One Small Thing Missing From Boston Olympics Debate: Sport

Embarrassed.

That’s how I felt after watching the Boston 2024 live televised debate broadcast on Fox 25 TV and livestreamed on BostonGlobe.com.  Proponents, bid Chairman Steve Pagliuca and Boston 2024 Board Member Daniel Doctoroff faced off against their opponents, Co-Chair of the No Boston Olympics group Chris Dempsey and Andrew Zimbalist, a Smith College economist.  I was embarrassed for all of them too.

For an hour they talked about temporary venues, tax breaks, public transit, urban development, traffic, New York, the Prince of Monaco and Pagliuca’s drive to the office Thursday.

Boston 2024 and Opponents Debate Olympic Bid (Fox 25 Screen Grab)

Boston 2024 and Opponents Debate Olympic Bid (Fox 25 Screen Grab)

In his closing Pagliuca said “I think this is a once in a lifetime economic opportunity to take Boston to the next level.”

Were they talking about an Olympic bid?  Because if they were you’d think members of Boston 2024 and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) might have worked in a few comments about sport.

Pagliuca mentioned the catalyst for transit, but what about the catalyst for a culture of volunteerism.  Doctoroff spoke of the reduced traffic during past Olympic Games but didn’t discuss the beauty of diversity, tolerance and unity at those Games.  Dempsey said that funds wouldn’t be prioritized to areas that Bostonians find important yet failed to acknowledge the potential widespread benefits to a generation of youth who would be inspired to a healthier, safer and higher quality lifestyle.

The climactic moment where sport was mentioned came when Pagliuca said, skittishly, that the Olympic marathon would be free for spectators to watch.  Then it was straight back to ticket prices and budgets.

I get it.  At this stage Massachusetts constituents want to know about things that will impact their day-to-day lives, and their economic futures.  That’s okay.  But if they just want to play it safe and aren’t really interested in the Olympic benefits – they should not be bidding, and accordingly, they’ve said that in the polls.  Boston 2024 and the USOC should accept this.  And that’s okay too.

The debate made the bid seem like a large urban development project with the 17 days of sport a secondary issue.  That’s not okay.

To coin a contemporary expression – the debate was an “epic fail” for all concerned.

Boston 2024 Olympic Bid Stadium Depiction (Source: Boston 2024)

Boston 2024 Olympic Bid Stadium Depiction (Source: Boston 2024)

Doctoroff, a veteran of bids who during the debate frequently referred to his involvement with New York 2012, didn’t mention the failed rail yards development project and Manhattan Jets Stadium deal that fell apart in the late days of his bid ultimately destroying any chance the city had to win.  Centered around the stadium, that bid too was all about urban development and less about sport – and the IOC gave its feedback in the form of a fourth place finish out of five cities in the running.

Boston taxpayers don’t want to pay for the Games, and who could blame them?  But when you invite guests to a party you’ll need to spend some money to fix up the place and make it a memorable occasion – especially if the guest of honour is bringing $1.5 billion of their own money to help out.  Many other cities are willing to pay for the opportunity (you knew I’d mention Los Angeles somewhere here – wait, I didn’t,) perhaps they should be given the chance.

It’s common to measure the success of an Olympics by the amount of money the Games “made”, or by the lack of any deficit.  But the thought of hosting an Olympics for monetary profit is absurd.  Games should be hosted to gain lasting tangible and intangible legacies that will improve the quality of life for those in a city and a nation.  Isn’t it reasonable to pay something for that benefit?

On Friday Boston 2024 released the full unredacted version of so-called bid version 1.0 – the original document with which the USOC elected the Massachusetts city instead of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington.  When the same document was initially released, pages regarding the budget and government support were held back.  Now  No Boston Olympics says the newly released pages spoke about possible budget deficits and the existence of bid opposition

Pagliuca said that after he was appointed Chair in May, he made commitments about bid transparency, and this was his gesture to begin earning the trust of taxpayers who may be guaranteeing cost over runs.

But as proponents and opponents spewed rhetoric about Friday’s developments, not a single point about sport was made.  There were no comments made about possible sailing in the harbour or baseball at Fenway Park.

Again, if no one is interested in sport – it’s still okay if Boston doesn’t bid.

If the bid does move forward and the November 2016 binding referendum is scheduled, we’ll hear much more about taxes, revenues, developers and traffic over the duration of the campaign and less of the benefits for athletes and from the sport that are both the focus of the Games.  That would be a huge waste of time, and money – causing further embarrassment.

The USOC has until September 15 to decide whether to enter Boston 2024 into the race – or not.

It’s okay if it chooses not.

Robert Livingstone

About Robert Livingstone

Robert Livingstone is a senior editor, award-winning journalist and author, covering Olympic bid business as founder of GamesBids.com as well as providing freelance support for print and Web publications around the world. He is a member of the Olympic Journalists Association and the International Society of Olympic Historians. Follow him @enotsgnivil