America at large: Dave Hannigan

Bostonians increasingly opposed to the city’s 2024 Olympics bid

At a public meeting earlier this year, the people behind Boston’s bid to host the 2024 Olympics proudly showed off their grand plan to erect a temporary beach volleyball stadium in a midtown park.

Many of those in the room loudly hissed their disapproval at the very notion. Boston Common, the proposed site, is the oldest city park in America, the final burial ground for storied artists and original Tea Party veterans, and a hallowed public space.

It’s hardly the kind of historic venue that’s going to be improved by trucking in tonnes of sand and trying for an ersatz seaside vibe.

It’s easy to imagine that at a brainstorming session the heavyweights involved in Boston 2024 figured that transforming the Common might somehow be a winning and eye-catching idea.


Instead, it has morphed into the perfect metaphor for their faltering ambition to host the Games. Seemed like a good idea at the time but, when you consider awkward practicalities like having to chop down some of the most revered oak trees in New England, it’s utterly unworkable and actually kind of ugly.

Just over six months after beating out Los Angeles, Washington DC and San Francisco for the right to compete with Paris, Rome and Hamburg on the world stage, this bid is flagging. Badly.

Molten lava

“The 1908 Summer Olympic Games were originally scheduled to be held in Rome . . . until Mount Vesuvius erupted on April 7, 1906,” wrote

Dan Shaughnessy

in the

Boston Globe

this week.

“The IOC relocated the Olympic Games to London. At this hour, Boston needs some molten lava to stop the madness around the 2024 Olympic bid. Boston 2024 has become a punchline. Some day folks will look back at this misguided effort and compare it to “Gigli,” the PT Cruiser, and Google Glass . . . one more bad idea from the early part of the 21st century. Boston 2024 needs to be put out of its misery. The sooner the better.”

The most influential columnist in the city, Shaughnessy carpeted the organisation for, amongst other things, pulling out of a briefing with the Globe's editorial board. Just one more public relations gaffe in a litany.

Having assured everybody these Olympics would be entirely funded with private money, it emerged Boston 2024 had redacted (never a good word when trying to win people over) crucial sections of their bid detailing the need for taxpayer dollars to help with infrastructure and land acquisition.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

In the immediate aftermath of the London Games, a couple of well-intentioned Boston residents named Eric Reddy and Corey Dinopolous met for a drink to thrash out the feasibility of maybe bringing the showpiece to their home town. Not a new idea. There had been an abortive bid a couple of decades previously. But, this particular campaign gained traction, political support and financial backing very quickly.

And it’s easy to see why. With a history of hosting major sports, a handful of excellent, extant stadiums, and several university campuses with on-site accommodation, Boston looked perfectly equipped for this job.

As is always the case, however, many on the ground regard the whole thing as ill-advised given the extent of the city’s more pressing social problems.

"Over one-fifth of Bostonians live below the poverty line," wrote Jonathan Cohn and Robin Jacks, a pair of community activists, in The Nation.

“The homeless population is rising faster in Massachusetts than in any other state, and Boston faces a severe lack of affordable housing. We have an underfunded school system and an outdated transportation system. Boston could be engaging its citizens in a collective process of planning to build a more equitable and sustainable city in 2015. However, instead of planning the future of Boston for the people of Boston, the city is planning it for the IOC.”

The grassroots opposition has been helped by the campaign immediately reeking of the type of incompetence and financial profligacy traditionally associated with the politicking of the five-ringed circus. Mayor Marty Walsh admitted he never read the full bid proposal before enthusiastically pitching it to the United States Olympic Committee last year.

Deval Patrick, former governor of Massachusetts, was retained as a consultant for $7,500 a day, until the unseemly optics of that made him quickly rethink his position.

Then there’s the ridiculous sense of entitlement. Brookline Country Club (of Ryder Cup 1999 fame) was named as the site for the Olympic golf tournament without even being asked first. Unsurprisingly, the town of Brookline last month voted to formally oppose the bid.

Similarly, Bob Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots and a beloved sports figure in Boston, found himself listed as a member of the official organising committee, a role he'd never agreed to. He's no longer involved either.

Public support

With public support waning, Boston 2024 has come around to the idea of holding a referendum on whether or not Beantown should do this. An acknowledgement of their critics and a wonderfully democratic way to allow citizens make the call. The plan is to put it on the ballot at the next presidential election in November, 2016.

The word from the United States Olympic Committee though is that the bid is on notice and may even be replaced as America’s candidate by Los Angeles as early as this September.

Unfortunately for the pro lobby the timing, like so much else with this plan, is just that bit off.

Dave Hannigan

Dave Hannigan

Dave Hannigan is a contributor to The Irish Times based in New York