Chris Dempsey

Hey, Boston 2024, it's not US(OC) -- it's you


Hey, Boston 2024. It's not US(OC). It's you. You have rightly earned the execution that common sense and political reality says you deserve on Monday.

Boston 2024 organizing committee 1.0 budget, with $471 million somewhere up in the air // Boston 2024

It's this elemental. The International Olympic Committee is holding its annual get-together later this week, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. At that meeting the IOC will select its 2022 Winter Games city, either Beijing or Almaty, Kazakhstan. The U.S. Olympic Committee simply cannot put itself in the position of going to a meeting at which the IOC is going to select an Olympic city without itself having a viable Olympic bid.

The USOC has given Boston 2024 time to prove itself. Too much time, to be blunt. But now time is up.

It's thus time to accept the inevitable and look ahead to what's next if the USOC has any hope for winning in 2024: Los Angeles.

In 1984, Los Angeles saved the Olympic movement. Now LA has to save the USOC.

And maybe win for 2024. Los Angeles is an Olympic city. It is America's Olympic city.

Recent events have pointed out the vivid contrast between Los Angeles and Boston.

Over the weekend, tens of thousands of fans went to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics World Games. The city of Los Angeles is spending $12 to $15 million in in-kind services in support of the World Games. A torch relay rolled through town before the ceremony.

Boston, meanwhile, has over the past six months proven to the world what most stereotypically consider its worst trait -- coming off as an insulated, angry group of navel-gazing NIMBYs who don't trust outsiders and don't think there is anything in the world that is better or can be improved about the place.

The Hub? Ha.

This Boston bid is so wretched that it has now emboldened Toronto -- which staged he Pan American Games this month -- to seriously consider a candidacy. Let's say Toronto ultimately jumps in. How is the USOC supposed to make the case for another city in the eastern time zone? Against a competitor that is hip, trendy and readily touts its status as the fourth-biggest city in North America? (Mexico City, New York, LA.)

On Friday, the Boston 2024 bid committee released the damning last details of Bid 1.0.

In December, the bid presented certain assertions to the USOC. In January, when Boston was selected, an amazing number of changes had been made. Later still, more changes.

Never even mind the trivial stuff, done for PR purposes, maybe, such as Patriots owner Robert Kraft originally said in December to be on board but mysteriously gone by January.

In the December file: a $471 million revenue gap in the committee's proposed operating budget. January: no mention of that gap or the fact that additional revenues would be needed.

$471 million? Not accounted for? What, it just vanished? No explanation?

December: opposition to the bid characterized as minimal. “Four local activists formed a group in opposition to our bid, and while we respect their differing views and their right to promote them, our polling data shows that they do not represent the majority of public opinion,” Boston 2024 wrote. “No elected official has publicly endorsed the group, they have not received significant financial backing and their efforts have been limited to social media.”

Reality: poll numbers have been -- from the start -- dismal, approvals now in the 30s or 40s. Opposition is a solid 50. The IOC won't go for those numbers. No way.

The televised debate last Thursday between USOC board member Dan Doctoroff and Boston 2024 bid leader Steve Pagliuca, on the one hand, and No Boston Olympics co-chair Chris Dempsey and Smith College economist Andrew Zimbalist, on the other -- it was always going to be a Hail Mary.

It ended up being most memorable for Zimbalist's observation that the bid committee's numbers reflected "drunken optimism." And of course the scene of Doctoroff, who is one of the smartest people anyone could ever meet, being portrayed -- predictably -- as the New York wise guy coming to tell the Boston people what they should do.

Back to December: no referendum. Now: referendum in November 2016.

This alone offers the USOC the easy way out. The IOC's Olympic Agenda 2020, president Thomas Bach's would-be reform plan,  considers the time before September 15, when applicants must be formalized, an "invitation" phase -- when bids are explored in a less-formal sense than before.

The IOC could rightly insist that any such referendum be held before "applicants" become "candidates," which would enable the IOC to kill off Boston early on in its IOC process, causing the USOC -- and the Olympic movement in the United States -- damage for years to come.

