“Wow, can you believe this?!”
These were the first words Boston Mayor Marty Walsh broadcast live to his city since it was nominated to bid for the 2024 Olympic Games.
The short answer from most Americans, especially those from Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington who had held their fingers tightly crossed on Thursday, would be “no.”
It was clearly an unexpected turn of events when the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) announced that it had selected Boston to represent America on the international stage as a potential host for the Olympic Games.
“I’m wicked excited, Boston is wicked excited,” Bid Chair John Fish exclaimed as only a Bostonian could.
It’s easy to get caught up in the charm and elation of Boston’s bid team, but not so easy to understand the USOC’s decision. Why would they take a pass on Los Angeles, a city with the experience and legacy of a two-time host? Or the scenery and culture of San Francisco? Or even the clout offered by Washington?” Boston is a relatively unknown on the international scene.
Well, we don’t know what we don’t know – and that was an intentional strategy put forth by the bid committee.
“What we didn’t want to do is excite the community on potential plans that might not materialize,” Fish explained as the reason for not revealing plan details to the public.
But that was clearly a strategic move that helped Boston gain a competitive advantage over its rivals. Beyond venues and budgets – all of which are merely incidental at this early stage – the Boston bid team engaged in strategy and tactics to show that they had a vision to get to the end game, and that they could work well with the USOC.
I’m wicked excited, Boston is wicked excited!
– Boston Bid Chair John Fish
While opposition to the bid organized and criticized the lack of transparency, the bid committee and municipal government were already developing plans to be transparent, involve the community and then reveal all of it when necessary. That time is now.
Just as Bostonians were getting the news that their city had been selected, city hall released a schedule for nine community consultation meetings to be held before the application is submitted to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The Mayor also made a commitment that no public money would be spent on event venues – these would all be privately funded. This wouldn’t include infrastructure costs with respect to things like transportation upgrades.
“Why Boston has put itself in a such a very strong position from a competition point-of-view is because we have over 100 universities in our Boston community,” Fish said.
“There is no other state or city in America that has that.
“And all of those universities have a majority of the facilities that we need, and if they don’t have those facilities, or those facilities are not up-to-date, they are planning for today for the future to make those improvements.”
“Since we have started this dialog, what has happened is three or four of these institutions have come to us and asked us ‘can we build this particular facility for the Olympics use that we will have afterwards’ because there is nothing more impressive from a recruiting point-of-view for something like Harvard or M.I.T. to have an Olympic venue at their campus.”
Indeed, the bid estimates that 70-75% of the required venues will be on University campuses.
This fact would have had significant bearing on the USOC decision, especially since both Los Angeles and San Francisco also had strategic plans with universities.
Boston 2024 has implemented a comprehensive insurance policy that is intended to protect taxpayers, the bid committee and the USOC from liabilities, and moving forward plans will be modified that could protect against cost overruns. Also, since the IOC requires financial guarantees with the application – this insurance might be leveraged for that purpose.
“We were the only city to insist on this,” Fish said.
In fact, Boston bid leaders had met with Patrick Ryan, insurance mogul and former Chair of the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid, to help formulate the plans.
Do you think Boston 2024 was the right choice for the USOC?
- No (58%)
- Yes (32%)
- Not Sure (10%)
Fish and his team conveyed to the USOC that they knew the issues, knew the risks and knew what had to be done. The physical plans aren’t too relevant at this time since there are still months left to develop them.
It’s a “living organism”, IOC member Larry Probst said on the status of the bid at the moment.
USOC Chair Scott Blackmun said that his committee asked the bids to go light on the public discussion, he didn’t want to promote an “arms race” that would see effort and expense increase for the cities.
What they wanted instead, was to find the right partners.
Probst outlined the key criteria used that led to the selection of the Boston team. He said the bid showed that they planned an athlete centered bid that was cost effective, cost efficient, it aligned with the vision for Boston, it mirrored the reforms of IOC’s Agenda 2020 – and it showed a passion for sport.
But there was more.
“This is a team we think we can work with,” Probst said.
“It’s a nine-year partnership”
Fish explained it another way
“I believe strongly Boston does have a phenomenal story to tell,” he said.
“The world sends its youth to Boston to be educated. The world sends its sick to Boston to be healed. The world sends its great minds to Boston to innovate. The world sends businesses from all over to invest. Why don’t we send the world’s greatest athletes to compete in Boston?”
To the bid’s opponents, the transparency will begin.
“I promise that this will be the most open and transparent and inclusive process in Olympic history,” the Mayor said.
Fish explained that the bid is now a “proof of concept” and “nothing we have done today is cast in stone.”
The community will help develop plans moving forward.
Walsh promised “a new kind of Olympics.”
Boston’s selection and innovative response to Agenda 2020 will help ignite the start of the 2024 campaign which the IOC is set to open next Thursday with the new invitation phase.
There’s still nine months before nominations are due, so Boston has time to introduce itself to the world.