By Mac Faulkner, MC/MPA ‘15
Think back to the first time you picked up a ball.
Look down at the ball between your hands, before you attempt to throw it across the room to your mom (but maybe miss and hit a lamp). What inspired you to pick up that ball?
For many of us, a love of sport and activity is a lifelong passion that teaches us lessons of team work, trust, and friendship. Be it Little League or basketball, pond hockey with our friends or swimming at the local pool, sport and activity play such a large factor in many of our lives.
As someone who has had sports play a large role in my life, I am very interested in following the Boston 2024 Olympic bid. Many people with impressive academic and professional credentials have weighed in on the costs and benefits of the games. On the one hand we outline the costs: $4 billion projected in the operating budget and $10 billion or more in infrastructure, facilities, safety, and other associated costs. The pessimists argue that these dollars are wasted, as many Olympic Games facilities are never used again. On the other hand, proponents of the games argue that the television revenue, ticket revenue, infrastructure improvements, and housing stock increases can address many of the needs for the city of Boston moving forward.
I’m not here to argue the merits of either one of those perspectives. What I will say is that one key piece of the discussion is being missed. The most critical element of these Olympic Games is who will be inspired by these games. Long after the athletes have gone home, long after the television crews have left, long after the lights go out in the stadiums, the Olympic Games will inspire a generation to engage in sports and be active.
Now one could argue that this is very “touchy-feely,” but there are many ways of valuing what inspiring sports interest for the next generation means. For instance, what if 1 out of every 100 kids in America watching the Olympics was inspired to pick up a ball, try swimming, or learn how to ride a bike? Let’s put a dollar amount on this: on average the US spends over $300,000 on lifetime healthcare costs of per citizen. Studies suggest decreasing obesity would result in a 9-10% reduction of these costs, or approximately $30,000 savings over a lifetime. So if these games inspired only 1 out of every 100 kids to take up sport, then this would positively influence 1% of the current 100 million obese Americans to live healthier lifestyles. That’s a savings of $30 billion.
This is just one example of the potential benefits of hosting the Olympic Games. In addition, there is no doubt much thought that needs to go into what community facilities, coaches and programs need to be in place when the next generation of inspired kids decide to get active and join in.
The first time you walked into Fenway, I’m willing to bet you weren’t aware of the costs to build the place. You also probably don’t remember how much you paid for your ticket (or these days you might). But you will always remember that feeling of first walking out into the park and smelling the freshly cut grass, seeing that first homerun arc over the Green Monster, and feeling that joy and love for the game shared with thirty-four thousand other screaming fans. When you went home that night, maybe you thought to yourself “Hey, that’s kinda cool, I really want to play baseball.”
The Olympics Games and Boston 2024 have the potential to inspire that same feeling among millions of kids in our community and all over the country.