All the USOC has to do is hang its hat on Agenda 2020 -- that is, say Boston was an exploratory matter and switch to LA.

The details released Friday don't give the USOC any choice, really.

It would appear that Boston lied, cheated or misrepresented to win in the domestic phase against LA, San Francisco and Washington.

So which is it -- lying, cheating or misrepresenting?

Whichever --  the USOC can't be in the position of aligning itself with an effort where that is a central question.

Note that the Boston people didn't defend what was released in Bid 1.0. Instead, they said the focus now is on 2.0, released in late June. So telling.

If you are the USOC, one, how do you live with that? You hold yourself out to be the standard for the highest sorts of ethical conduct. Yet you would allow people to misrepresent, cheat or lie to you? You accept that -- you look not only foolish but incompetent.

Two, USOC board chair Larry Probst and chief executive Scott Blackmun have spent five years doing good work in the international arena. Should they now go abroad now and expect to be asked, which is it -- lying, cheating or misrepresenting -- and why in the world would you be sticking with this effort?

And there's more.

-- Boston 2024 fundraising? Millions of dollars, yes, but in the low single digits when the number that would be needed is roughly $75 million. Boston 2024 says, in essence, trust us. Query: why? On what basis has Boston 2024 earned public or corporate trust?

-- Mayor Marty Walsh's dithering on the host city contract.

-- Governor Charlie Baker? He has more information at this stage of the bid process than any elected official in history. (Not an overstatement.) And, still, he purportedly can't make up his mind.

These make up the financial and political currents that, finally, would reasonably compel the USOC to action.

You can't run a winning Olympic bid without strong -- indeed, unwavering -- political support.

The USOC, according to an Associated Press report, pushed Baker for support last Friday. (Did the USOC deny the report? Hardly.)

He responded by saying he's still waiting for a consulting report, due out in August.

The governor is due to call in Monday to the USOC's teleconference on 2024. He is on record as saying he's going to tell the USOC board the very same thing he said Friday: he's waiting for that report.

You can understand why, with the poll numbers in the tank, the governor might want to keep his distance.

Compare to Los Angeles:

Poll numbers in the high 70s. The mayor, Eric Garcetti, eager to bring the Games to town. The city council -- 15 members -- unanimously in support. Same for the five-person county board of supervisors: unanimously in support. Backing as well from all around Southern California, including the mayors of towns such as Santa Monica and Pasadena, where events would be held. The governor -- Jerry Brown, everyone -- on board, too, with a signed letter of support to the USOC. The leaders of the state legislature -- they're in support, too.

Indeed, Los Angeles provided to the USOC the signatures of the governor and state senate and Assembly leadership, what in California political circles is called the "Big Five." That letter got done in one day. What does that show? Not only that LA is America's Olympic city. But it's where Olympic stuff gets done.

This is all public. This is all on the record.

Behind the scenes, meanwhile, the IOC has made it clear what should be done. It knows, too, that change is hard and that a switch out of Boston might yield one rough week of bad PR for the USOC. But then that will be that, and the IOC will have what it wants -- a credible American candidate.

That's why, too, the time is now for the switch to LA -- to recognize the inevitable, and move forward.

Time for a shot at winning a 2024 race that might yet be winnable.


#USOCGoHome: seriously, how bad can this get?


Here is a group from the Rome 2024 campaign. They met Thursday at International Olympic Committee headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, with, among others, the IOC president, Thomas Bach. Afterward, it was all smiles.  

Just some of the Rome 2024 delegation with IOC president Thomas Bach //  Twitter

Now let’s search for a Boston 2024 group picture with Bach.

Oh, wait.

You mean there aren’t any? Not even one over the past six months?

Ladies and gentlemen, you know what they say: a picture is worth a thousand words.

To reiterate a point made often in this space, there is only one reason to play the Olympic bid game. It’s to win.

Boston 2024 is not a winner.

The Pan American Games are going on right now in Toronto. Guess who was there just a few days ago? Bach. It’s not far from Toronto to Boston, if you had the inclination to, say, talk up the advantages of Agenda 2020, the IOC’s would-be reform plan.

