Roger Crandall

Predictable, unfortunate: Boston 2024 for now


Predictably if unfortunately, the U.S. Olympic Committee on Tuesday decided to stay the course — at least for now — with the “partners” who threaten to drag it down, Boston 2024, officials saying they want time to judge if Boston’s Bid 2.0, a nakedly jacked-up economic development project, can turn matters around.

An Olympics is supposed to be about the athletes. A celebration of sport and ideals: friendship, excellence and respect. You wouldn’t have known that from the news conference immediately following the USOC’s board of directors meeting, in which USOC and Boston 2024 leaders focused almost exclusively on urban development, Boston 2024 chairman Steve Pagliuca saying of Bid 2.0, “What has transpired since [its] release yesterday is the discussion now is this is an amazing economic development program that allows the state and city to accomplish a lot of goals, including jobs.

“This program includes 100,000 job years,” he said, adding, “That’s the gross number of jobs created by the Olympics itself, and by the infrastructure that’s needed for the Olympics. It brings in billions of dollars to the region. Housing. And all sorts of other educational and other opportunities for youth. I think we have to have a new discussion on that opportunity and that we represent the United States in one of the most important sporting events in the world.”

A moment later, again: “This is a rare opportunity. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I haven’t seen an economic development opportunity this large in the last 35 years in Boston. It’s the opportunity of a generation.”

At Tuesday's USOC news conference // via Twitter

Gosh, if only Bud Greenspan were still alive to have filmed such a moving and touching soliloquy to the Olympic Games and all they stand for.

If the USOC had the guts to do what it should do, what it knows it needs to do, it would drop this nonsense and get on with a bid from Los Angeles.

It would run LA for 2024 and, if need be, 2028.

The low polling numbers in Boston, with approval ratings at 39 percent — or if you want to be charitable, in the 40s — are evidence of how poorly this thing has been received.

But no.

After the board meeting in Redwood City, California, both Larry Probst, the USOC board chair, and Scott Blackmun, the USOC’s chief executive, took pains Tuesday to stress that the intent is to give Bid 2.0 time, to see whether the poll numbers can creep up to acceptable levels.

The IOC wants 70 percent.

Like any guest who comes to someone’s house, the IOC wants to feel welcomed. At 70 percent, it feels the love.

As Blackmun said, “At the end of the day, it’s about the fact that we have a new plan. That plan has not had a chance to be rolled out in Boston yet. We are very intrigued by it. We are very excited by it. It is, as I said earlier, a plan that is really consistent with the vision that formed the basis of the USOC’s decision in January,” when it picked Boston over LA, San Francisco and Washington.

How that can possibly be the case — consistent with “the vision” earlier in the year — is, at best, problematic.

The January plan was based on “walkability,” the idea of Boston as an “Olympic Park” and the intense involvement of area universities to engage young people.

Now, for instance, Harvard is in only for archery.

Venues are being spread all over Massachusetts, in a clear play to try to win votes for a November 2016 statewide referendum — a measure that Probst acknowledged the “IOC has expressed some concern about,” which is code for a tremendous amount of concern.

Boston as Olympic Park? Try beach volleyball, which originally had been set for Boston Commons, now in Quincy.

Because venues all over the state, so much for walkability. As even Boston 2024 vice-chair Roger Crandall noted Tuesday, the original concept was “originally envisioned as a completely Boston-centric plan.”

And as of Monday the Bid 2.0 focus is on a Boston Games as urban catalyst — when Sochi 2014 cost $51 billion, Beijing 2008 at least $40 billion, London 2012 some $14 billion, Rio 2016 now pegged at $16 billion.

This is why the Olympics are now such a tough sell in western democracies. Yet this is precisely the sales job the USOC and Boston 2024 want to try to foist upon taxpayers?

Pagliuca took some time Tuesday to try to explain levels of insurance as backup. Good luck explaining that around town. For most people, listening to that is like listening to the teacher’s voice in the old Charlie Brown cartoons: wah wah wah wah. Something about insurance, right? And didn’t he say that the Olympic Village is going to cost $2.8 billion? That’s a lot of money!

Pagliuca, obviously new to the Olympic bid scene, also committed the two cardinal sins for any American — lasering in on the financial upside of a Games and proclaiming that “we” will win.

The IOC traditionally has displayed an intense disfavor for Americans who focus on money. Moreover, the IOC wants Americans to show humility in every regard.

