Pull up a chair and let me tell you how much I love the Olympics.
I love the competition, I love the international intrigue, I love the stories. I actually like the way they’ve evolved, with multimillionaire professionals in everything from basketball to cross-country skiing (if you’ve ever been to Norway, you’d know) competing one day and guys next door who train when they get a chance (hello, curling) competing the next.
For a writer, covering the Olympics is radically different than covering events in the States. You ride buses with people from all over the world. And then you enter what they call a press “tribune,” (no, not a press box) to discover that some of them think they are unofficial coaches. The phrase “no cheering in the press box” has no meaning to many of our international journalistic cohorts. And wait till the press conferences. Some of them should be governed by the Marquess of Queensberry rules.
It is enlightening to be exposed to the different this and the different that you encounter on a daily basis. At least, it was that way for me during my 11 Olympics. I always found the experiences to be educational.
When you’re there, and you’re caught up with the daily buzz, it is exhilarating. Assuming your toilet flushes or your shower works, at least occasionally. But I must confess I have no horror stories to share with regard to my lodging over the years. Maybe I just lucked out.
I love the Olympics, and I think it’s a wonderfully dreamy abstract concept to bring the Olympics to our fair city 10 years hence.
It would also be a nightmare. Good Lord, are these people insane?
Here’s the deal with the Olympics: You don’t ever want to own a swimming pool. You want to live next door to the guy who owns the swimming pool. And you most certainly don’t want to own a boat, especially not in this climate. But you can do worse than living next door to the guy who owns a boat. Either that, or perhaps that brother of yours, the one pulling down 500k doing something or other in the financial world.
It’s pretty much the same with the Olympics. They’re great. Somewhere else.
The problem isn’t the 17 days of actual competition. That’s the fun part. For those 17 days you can forget about the seven miserable years leading up to the Games, not to mention the decades of negative payback when the Olympic flame is extinguished. If only those 17 days lasted forever.
But they eventually end, and when they’re over you awaken to discover you’ve just spent the night with the sleaziest hooker on the planet, if not the universe. You’ll be screaming, “Oh, no! What have I done?”
In some better world, with some far off future set of beneficial circumstances, a sane, fiscally sound, properly scaled Olympics may be possible to pull off. But we do not live in that world. And what makes any responsible public figure think that we do?
The excesses of Sochi are of such a gigantic scale that it may be that some people are simply laughing the whole thing off as nothing more than Vladimir Putin’s expensive gift to himself. That, they are, but that has people taking their eye off the ball. Even what passes for a “normal” Olympic experience these days is not feasible for Boston, or any other American city with the possible exception of Las Vegas, because no one should ever rule out anything pertaining to Las Vegas.
Listen up, please. Olympic costs are out of control. It is one thing for autocratic societies such as China and, yes, Russia — go ahead, yell “Putin stinks” in the middle of Red Square and see what happens — to decide that in the interest of national pride they feel the need to impress the world with the ability to put on an Olympics. It’s all about image and it’s all phony-baloney propaganda in both of those cases. But whatever trampling of human rights and whatever environmental damage that was perpetrated in order to construct venues are inconsequential annoyances in the minds of those sorts of governments. Their end justifies any means conceivable. Presumably, we are not like that.
Think about it. Boston? We’d need an Olympic Stadium. We do not need a stadium. We have the Patriots housed comfortably in their Foxborough playpen. Oh, they’re going to use that stadium? I didn’t happen to notice an eight-lane track. We’d need a Velodrome. We’d need a place to swim. I could go on.
I cannot believe the astonishingly naive things I’ve been reading on this subject from some supposedly responsible people. A commission has been formed to study the idea of making a Boston bid for the 2024 Olympics. Its chairman is a Mr. John Fish, who is the chief of Suffolk Construction. I’m sure he’s a fine fellow, but I’m wondering if he went to sleep in 1935 and just awoke for the Sochi Opening Ceremony. “If you put politics aside,” he was quoted as saying in these very pages, “I think Russia has done a commendable job organizing the Olympics and managing the process to date.” That’s a rather, shall we say, intriguing interpretation of the events we’ve all witnessed in the seven years since that fateful day in Guatemala when the summer resort of Sochi was awarded the Winter Olympics.
You know and I know, but Mr. Fish apparently does not know that we know, that whatever figure they give us as a budget for these 2024 Boston Olympics will wind up as a laughable suggestion. We know how Boston works. Hey, we lived with the Big Dig, which, however worthy (put me down as a fan of the finished product), was completed at an approximate 700 percent overrun. But what’s a billion or two between friends?
“It is so far in the future to really project what costs would be 12 years out,” declared Mr. Fish. Well, John, we amateur observers do know. The answer is “lots.” Make that mucho lots.
If some billionaire wishes to underwrite this, great. Bring it on. I’ll offer myself as a volunteer. I can point directions with the best of ’em. Otherwise, let’s stop the madness and spend a little money on our current infrastructure. We seem to be running out of Olympic suckers, but I’m sure they’ll find one somewhere.
Just not here.
Bob Ryan’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.