In hindsight, some breakups look inevitable. Kourtney Kardashian and Scott Disick. AOL and Time Warner. And, as of Monday afternoon, Boston and the US Olympic Committee. Mayor Marty Walsh’s insistence Monday that he couldn’t sign a taxpayer guarantee for the 2024 Games, and the USOC’s subsequent decision to dump Boston, merely ratified what’s been increasingly obvious: The underlying dynamics of the situation were all wrong.
Boston shouldn’t beat itself up over the outcome. From the first subway to the Big Dig, civic progress requires a willingness to entertain big ideas — but also knowing when things aren’t working out.
When the USOC was considering bids from potential host cities late last year, Boston looked like an attractive stranger. A historic seaside town undergoing a dramatic 21st-century transformation, Boston was a newcomer to the Olympic fray. For its part, the Olympic movement looked like damaged goods — the bribery scandals at Salt Lake, the cost overruns in Sochi and Rio — but the USOC and International Olympic Committee sounded sincere in saying everything had changed.
In that early period of mutual infatuation, it wasn’t obvious to Boston or the USOC just how much the two sides’ needs diverged. Obvious problems, such as the fact that Boston lacked an existing Olympic-sized stadium in the middle of town, seemed easily surmountable. As they wooed the USOC, local Olympics organizers underestimated the size of the opposition and downplayed political and logistical obstacles left and right.
Meanwhile, much as the USOC indulged Boston organizers’ talk of using the Olympics as a catalyst for better transportation and more housing, the committee’s interest lay in putting on the Summer Games no matter what.
The USOC may now get back together with its ex, the city of Los Angeles. The opening and closing ceremonies can take place in an LA Coliseum that’s hosted the Summer Olympics twice and is already slated for a thorough modernization.
But especially if an LA bid fails, it’s time for some introspection from the USOC. American bidders for the Olympics will never receive the same infusion of national government funds as Olympic bidders in other countries, and the committee needs a better Plan B than pressuring its supposed partner city into picking up the tab.
Boston’s fling with the Olympics was fun while it lasted. Post-breakup, it’s OK to feel a little wistful. A Boston Olympics plan built on surer footing might have won open-minded voters over. Inviting athletes and reporters from around the world to see what’s great about Boston would have been delightful.
But making that happen would have required different circumstances and a different relationship with the USOC. Better for everyone involved just to move on.