Dismissing Washington D.C., San Francisco and Los Angeles, the United States Olympic Committee announced earlier this month that it had selected Boston as its official candidate for host of the 2024 summer games. In assembling their bid package, members of the Boston 2024 executive committee have looked at college and university campuses, and facilities across the metro area, in order to assemble a list of possible venue sites.
Last fall, Gloria Larson, one of the members of the Boston 2024 committee, met with senior members of Tufts’ administration about the possibility of building a major venue on the Medford/Somerville campus. University Director of Athletics Bill Gehling (A ’74) was included in these negotiations.
“They did come out and talk to us at Tufts about the possibility of building an aquatic center out here,” Gehling said.
He explained that by the time the games came to Boston, better access to Somerville would make Tufts a more attractive location to host the venue.
“By the time 2024 comes around, the Green Line station will be up and running,” he said. “So subway access to Tufts is much easier.”
According to Gehling, the negotiations settled on the fields beside Curtis Hall and the railroad tracks, mostly used for club sports and recreation, as a probable location for the aquatic center.
Ultimately, Tufts was not identified in the proposal as the preferred location for the venue, though the proposed sites are not set in stone, according to university Executive Vice President Patricia Campbell.
“The proposal that the U.S. Olympic Committee is now going to make to the international committee does not have the aquatic center at Tufts,” Campbell said. “I would make the comment that it’s a process over time … it’s a long way away, nearly ten years away, and so the bids tend to change based on a whole variety of factors.”
According to Campbell, the university administration had expressed significant interest in hosting the center, and still does.
“We’d love to have that aquatic center and have the aquatic events here; that would certainly be ideal for us — we would have loved it,” she said.
After an extended closure last year of Tufts’ current aquatic facility, the 70-year old Hamilton Pool, due to cracks found during routine maintenance, the administration has been looking for ways to update the facility. Gehling said that the aquatic center would be an ideal solution to the problem.
“If you just look at our athletics facility, our pool is one piece of our facility that’s just completely inadequate. It’s inadequate even just for our varsity programs, but it’s clearly inadequate to meet the needs of our entire community,” he said.
According to Gehling, the aquatic center would have left Tufts with an Olympic-sized pool, capable of holding twenty lanes. Its larger capacity would have also meant more pool hours open to the public, and less reserved for varsity teams.
While the administration wants to build a larger pool anyway, Gehling said that the university would have received outside financial support for construction if it were to be an Olympic venue.
“I think we still would have had to raise a significant amount of money, because we’re going to be left with it, but I think the feeling was that we wouldn’t have had to raise as much ourselves, [and] also the effort to raise it could have been easier,” Gehling said.
A number of other Boston universities are still in the running to host new facilities, or events in existing facilities. According to Campbell, University of Massachusetts-Boston was being considered as a site for athlete housing.
“The Commonwealth would like to expand [the UMass-Boston] campus as a residential campus, and so if dorms are being built anyway, they could be built with the idea of being used as an Olympic Village,” Campbell said.
According to The Boston Globe, other possible venues include the Harvard Stadium for field hockey and the Boston Common for beach volleyball. Closer to Tufts, Assembly Square in Somerville may host a temporary Velodrome.
University Director of Public Relations Kim Thurler said regardless of whether Tufts hosts any Olympic facilities or events, the international nature of the games is in line with the university’s focus on global citizenship.
“[There are] a couple of strengths that Tufts offers in the area of active citizenship through [the Jonathan M.] Tisch College of [Citizenship and Public Service], The Talloires Network … and also our emphasis on globalism and internationalism,” she said.
According to Thurler, Tufts hopes to play a role in ensuring that the games have a lasting positive impact on the city, by supporting youth and community civic engagement.
“Even if we were not to be the physical site for one of the venues for an event, there would still be ways for us to support involvement by students and other constituents around the city in a positive way to make sure the event is a benefit to the city and has opportunities for leadership and volunteerism with the Tufts community,” she said.
Campbell agreed, adding that the games would provide ample opportunities for student involvement.
“You can imagine trying to man such a major enterprise, I think there’ll be lots of opportunities for students to be volunteers,” she said.
She also speculated that Tufts’ facilities downtown might see use during a Boston games.
“We have [the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy], which is unusual, so how important is nutrition to athletes,” she said. “We have the [Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine], and so for the equestrian events there could be a role that would be played; who knows, but you can imagine veterinarians helping to staff some of the equestrian events.”
Boston’s bid doesn’t move to the IOC without controversy. Groups like No Boston Olympics have opposed the games on the basis of their price tag, which may come to more than $15 billion.
While concerned about the strain that the games might put on the city, Gehling is confident that Boston’s Olympics will be able to overcome their technical and administrative challenges.
“I have concerns about whether or not a city that already has traffic problems will be able to accommodate this kind of influx of people without bringing the city to a halt, but there are some really smart people working on it and thinking about it, and if those hurdles can be overcome, I think the Olympics becomes a wonderful vehicle to cast a positive light on the whole city of Boston and certainly all of the colleges, including Tufts, that are a part of the greater Boston area,” he said.