colleges and universities that would be participating in Olympic events. Several schools have said they encourage the Boston 2024 committee to continue conversations about possible plans for participation.

“We would hope that this proceeds in a way that everything is clear and that there are no surprises as we move ahead,” said Burgay. “As a member of the community we’re rooting for them. We also hope that the level of transparency remains very high.”

Burgay also says that should Boston be named the host city for 2024, he expects that the bid committee would ensure that Boston University is at the table.

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