The U.S. Olympic Committee has a big decision on its hands at the end of the month: whether to kill off the Boston 2024 bid.
Big, yes. But not difficult. It’s obvious, made more so by an informal survey of key International Olympic Committee members a few days ago in Lausanne, Switzerland, who could not have made it more plain: do the right thing, they said in straightforward, indeed blunt, language, and put this Boston 2024 bid out of its, and everyone’s, misery.
Time is of the essence.
“Move,” said one senior IOC member, often a confidante of IOC president Thomas Bach’s, speaking — like the other members quoted here — on condition of anonymity. This member added, referring to the Boston bid team, “They had their opportunity. They fucked it around.”
“Los Angeles is better than Boston,” said another senior member. “The USA has to change its image.”
Said another, making an imaginary trigger with index finger and thumb, “The sooner the better. It has to be now.”
Get the picture?
Here is the deal, again as candidly as possible.
There is one reason, and one reason only, for the United States to enter the 2024 bid race: to win.
It’s a $75 million gamble, maybe more, in this kind of race. For that kind of money, which in the United States means private investment, that can yield only one satisfactory result:
That, after the October 2009 first-round exit that Chicago 2016 suffered, even with President Obama himself lobbying in person at the IOC session in Copenhagen for his hometown, is what the USOC took to heart.
That is why the USOC did not run for 2020.
All conversations now about how an Olympic bid process can be a great learning process, maybe even a swell stimulus, can be lovely exercises for urban-planning seminars.
But winning is way, way, way better.
Ask London. Or Paris. Which of the two has been on the upswing since that 2005 vote for 2012?
Or New York. Do you really think New York would have preferred to have lost, or won, that 2012 race?
The peril and promise of an American bid
Last week, the IOC’s policy-making executive board met in Lausanne. After a few days, they were joined by almost all the IOC members for briefings related to the 2022 Winter Games race.
The only thing predictable about an IOC election is its unpredictability. That said, there is clearly a feeling within the most influential IOC circles that the time could be right for the Americans.
This despite the FIFA indictments brought by the U.S. Department of Justice — which, truth be told, have caused U.S. interests and in particular the USOC real damage in sports politics, the measure of which remains to be calculated.
The challenges any American bid faces ought not to be understated. One member, reflecting on the imminent signing of a Texas law allowing the open carrying of handguns in public and of concealed handguns on state university campuses — the governor would sign it last weekend — said that measure alone ought to spell the end of the Boston bid. Or, for that matter, Los Angeles, if it came to that.
Who, the member asked, could reliably trust the safety of one’s university-age children in a country with such a law?
For Americans, who understand the differences, geographical and cultural, between Texas and the two coasts, such a rhetorical question might seem — unusual. This, though, is the way it is.
For all that, it is the case that Larry Probst, who is the USOC chairman, and Scott Blackmun, the USOC chief executive, have spent since January 2010 repairing relationships and building international goodwill, in particular among the IOC’s — to use a phrase — thought leaders.
Within the IOC, a good many people have taken notice.
What they can’t now understand is why Probst and Blackmun didn’t do in January, when the USOC seemingly made its 2024 choice, what is expected in Olympic circles — tell the USOC board that Los Angeles was the right choice, and get on with it.
Democracy can be a good thing. But not necessarily in a board setting — at least an Olympic-style board.
In this instance, as was related time and again in Lausanne, Probst and Blackmun should have done what Bach does in the IOC: just do it. The IOC works better when the president is in charge. Same, it was related, for the USOC.
Without a doubt, Probst and Blackmun know full well what will win in Lausanne — or at least have a chance. It’s LA — for 2024 and, if it doesn’t work out, 2028.
One of the fundamental mistakes the U.S. makes is not running the same city, if it loses, again. The IOC likes it when they see cities keep trying — Pyeongchang, South Korea, bid twice before winning a third time for 2018.
It’s time now, it was said in Lausanne, for Probst and Blackmun to tell the USOC board what’s what — to right the mistake that was made in January and, again, get on with it.
The idea of not bidding for 2024 is, of course, one option. But it’s a very poor option. Reading the tea leaves in Lausanne, it’s clear that not bidding for 2024 will — like the Chicago 2016 defeat — set the Americans back three to five to as many as 10 years in IOC circles.
Will the USOC likely encounter a dash of unfavorable publicity if it kills off Boston?
For about a week. And that will be that.
Will Los Angeles be relegated for the next two years to a status as “second choice”?
Maybe. But probably not.
You know what they know how to do in Los Angeles?
Tell stories. In film and in our increasingly digital world.
You know what wins Olympic bids?
Story-telling. And humility. Which the USOC, the embodiment of the American medal machine, could use a dose of — if it manages this turn-around the right way, which actually could and should be super-easy.
Just come right out and say, we made a mistake.
For the sake of clarity:
San Francisco and Washington, the other two 2024 finalists, offered some upsides. But neither, to stress, emerged as a plausible IOC candidate. San Francisco, for all its beauty, can hardly get artificial turf put down in a local park; imagine trying to prepare for, and put on, 28 simultaneous world championships, which is what a Summer Games involves. DC, to many overseas, represents the seat of American imperialism; meanwhile, the very last thing the USOC needs is the oversight of 535 self-appointed mayors, meaning the various members of Congress, casting an eye on seven years of preparations.
So it was Boston or Los Angeles.
