Keith Strudler: Boston 2024?
Never say that the place that fought for American democracy doesn’t still care about voting. It does, and it will. About the 2024 Olympic Games, that is. Where once it seemed the Boston and greater Massachusetts public wouldn’t have its say about the cities proposed bid to host the 2024 Summer Games, now they’ll have their moment. In a turn of events, the advocacy group Boston 2024 and its chairman John Fish will seek statewide approval for the city’s bid through a public referendum, which Fish himself will help get on the ballot. And if the commonwealth, or even just the city votes against it, Fish promised he and his organization will step down. No Boston bid. No new stadiums. No hotels. No rings – five Olympic or three circus, as the case may be.
This is a bold move for the Olympic aspirants, since recent polls have shown barely a third want the Games in Beantown. That’s down from over half when this was announced last year, when the Olympics was first date instead of a long-term prospect. But a long winter and organized opposition has eroded that support, so much that the Games feel a lot more like Ted Cruz than Jeb Bush. Even if some of it seems reasonable, the longer you think about it, the crazier it sounds.
That likely makes other Olympic bid cities Paris, Rome, and Hamburg quite happy. If Boston were to leave, this would take potentially the sentimental favorite out of the race and, more significantly, keep the United States out of consideration. Since the Summer Games hasn’t come to American shores since Atlanta in 1996, which in US Olympic terms is a relative lifetime, it was largely thought Boston would be a prohibitive favorite. Now, lacking the support of its most vital resource – its residents – the calculus changes.
Boston 2024 will take standard measures to sway public opinion back into their favor before a likely November election. They’ll do big and small, from grass roots events to commercial campaigns. And they’ll likely work with Boston’s Olympic players, including the various universities that would host events and athletes and the metro authorities that will move them. Bostonians can be a skeptical lot, and right now they can’t believe that their city can handle the opening ceremonies better than it did, say, the ’86 Mets.
Residents wouldn’t be wrong in doubting the transformative potentials of the Olympic Games, especially for a town that already suffers from intense gridlock and a cost of living that rivals Monte Carlo. Particularly using the recent past as a guide, Boston could easily end up broke and miserable, which is an unfortunate result for a city that would rather win a World Series than an Olympic Gold. Instead of Boston Strong, right now, it’s more like Boston Skeptical, a characteristic they stole from New Yorkers in 2012 who would have preferred another hurricane come to town than the Olympics, something well reflected in the city’s lackluster bid proposal.
The United States Olympic Committee is none too pleased with the organizing committee’s new bravado/sensitivity. In cases like these, a conversation is often less effective than a bulldozer, which Boston will need plenty of to build the requisite infrastructure to host the world’s largest traveling circus. From their USOC’s perspective, the privilege of hosting should speak for itself. Instead, state residents will speak with their ballots, and I highly doubt the Olympic folks will like what they have to say. As they say, everyone loves the democratic process until they don’t.
Forgetting what this means for Boston, which I think is obvious, the more important question is what this means for the IOC and the future of its Olympic Games. Struggling to find a host for the 2022 Winter Games – where Kazakhstan stands a leading contender – Boston and the United States was solid ground for an organization suddenly having trouble standing straight. Between the cost overruns and political instability of the near past and future Games, Boston was a safe homecoming, a warm bed and hot meal. Only it seems the city and perhaps the nation may be changing the locks, sending the prodigal son back out to find its own place. Whether that’s Rome, which already has enough debt for the rest of Europe combined, or some country that sounds straight out of a Bond film, it’s hard to say. But Boston’s upcoming election is about more than the future of their beleaguered T trains and whether Fenway might get a facelift. It’s about whether the Olympics remains relevant and solvent and even existent in the current era of global economics. That’s what’s on the ballot this fall in the great commonwealth of Massachusetts, whether John Fish and Boston 2024 know it or not. But perhaps it does seem fitting. After all, Boston has always cared deeply about its right to vote.
Keith Strudler is the director of the Marist College Center for Sports Communication and an associate professor of communication. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler
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