If only we could believe them . . .
If only we could believe that the Boston 2024 leaders, the governor, the mayor, and all the assorted eager beavers who are committed to bringing the 2024 Summer Olympics to the Commonwealth knew exactly what they were doing when they took on this project, then I would give this venture my full endorsement.
But when they start by saying they can get away with a $4.5 billion budget, we know they do not. By 2024 that figure might take care of the security costs — might.
OK, that last statement might fall under the heading of hyperbole, but the general thought behind it is sound. Anyone who thinks $4.5 billion will get it done probably also thinks Marshawn Lynch is angling for his own talk show. (Last Super Bowl reference, I promise.)
These people are not off to a good start. People who might find their businesses or homes uprooted say they already have been left out of the loop. Michael Capuano and Stephen Lynch, key pols representing Somerville and South Boston, respectively, say no one had talked to them about such significant items as construction of a velodrome and temporary stadium in their districts. And Mayor Marty Walsh signed off on that foolish gag order for city employees.
Look, I love the Olympics, perhaps not as much as colleague John Powers, the foremost Olympic media expert in the land, but I’m claiming second place in the Globe family. It was my thrill and privilege to cover 11 of them, six Summer and five Winter, beginning with Barcelona in 1992 and concluding with London in 2012. Some of my fondest sports moments took place at the Olympics.
Not every Olympic experience is a negative for the hosting community. Barcelona achieved its goal of making itself into a tourist mecca. Lillehammer kept its promise to run a manageable Olympics and not be burdened with white elephant facilities. It is a sad reality that due to what we shall label Olympic expansion, a town of approximately 25,000 will never again be given a Winter Olympics.
But those Olympics worked. Only Sarajevo (pre-Yugoslavia breakup) is remembered as fondly by all sectors — competitors, administrators, media, and fans — as Lillehammer. The entire experience was a two-week fairy tale, highlighted by, or marred by, depending on your point of view, the Nancy-Tonya circus.
Sydney is not complaining. Sydney was great. Athens was always going to be a disaster. I was in Greece for three weeks in the summer of 1998, six years before Athens would be hosting the world. I came back and said, “OK, here’s the deal with Athens. They will get it done, but they will be hammering in the last plank while the Opening Ceremonies are taking place.” And that is precisely what happened. They had a glorious 17-day party, and then the Greeks said, “Whoa! What do we do with all this stuff now?” I needn’t go into their sorry recent history.
You might say, “Well, that is Greece and Greece is Greece. We’re not Greece.” No, but we are a country, and specifically a locale, where as a cook used to say at a summer camp of my acquaintance, “Our eyes are bigger than our stomachs.” Also, when we here have major public projects, indictments quite often follow. Oh, I know John Fish insists that Suffolk Construction will not bid for anything, but there are ways to get around just about everything, as we know from painful local experience. We have a right to be wary and suspicious.
Back to the positive for a moment. There is no doubt in my mind we would be a great site. Having the colleges at our disposal is fantastic. We’ve got Fenway (Baseball and softball should be back. Of course, there’s the little matter of the Red Sox taking a three-week road trip). We’ve got TD Garden. We’ve got the Charles.
Most importantly, we have what makes or breaks every Olympics for the fans (particularly in the summer), and that is gathering places. You need gathering places, and we’ve got Boston Common and the Public Garden. Plus, envision the strip in the middle of Commonwealth Avenue. It runs from Kenmore Square to the Public Garden, and it could house kiosks, food stands, and be alive with music. What a stroll that would be. Throw in the waterfront, which could look very different by 2024.
The compact nature of America’s most walkable downtown of consequence would be a major hit. People would go away loving Boston. We could put on a great show.
There is, however, the issue of money, and lame-duck venues, and a million and one complications. I’m not so worried about the traffic; I’m just not. But there are innumerable details to consider, not all of them easy to work out. Have I mentioned money? They say no public funds will be used. Right.
It is a wonderful idea in the abstract. It always is. I wonder if the mayor has had a chat with Boris Johnson, the Lord Mayor of London. I believe they went about 300 percent over the original budget. You can’t go by Beijing and Sochi. Totalitarian societies (which, sadly, Russia is for a second time) can do whatever they wish at whatever the cost.
In a better world, once a city is selected by the USOC to represent America, that should mean a total governmental commitment. The burden should not all be on that city. If America wants medals, America should be willing to finance the Olympic bid. If that were the case, I would endorse the Boston bid without hesitation.
But we do not inhabit that world, and I fear we are in the hands of dreamers. Perhaps we could ask Bill Gates or Warren Buffett to write us a check. Things could change, but right now my position is ABB.
Anybody But Boston.
Bob Ryan’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.