Rule No. 1 of politics is look after yourself. Thus the mayor of Boston and the governor of Massachusetts have to be ever-so-quietly tripping over themselves in a race to bring the execution hammer down, and hard, on Boston 2024. What we have here, friends, is a situation that is not good and is not going to get better. This space said so nearly two months ago in urging the relevant authorities to pull the bid. It’s actually worse now than then, and here’s why: Boston 2024 has devolved into a bait-and-switch, and if all involved would just step back and see it for what it is, and has become, they would be well-advised — for their own self-preservation — to kill it now.
Before it truly gets ugly.
This means — especially — the U.S. Olympic Committee, too.
What we have here, bottom line, is one of the most inexplicable failures in recent Olympic memory of due diligence.
Forget for a moment about being the mayor of Boston or governor of Massachusetts. If you were the mayor, governor or president of the chamber of commerce representing one of the nearly three dozen cities that got looked at and passed over in the course of this WTF process, wouldn’t you start wondering about matters such as “accountability” and “oversight”? To whom might you direct your concerns?
Further, who now should have a high level of confidence in the USOC to run a bid process? Considering: Chicago 2016? New York 2012? Now this for 2024?
The USOC 2024 process
The USOC embarked in February 2013 on a path designed to gauge interest in the 2024 Summer Games. It sent out letters to the mayors of 35 cities.
In June 2014, the USOC cut that list to four: Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington.
Last Dec. 16, the four cities made presentations behind closed doors to the USOC board of directors.
On Jan. 8, the board picked Boston.
Ultimately, San Francisco and DC were never going to be viable, each for different reasons. The contest, really, got down to LA and Boston.
Boston was chosen, purportedly because of the walkability of many of its venues centered around its collection of colleges and universities; the strength of its leadership team, featuring businessman John Fish; and its “athlete-focused vision” for the Games.
USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun, in a news release, when Boston was picked: the USOC “couldn’t be more excited about the strong partnership we’ve established with the leadership team in Boston,” primarily Fish and Mayor Marty Walsh.
USOC board chair Larry Probst: “We’re excited about our plans to submit a bid for the 2024 Games and feel we have an incredibly strong partner in Boston that will work with us to present a compelling bid.”
What about the vocal, local opposition?
In Los Angeles, poll numbers in favor of the Games ran to the high 70s. Those kinds of numbers are virtually unheard-of in a democracy.
At that closed-door meeting in December, Walsh either did — or did not — say there was no “real opposition” in Boston.
It simply could not be the case that there was no opposition.
Poll numbers in favor of the Games have consistently run about or under 50 percent, dropping as low as into the 30s. Opposition has been organized and loud. When asked if public funds would be used, opposition to the Games skyrockets.
How could the USOC have so failed to vet Boston appropriately?
The Boston situation
Since the day Boston was selected, the situation has gone from bad to worse.
There has been misstep after misstep — public relations, organizational, political.
Some have been widely publicized, including the blunder by Angela Ruggiero, the U.S. hockey star and now International Olympic Committee member, who on Monday told the Boston city council, “Right now, the USOC is going through a similar vetting process to make sure Boston is the right city. So there’s no guarantee Boston will be the city in September,” when the IOC requires a formal submission of bids.
Strike one: wasn’t that vetting — in other terms, that due diligence — supposed to have been done by January, when the USOC made its choice?
Strike two: “no guarantee”? Yikes.
Some missteps have not been picked up the mainstream press, which typically is not keyed in to the dynamics of the Olympic bid scene. For instance, the world alpine ski championships were held in Vail, Colorado, in February, the biggest Olympic sports event in the United States in years. The IOC president himself, Thomas Bach, showed up. Did Fish?
And you wonder why in IOC spheres they look at us in the United States and ask why we can’t get our stuff together in these bid races? To date, and this is being gentle, in international circles the talk is this Boston bid has not particularly advanced American chances in 2024. Beyond that, what has happened in the United States has emboldened the likes of Paris, Hamburg, Rome and others.
Back to the particulars of the Boston bid itself.
It’s one thing in an Olympic campaign for there to be tweaks to a bid. But what is now the Boston 2024 bid bears almost no resemblance to the “plan” that got selected in January.
It's worth asking now whether there was actually a “plan.”
That is a huge, indeed fundamental if not unforgivable, part of the problem as it is now.
Instead of walkability, now there is discussion — purportedly spurred by the IOC’s Agenda 2020 would-be reform platform — of having events anywhere and everywhere. All over New England. Chicago, maybe. What about New York?
That’s not fair and that’s not right to the other three dozen cities who started out in this process; it’s especially not fair and not right to LA and, as well, to San Francisco and DC.
To use a distinctly American expression: that’s shifting the goal line once the game starts. Putting it another way — that’s not the American way to play ball.
Again, how could the USOC have made such a fundamental miscalculation?
As for Fish — he is apparently being relegated to the sidelines.
Rich Davey was not part of the bid team that presented to the USOC. Now he is the Boston 2024 chief executive.
Steve Pagliuca, the Bain Capital executive and co-owner of the Boston Celtics, was not part of the bid team. Now he is purportedly in line to become chairman of the Boston bid.
Again, you make a deal with a guy — Fish — and then five months later he seemingly has been told, thanks, dude, see you, and yet you expect everyone else from around the country who took part in the "process" to shrug and carry on as if it’s business as usual? Again, not right and not fair.
If from the get-go the USOC was determined to avoid a repeat of the New York 2012 and Chicago 2016 defeats, there’s this — bid leader Dan Doctoroff from the start was an integral part of the New York effort, bid chief Pat Ryan the same for Chicago. You can’t pin the New York or Chicago losses on either of them. Indeed, Doctoroff since March has been a member of the USOC board of directors; in 2010, the USOC gave Ryan a major award for his efforts on behalf of Chicago 2016.
