Getting Boston to agree on Olympics a tall order

US Olympic Committee president Lawrence F. Probst III , flanked by Boston mayor Martin J. Walsh, talked about the selection of Boston as the USOC’s applicant city to host the 2024 Olympics.
US Olympic Committee president Lawrence F. Probst III , flanked by Boston mayor Martin J. Walsh, talked about the selection of Boston as the USOC’s applicant city to host the 2024 Olympics.USA Today Sports/File

Over the weekend, a very earnest CBS correspondent named Jericka Duncan asked me what I thought of the Olympics coming to Boston, and being honest, something I seldom am with people I have only just met, I said I don’t know.

I also told her that most people who live in and around Boston probably feel the same way. They might, when pressed, say it’s a great idea, or instinctively think it’s a taxpayer and/or logistical disaster waiting to happen. But I’d bet the house that the vast majority of people haven’t given it much thought.

It’s like driving off the Cape in mid-August and somebody asks you, “How you gonna vote on Question 3?”



Attention has been focused elsewhere, from the most recent election cycle to the Patriots to the existential question of whether we really need a “Taken 3.”

Even the news last week that the United States Olympic Committee had selected Boston as the US candidate for the 2024 Summer Games broke while most people were preoccupied with the madness unfolding in France.

Now, local boosters have 2½ years to persuade the International Olympic Committee that Boston would be a better host than Paris, Rome, or any number of other places. First, though, they’ve got to persuade everybody in Boston.

Olympic boosters acknowledge it’s important to put on a united front to impress the grandees at the IOC. So their goal is to, over the next year, forge a consensus, which in a town like Boston might be harder than beating Bob Beamon’s Olympic long-jump record.

Getting people around here to agree on anything, other than the fact that A-Rod is a complete jerk, is a tall order.

Even as he pledged to hold “the most transparent and inclusive process in Olympic history,” with a series of nine community meetings, Mayor Marty Walsh dismissed the idea of holding a referendum. Which raises this question: Why was it appropriate to hold a referendum on the effects of building a casino, but not on the wisdom of launching a massive infrastructural transformation of the city and metropolitan area?


That doesn’t make any sense. But then, when you realize how little polling has been done on the matter, it does. The first thing a good trial attorney learns is to never ask a question if you don’t know the answer. The same goes for politicians and referenda.

Olympic skeptics point, with some credibility, to the elite insider dominance of the initial bid to the USOC. The prominence of so many downtown bigshots feeds neighborhood cynicism.

Still, a lot of downtown types I know and trust and whose opinions I value — businesspeople, lawyers, those who are loath to be associated with discredited projects — genuinely believe the pledge that tax money will not be used to build venues or pay for the operation of the games; that private money from ticket, licensing, and sponsorship fees and broadcast rights will pay for it. The infrastructure improvements paid for by taxpayers are needed anyway, the argument goes.

Obviously, the USOC was duly impressed by that argument and the enthusiasm of Boston’s bid in general. Still, there is a certain irony that Boston got its good news from the USOC in Denver. The IOC selected Denver to host the 1976 winter games, but then Colorado voters held a referendum and said thanks but no thanks.


Chris Dempsey, cochairman of No Boston Olympics, told me his group is seriously considering taking the question to voters. He said there are issues to work out: how to pay for getting a referendum on the ballot, and whether to push for a citywide or statewide question.

“We’re more inclined to be democratic about this,” he said. “At the least, we’d encourage more discussion of a referendum.”

Me, too. What better way to impress the swells at the IOC than with a popular mandate.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com.