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Yvonne Abraham

Boston 2024’s Olympic reversal

John Fish is chairman of Boston 2024.Dina Rudick/Globe Staff/File

Finally! After downplaying public trepidation about its Olympic dreams for months, and pooh-poohing talk of a referendum on whether we should host the Games, Boston 2024 has finally acknowledged it has a problem.

The push for a Boston Olympics had become a train wreck that could not be hidden behind gauzy appeals to civic greatness.

It would be interesting to know just what finally persuaded Boston 2024 to back the statewide referendum it had so firmly opposed before. Was it the cratering polls? Or the hellish, paralyzing winter? Perhaps it was the drubbing it took when it catalogued payments to a legion of well-connected Democratic and Republican consultants, revealing a gravy train life-affirming in its bipartisanship. (By the by, the USOC should really pick D.C. to make an Olympic bid: It could be just the way to break the gridlock that plagues national politics.) Or it could have been the complaints of landowners who had no clue Olympic facilities were to be plonked down on their properties till they read about it in the newspapers.

Boston 2024 has done such a lousy job of getting buy-in that a lot of people feel as though the Olympics are being shoved down their throats. The whole thing had become such a public relations debacle that even I started feeling sorry for the boosters.


As Boston 2024 prepared to announce its face-saving new fervor for a vote, it flubbed again. On Sunday, the group tweeted a link to a list of Olympic movies to inspire us. At the top of the list: “Olympia,” by Leni Riefenstahl, an admirer of Adolf Hitler (The Fuhrer has an extended cameo in the film). D’oh!

Former gubernatorial candidate Evan Falchuk was at his daughter’s softball clinic when that tweet came through, and he was floored.


“It was wild,” he said, adding, “It’s never a good idea to link to anything that is associated with the Third Reich.”

Words to live by. Anyway, here we are, and it’s delightful that Boston 2024 has come around. Of course, they had little choice, given the hole they’d dug for themselves. Opposition group No Boston Olympics has been beating the drum loudly for a statewide vote. And Falchuk has been determined to get a question on the 2016 ballot holding organizers to their promise of staging the games without taxpayer help. A vote was looking inevitable.

Falchuk thinks the reversal is an attempt by Boston 2024 to muddy the waters. He worries Olympic backers will propose a question that avoids the issue of taxpayer subsidies should there be overruns. Ask, “Do you want a lovely party?” and many voters will say yes. Ask, “Do you want a lovely party and would you mind paying for it?” and the outcome might be decidedly different. So Falchuk vows to continue pursuing his own ballot initiative.

The best way for Boston 2024 to get rid of him — and restore our faith — is to offer a measure that guarantees taxpayers will be off the hook. Olympic boosters seem to understand they won’t get away with a one-sided, up-or-down appeal anyway.

And a more balanced question is less of a risk than it appears. All of the political capital, and money, is on Boston 2024’s side. Previous ballot questions are a guide here. If casino backers can sell the state on the sleazy gambling industry, these guys can sell them on a noble cause like the Olympics, with its pageantry and patriotism. And if opponents of expanding the bottle deposit law can flip public opinion by putting millions of dollars behind lies, the deep-pocketed bigs at Boston 2024 can certainly win over their doubters.


It is sure to be an awfully lopsided contest. Unless we do something bold. So, how about an Olympic-sized People’s Pledge? To demonstrate its deference to the public’s will, Boston 2024 could promise to spend only as much on a ballot campaign as do those on the other side.

After all, isn’t fair competition what the Olympics are all about?

Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com