The Boston “plan” has changed. Leadership has changed. If you think you’re buying an apple and five months later, it’s a lemon, what have you got? What word, or words, would you use to describe that situation?
The referendum conundrum
All this, and we still haven’t gotten to the most unfortunate part of this entire Boston 2024 deal.
No way, absolutely no way, can you expect to make this all about a referendum in November 2016 that aims toward an IOC vote the next summer for the 2024 winner.
Most likely, the referendum would pass. Fifty percent plus one is probably a no-brainer in a blue state with a Democratic candidate running for president of the United States.
It needs to pass by 70 percent. That’s the number the IOC wants to see to feel welcomed.
The fatal flaws here are multiple.
One, 70 percent amounts to very, very tricky math in a democratic (small-d) environment that’s not named “Los Angeles” and doesn’t enjoy the warm memories of the 1984 Olympics.
Two, if the USOC opts to stick with Boston, it guarantees all of us 14 months, from September 2015 until November 2016, of intensified, galvanized, polarized opposition to the bid. The USOC is going to be trying to run two campaigns simultaneously — one aimed at winning the referendum, the other aimed at wooing IOC members. Opponents, who have made plain they understand social media, are going to prove relentless.
If the referendum passes — be sure the opposition is hardly going to give up.
Does this sound like a winning recipe for inviting the IOC to town?
Three, Walsh has been all over the map with this. The day after Boston was chosen, he said, no referendum. Two weeks later, his office issued a statement saying he was “not in support of a referendum,” but adding, “Should the public decide to collect signatures for a referendum, that is a right of the people that the mayor fully supports.”
In March, Fish announced there would be a statewide referendum, saying the mayor along with Gov. Charlie Baker and the USOC were on board.
Now the USOC has committed itself to a strategy that is wholly dependent on the due diligence it should have rightfully done before making its choice.
Which, obviously, it could have avoided altogether by picking Los Angeles.
Disclaimer: I live in Los Angeles. This has nothing to do with what comes next.
You wonder why the USOC didn’t go the easy route — especially when the headlines this week are all about the new $250-million, privately financed, 22,000-seat soccer stadium that’s going to go up in LA at the site of the old Sports Arena, just steps away from the Coliseum, which is where the 1932 and 1984 track and field events (and ceremonies) were held, and where 2024 would have been staged, too.
That is, literally, walkability.
Who's involved with this new stadium? Magic Johnson, the Lakers icon and -- let's remember -- Dream Team 1992 Barcelona Games star. He's now a big-time LA businessman, among other things. Also: Mia Hamm, probably the best-known American female soccer player in history, with three Olympic medals, two gold.
Would there be a referendum now in LA? Who knows?
But so much stuff is getting done now in LA: that new MLS soccer stadium, the imminent arrival of at least one and probably two NFL teams, a $6 billion fundraising campaign at USC (already at $4 billion), even the New York Times touting Los Angeles as hipster central. Plus the biggest secret in LA: $40-billion in voter-approved transit investment to be rolled out over the next 20 years, adding 102 miles of rail, not road, and almost 100 new stations. Also, a 73-story hotel and office building going up downtown that will be the tallest building west of the Mississippi — directed by the very same gentleman, Y.H. Cho, who is in charge of the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea.
Plus the mayor, Eric Garcetti, is a political rock star.
Oh, and the weather.
Really. You just wonder.
The awkward position the USOC has perhaps put itself in now is ensuring that the only — the one and only — place in the entire United States that is guaranteed, absolutely guaranteed, to win a referendum big on the Olympics is Salt Lake City.
You want the Games in this country sometime soon-ish? Salt Lake City 2026. There you go.
The problem there is that the Winter Games simply are not the Summer Games. The Winter Games are great. But the Summer Games are the franchise.
To be clear about one thing: throughout these past several months, the USOC has not, repeat not, been in contact with LA. They have been in the business of giving Boston a chance.
But that time is now at a close.
The USOC’s board meeting is in late June in the Bay Area. For all concerned, it should be clear by then, if not before — like, now — that this charade of a Boston bid be put down.
Suggestions and alternatives
With all that in mind, here are some suggestions:
— The USOC has said the January vote for Boston was unanimous. Not really. The endorsement of Boston, when all was said and done, may have been unanimous. The vote was not. In the interests of transparency, make public the vote: who on the board as it was then constituted voted for Boston and who for LA. Make everyone available to explain why.
— Dump Boston 2024, at the latest by the June board meeting. Sooner, if possible. Back to rule No. 1 of politics: there are a lot of really smart people in a lot of interesting offices across the United States (and IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, and beyond) who have yet to take a close look at this turmoil and who, if they did, would assuredly wonder how and why this got to where it is.
And some alternatives:
— Admit Boston was a mistake. Be humble. They like it around Lausanne and elsewhere when Americans admit to humility. Endure one bad week, PR-wise. Commit to LA for 2024 and 2028, too, because 2024, given the beating the American brand has already taken these past five months, might already be a loss-leader.
— Or simply pull out entirely of 2024. Remember, always: Paris lost by just four votes for 2012 to London, and the IOC likes repeat bidders. In contrast to the American way, the French are going about their 2024 process by building community and political support slowly but surely, cobbling together the needed coalition.
— Salt Lake 2026. After the fiasco that is the 2022 race, it could be a slam-dunk winner. Even after the biggest corruption scandal in Olympic history, the IOC just might be all-too-tempted 24 years later to come back to Utah. That, friends, is called irony.