If you haven’t been to Los Angeles recently, if you’re stuck on a vision of LA as 1984 or 1992, and can only see it as traffic and been-there, you really need to think again.
This from, of all sources, the New York Times, just last month:
“Los Angeles is an incredible city and is in the center of a creative explosion right now,” Christopher Bailey, Burberry’s chief creative officer and chief executive, wrote [to the newspaper] in an email. “There is an amazing and inspiring mix of people from the worlds of film, technology, music, architecture, food and culture and now fashion, all doing such interesting things there.”
Boston has more than had its chance
The primary problem with Boston is not that the USOC didn’t do its due diligence. It’s that the USOC board chose to dismiss or ignore that diligence, and in particular the low approval numbers in the polls.
Now the figure stands at 39 percent. That is, in a word, abysmal.
The IOC wants 70 percent.
In LA, the poll numbers were in the high 70s.
When the poll number was 67 percent in Chicago, there was something approaching panic.
Now it’s 39 percent in Boston, and they seriously want to talk about keeping this thing going?
Enough, already, with comments such as these from current Boston 2024 spokesman Doug Rubin, who told the New York Times this week, with the committee rolling out new venue plans, “Give us a chance to make the case.”
Boston has had, at the least, a full year to make its case. It was named one of the four USOC finalists in June 2014. Last Dec. 16, those four cities made presentations behind closed doors to the USOC. On Jan. 8, the board picked Boston.
Boston has had ample opportunity to make its case. To say now that it should get more time is, as this space has written before, not fair and not right to the other cities in the domestic campaign, and in particular to the other three finalists.
It’s particularly embarrassing, if not egregious, for Boston 2024 to have sold the USOC on one “concept” and then, six months later, be trotting out a whole new “plan.”
The first “idea” was a walkable, transit-oriented notion in which the city of Boston would be an “Olympic Park.”
This week came word that shooting, originally planned for Boston Harbor, will be 25 miles away, in Billerica. Beach volleyball was originally pitched as Boston’s equivalent of London’s Horse Garden Parade, an iconic, centrally located venue with history; on Wednesday, it was moved to a field in Quincy, just south of Boston. Sailing, it was announced earlier this month, would be moved from Boston Harbor to New Bedford, near Cape Cod.
We are all still waiting on word from Holyoke, in western Massachusetts, and the proposal from the mayor there to move snatch up volleyball.
What’s next? Is basketball going to go to from TD Garden, the home of the Boston Celtics, to Springfield, Massachusetts, two hours away, because it’s the birthplace of the game and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame?
All this is a ploy clearly designed to try to win votes for a November 2016 statewide referendum.
Do you call all these changes "interesting" or do words such as “fraud” start exploding in your head?
The original “concept” made such a big deal, meanwhile, out of involving so many colleges and universities in and around town.
Tennis had originally been planned for Harvard. Now it would be at a facility in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, with the university apparently distancing itself from the bid.
This from Associated Press, regarding the tennis venue: “They had initially been proposed for Harvard University in nearby Cambridge, Mass. but the Ivy League university, which had once been a prominent component of the city's bid, has been distancing itself from the efforts in recent days.”
When a big dog like Harvard starts laying down, what about others? You seriously expect to run an Olympics without the out-front support of a leading institution such as Harvard?
Again, be real.
Enough, already, with the leadership shuffles at Boston 2024. From all accounts, new bid leader Steve Pagliuca is a decent guy. But starting from scratch — with him a few weeks prior, at a separate meeting in Switzerland, making the rounds of the Olympic Museum in Lausanne and not knowing whether for voting purposes the museum officials are important or not — is not the way to win.
Enough with the Massachusetts Rocky Horror political picture show. Here, alone, is a stand-alone reason to kill Boston 2024:
Mayor Walsh tells WBZ re: Olympic bid:" I won't be signing any document that will have the City of Boston responsible for any overruns."
— Jon Keller (@kelleratlarge) June 11, 2015
Boston 2024 may be angling to make this more of a Commonwealth of Massachusetts deal -- maybe even beyond -- but contractually the IOC deals formally with a single entity, and that entity is a city. If Boston Mayor Marty Walsh isn’t willing to sign the host-city contract, that in and of itself is enough to kill the deal. Right now. Done.
Enough, too, with the contrast between the Olympic values — friendship, excellence and respect — and a man later identified as the mayor’s cousin, at one of the various community meetings this spring, calling a woman expressing opposition to Boston 2024 a “fucking piece of shit.”
Enough as well with Pollyanna-ish op-ed pieces like the one posted Wednesday on Huffington Post from Angela Ruggiero, the IOC (athlete commission) member who is also a USOC board member. It was outdated even as it went up, touting the athlete experience — the city as Olympic Park — when that very same day the beach volleyball-to-Quincy announcement was being made, following the shooting-to-Billerica and sailing-to-New Bedford switch-outs, with more almost certain to follow.
Ruggiero, who like Probst was in Lausanne last week, surely has to know better. She has to know the prevailing mood among their fellow IOC members. If she doesn’t, she’s not talking to the right people — or, as someone who, as she acknowledged in her HuffPost piece, got her undergraduate and M.B.A. degrees in Boston, has a serious conflict of interest and ought to recuse herself from any June 30 vote.
Time is of the essence.
“Better faster than later,” an IOC member who is the president of one of the most important international federations said in Lausanne. “It’s an uphill battle.”
“If it’s inevitable,” said another IOC member, “it’s obvious it needs to be pulled immediately."