In bid offices overseas, they have to be gleeful at how bad this Boston 2024 effort is. Because what should be a time for an American bid to shine is, instead, day after day, week after week, a succession of headlines that figuratively scream, how bad can this get?

Indeed, if you’re Toronto, aren’t you thinking a good Pan Ams might just jumpstart your way into the 2024 race? The way it did for Rio de Janeiro in 2007 en route to IOC victory in 2009 for 2016?

The Canadian Olympic Committee even shrewdly put on a gala event in Montreal — where Bach won his gold medal in fencing in 1976. He was the special invited guest, and grew emotional in his reminiscing.

Just what the USOC needs — another contender in the eastern time zone.

In Paris this week, a huge crowd gathered on the Champ de Mars to celebrate Bastille Day and the launch of Paris 2024. The president of France was there. The mayor of Paris. Bid leaders. More than 100 athletes. The Eiffel Tower was lit up.

The Eiffel Tower lit for Paris 2024 and Bastille Day // Paris 2024

In Boston on Thursday, the two top USOC officials met with Mayor Marty Walsh — again, zero photo op — and afterward put out a well-intentioned news release.

But even that release made plain why Boston 2024 is a bad slog.

"We’re pleased to have the support of the Mayor and look forward to working with Steve Pagliuca and the entire team at Boston 2024 to make this bid a success,” USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun was quoted as saying.

Fascinating. Where was the governor, Charlie Baker?

Amazing that Blackmun, along with USOC board chair Larry Probst, could fly all the way to Boston, and take a meeting with the mayor, but the governor was available only by phone.

What the governor is doing right now is waiting for a report from consultants. They’re supposed to assess whether the Boston 2024 plan, dubbed Bid 2.0 in a release made public June 29, is financially feasible.

This is hardball realpolitik.

If this report comes back — next month, probably — and says Bid 2.0 would be a hard sell financially, the governor has the out he needs.

Without key political support, any Olympic bid is a dead-bang loser.

But that’s exactly where Boston 2024 is already.

Compare: in Lausanne Thursday, the Rome delegation was led by the mayor and included a senior representative from the prime minister’s office. That’s important generally but more so now for Rome because the former prime minister was the one who, in February 2012, pulled the plug on Rome’s 2020 effort.

Baker, as demonstrated again Thursday, has shown distance in his approach to Boston 2024.

When Bid 2.0 was released, meanwhile, Walsh — and it’s a bid city mayor who has to sign a host city contract — was nowhere near the scene.

Check Walsh’s Twitter account. There’s he’s a rah-rah cheerleader of sorts, posting regularly — in the last couple weeks, for instance, sending congrats to the U.S. women’s World Cup soccer champs, even wishing the Dalai Lama happy birthday. The last time he posted something about the bid? That appears to be a little over five weeks ago, when he declared, “I will not use public money to build Olympic venues.”

You wonder why Walsh would keep his remove, at least in public, from Boston 2024?

Let us count the ways:

— Post-Bid 2.0 poll numbers in favor of the project range from 37 percent to 42. Worse, 50 percent opposed. That 42 percent is the current WBUR poll; for anyone inclined to say it’s an improvement over last month’s 39 percent reading, that very slight increase falls within the margin of error.

— A stadium design that is estimated at $1.376 billion. For something due to be torn down. This at a time when cost estimates for the Tokyo 2020 stadium have spiraled north of $2 billion, up some $700 million from the original estimate. Who seriously believes that $1.376 billion would be the final number?

— Agenda 2020 is big on the use of existing and temporary venues. Nowhere does Agenda 2020 promote the idea of a temporary $1.376 billion facility. That runs counter not only to policy but common sense.

— Bid 2.0 features no plan yet for an aquatics center or velodrome and a media center priced out at a laughably low $51 million. How can taxpayers be expected to know whether there might be cost overruns when there are no costs to begin with?