Pagliuca: “Any great project, anything that can be so transformational, create a whole new neighborhood, parkland, connections, leave Boston in a much better place in 2030, 2040, that dovetails with the mayor’s plan in terms of urban renewal and growth, I think people will decide that small risk is well worth taking to get those incredible benefits, and bring in the billions of dollars for the Olympics, and the thousands of spectators from all over the world to showcase Boston as a world-class city.

“So we are very confident that the voters and anybody who looks at this will say this is a very sound, prudent plan that minimizes the risk and maximizes the opportunity, and fits in well, and perfectly, with Agenda 2020,” IOC president Thomas Bach’s would-be reform plan, “and I think will be the winning bid on the world stage.”

So backward.

A winning bid focuses not on what an Olympics can do for a city. It’s what a city can do for the Olympic movement.

Yet here was Pagliuca talking about new neighborhoods, jobs and economic development, and the USOC leadership resolutely sticking up for this noise in hopes of seeing poll numbers tick up?

When there’s an alternative where the poll numbers are already way, way up? Like, in the high 70s?

Where the focus is putting on a great Games in service to the Olympic movement? Just like in 1932 and 1984?

There is so much good that can be said, and sold, about an Olympics, particularly in the United States.

Yet now we are already reduced to the pros and cons of a public-policy exercise?

That’s not what an Olympic bid should be about.

It should be about inspiration.

Not contracting.

Which, by the way, this Boston bid gets totally wrong, too. If you get a bid on work in your house, do you really, truly expect the contractor to deliver the job for the amount it was bid for? How often in real life does that happen? Isn’t it more like x plus 30 percent? If you’re lucky?

In the Olympic world, 30 percent would be a godsend.

Those London Games — again, finally, $14 billion — were originally pitched as a $4 billion exercise.

When the Games were awarded to London in 2005, it was said Olympic Stadium would cost $440 million. Now, after transforming it to a 56,000-seat soccer stadium, with track and field facilities: $1.1 billion. West Ham, the Premier League soccer team, is contributing all of $24 million. Thanks, West Ham!

In Tokyo, site of the 2020 Games, according to reports out just this week, the National Stadium is now due to cost $2 billion. Original estimate: $1.3 billion.

This, by the way, after Tokyo 2020 officials have cut $1.7 billion overall via Agenda 2020.

Who in their right mind really thinks Olympic budget projections end up being the real deal?

Boston 2024 is proposing a temporary stadium that would cost — they say — $1.376 billion. It would be torn down after the Games.

Blackmun: “The thing we want to avoid more than anything else is building expensive permanent stadiums that [are] un-used after the Games, so whether it’s a temporary stadium that’s relocated or a permanent stadium that’s used by somebody else, the thing we want to avoid are permanent stadiums that aren’t used. So if this is a cost-effective approach that minimizes the budget expenditure of the stadium, we are completely in favor of it.”

As opposed to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which is already there, which is twice a proven Olympic success, which is going to be refurbished — without cost to taxpayers for up to $600 million — by the University of Southern California and which is guaranteed, no matter what, to be used?

In that comparison, and an Olympic Stadium is the centerpiece of any bid, it’s very difficult to see the logic that favors Boston.

The looming problem, as all associated with this process know, is the fixed Sept. 15 deadline by which to submit an American candidacy.

In July, the USOC intends to see where the poll numbers stand.

Another problem: Boston 2024 and the USOC are playing an old-fashioned game, trying to win support through the Boston Globe and other traditional, mainstream avenues.

What, at 3:10 p.m. eastern, was the No. 1 trending topic in Boston on Twitter?


At 7:10 p.m. eastern, as the news conference was wrapping up in California, the No. 1 trending line in Boston?


A sampling:

You want inspiration? You're going to get hardball, bare-knuckle politics. What an Olympic dream!

Speaking of political intrigue: when it comes to the 2024 bid, Mayor Marty Walsh is increasingly looking like Waldo.

The USOC took pains to highlight a constructive working relationship with Walsh, who flew to California to meet with its board Monday night, stressing that he is purportedly a solid backer of the bid.


Was the mayor at the Tuesday news conference? No.

Was the mayor in Boston Monday at the Bid 2.0 unveiling Monday?

Isn’t this supposed to be now about winning public support, not schmoozing with the USOC board behind closed doors? Which plays right to the hands of the many vocal activists who complain that this entire thing is a real-estate play that has little to do with sports or the Olympics and a lot to do with people of power and means talking to each other in confidence?

Which after Tuesday -- the rebuttal is, what?

Weird but so predictable. Just like the decision Tuesday to go forward with Boston.