Monday, March 23, 2015

Boston 2024: Thrill of Victory or Agony of Defeat?

Meh (slang: adjective) 1.Expressing a lack of interest or enthusiasm; uninspiring; apathetic            --Oxford English Dictionary

Boston Summer Olympics 2024! Ready, set, GO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

C’mon people! Get psyched for the Olympics, THE OLYMPICS, right here in Beantown! Athletes from around the world.  Our fair city showcased in splendor for all humanity to see!  Massachusetts, a true Hub of global sports competition in less than ten years and counting!  Basketball at the Hall of Fame in Springfield! Golf in Brookline! A brand new 60,000 seat Olympic Stadium in South Boston!

It’s time to get the bandwagon rolling!!!

(Cricket sounds…..)

I’ve tried but I just can’t get excited about the possibility that the Olympics might land here in 2024.  I’m supposed to get pumped up and filled with civic pride. That’s what the Boston 2024 Organizing Committee wants us Bay Staters to do. But our hearts are not in it, not even close.  The collective response thus far to Boston being selected by the International Olympic Committee as the United States’ candidate for 2024? Meh. In a recent WBUR poll of 504 registered Massachusetts voters, support for the Olympics is at 36 percent and falling. Fifty-two percent oppose the games, a bronze medal at best.

Why the big collective yawn? 

It could be that the Olympic cheerleading committee is not exactly stocked with a “who’s who” of recognizable people, unless you’re inside the very inner circle of eastern Massachusetts politics and influence. The Chair is John Fish, head of Suffolk Construction. A very competent guy, great at what he does but can he whip up support among the citizenry? When Boston 2024 did finally bring in a “big name”, former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick as an “Olympics Ambassador”, it made the disastrous public relations mistake of deciding to pay him $7,500 a day as a traveling consultant. Patrick now says he’ll work for free but the damage is done. For such a potentially huge public-private enterprise, this lack of high profile leadership is troubling. Where’s the current Governor? Our Congressional delegation?  Local sports stars? Are any of them on board?  

Our Olympic apathy might be the product of still digging out from the record breaking winter of 2015.  If you had the misfortune in the past seven weeks of trying to ride the “T” or the commuter rail, you’re right to ask how these aging and suspect transportation hubs will do in 2024, moving tens of thousands of athletes and fans around the region.  Ever been on the Pike on a rainy Friday night or Route 128 at rush hour?  Can we really handle the huge strain the Olympics will place on our transportation system? Maybe we first need to figure how to make sure that next winter, the trains run on time.

Perhaps our Olympian malaise is born of legitimate fears about how much recent Olympic Games cost, like Beijing, China (summer 2008, $44 billion) or Sochi, Russia (winter 2014, $51 billion). It helped that each country’s autocratic governments were able to bully through the Games, public input dismissed. Staging the Olympiad is not some amateur operation. (Ironic, huh?) It’s big, big business and big, big money. The 2024 Committee has proposed a budget of $9.1 billion, and promises that it will come from corporate sponsors, developers, broadcast fees, ticket sales and the federal government.  Can the Olympics really be staged at Building 19 prices? Will the numbers hold true for the next decade?  Can anyone say “Big Dig”?

I hate to be a kill joy. The Olympics are an entertaining diversion for two weeks every other year.  And I do love Boston, my birthplace, the regional gem of New England, a cultural and economic center for innovation, higher education, the arts, professional sports, and health care.  Boston is a world class city, and with much effort I suppose we could stage the Olympics.  But no one’s asked or answered the most obvious question. Should we go for gold?

Is this Olympian effort worth it? How about we organize an Olympic level brain trust to tackle issues which really matter to Boston and the region: growing income inequality, or the lack of affordable housing for the poor, working class and young professionals? Where’s the Olympic fanfare to fund and fix our roads and bridges, which are among the worst in the country? Where are corporate and civic leaders to rally around boosting public education? That would be a real victory, far beyond fourteen days of fun in some far off summer.

The Olympics in Boston…it sounds like a good idea, in a press release or at a press conference or on a flashy website, but the reality? For this loyal Bostonian, I hope the 2024 Olympics end up happening somewhere else.  That would be a real victory.


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