— And, as longtime Olympic reporter John Powers points out in the Boston Globe, “What began as an intimate and walkable scheme — the non-LA alternative — now involves half a dozen counties and five of the state’s six largest cities.”

Too, the Globe reports, there’s suddenly going to be a public debate on Boston 2024. On the one side, there’ll be bid chairman Pagliuca and Dan Doctoroff, a former deputy New York mayor and New York 2012 bid leader who is now on the USOC board of directors. On the other, Chris Dempsey, a co-chair of the opposition group No Boston Olympics, and Smith College economist Andrew Zimbalist.

Pagliuca is a basketball guy. But this debate next Thursday is less two-on-two than the feel of something more evocative of football: it’s the Boston 2024 version of a political Hail Mary.

Like, just to be obvious, especially when there are locals who are affiliated with the USOC board of directors: why invite the New York guy to woo the gentle folk of Boston? Should he wear a Yankees cap for full effect?

In Boston, what was the top trending hashtag Thursday? “#USOCGoHome”

Also Thursday, as the Globe reported, a group opposed to public funding for an Olympics filed papers with the state attorney general, aiming to put a question on the November 2016 ballot that would largely prohibit the state from spending money to support the Games.

The USOC has a Sept. 15 deadline by which it must decide what to do.

Upcoming next is the IOC session in Kuala Lumpur, at the end of the month. There you can bet senior USOC officials will hear the same thing they heard in Toronto — you’re making this unbelievably hard and you need to do something to change it.

The answer is so blindingly obvious.

Again, the idea is to win, and to do so within the constraints of Agenda 2020. It’s not to engage in 20- or 30-year urban planning; that’s the lesson from Sochi 2014, and the $51 billion figure associated with those Olympics. Indeed, the unhappy fallout from that $51 billion clearly animates Agenda 2020’s call for restraint.

In Los Angeles, the stadium is a real thing.

Not only that, it was announced this week that USC, which now controls the LA Memorial Coliseum, reportedly has chosen Fox Sports to sell naming rights to the venue.

USC is committed to renovating the facility. Renovations figure to be in the $600 million range. Naming rights figure to bring in huge dollars; the Coliseum, site of the 1932 and 1984 Games, among other spectacles, has never had a naming rights partner.

At the same time, the NFL appears closer than ever to being back in LA. Hello, Coliseum rent.

USC is acting boldly.

The USOC could, too — and here’s how.

The newest initiative on the Olympic scene is what are called the "ANOC World Beach Games." They are now being pushed, and hard, by one of the most influential people in the Olympic scene, Kuwaiti Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah.

The sheikh is the president of the Assn. of National Olympic Committees and, as well, the Olympic Council of Asia.

The first edition of the Beach Games? Perhaps as soon as the summer of 2017.

The 2024 vote? August 2017.

What’s going to be the hot ticket at the Rio 2016 Olympics? Beach volleyball.

Worldwide, everyone knows the home of beach culture: Southern California.

Would it really be that difficult to stage a Beach Games — and win incredible goodwill — in, say, Venice, California?

Venice is hip, urban, has a famous stretch of beach and, not incidentally, is now the home of Snapchat, the way young people increasingly talk to each other. The Beach Games assuredly is aimed at the demographic the Olympic movement has had such difficulty reaching, teens and young 20s.


Also imagine: the IOC is said to be very supportive of this ANOC proposal. At the same time, IOC rules prohibit members from visiting bid cities. But, you know, what about seeking a waiver for those interested in seeing the Beach Games?

If that notion would work the IOC ethics people into a frenzy, there’s always San Diego. It got cut from the USOC 2024 list but is known since to have expressed interest in the Beach Games. San Diego is not Los Angeles; just ask anyone in San Diego. But say what? San Diego is only a two-hour drive away?

This, of course, underscores the fallacy of the no-visit rule. But that’s a topic for another day.

Right now, the days are counting down to Sept. 15. Kill the Boston bid. It's time for the USOC to move with boldness, creativity and resourcefulness. The United States deserves at least a winning chance at pictures with the president of the IOC that are all smiles.