scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Boston’s Olympic bid has been one disaster after another


We need a volcano.

The 1908 Summer Olympic Games were originally scheduled to be held in Rome. The Rome 1908 committee (I believe it was fronted by Stephano Pagliuca and Giovanni Fish) secured the bid for the IV Olympiad and everything was all set until Mount Vesuvius erupted on April 7, 1906. The IOC relocated the Olympic Games to London.

At this hour, Boston needs some molten lava to stop the madness around the 2024 Olympic bid.

In six short months, Boston 2024 has become a punchline. Someday folks will look back at this misguided effort and compare it to “Gigli,” the PT Cruiser, and Google Glass . . . one more bad idea from the early part of the 21st century. Boston 2024 needs to be put out of its misery. The sooner the better.


Count me as a fan of the well-meaning folks who are trying to bring the Olympics to Boston. Steve Pagliuca is a swell guy. He’s made millions with Bain Capital and has been a good owner of the Celtics. John Fish wants Boston 2024 to be his legacy. Mayor Marty Walsh wants to do good things for our city. Bathed in good intentions and naivete, these smart, accomplished men have succumbed to Olympic folly.

I spoke with new Boston 2024 boss Pagliuca for a few minutes Friday, disclosed my opinion that bringing the Olympics to Boston is a terrible idea, and invited him to sell me on the crazy notion.

“In order to make conclusions about the Olympic Games impact on Boston, you really have to understand the impact of the 2020 agenda, which was passed unanimously by the IOC with the objective of making the Games have a sustainable and positive legacy value to cities,’’ said Pagliuca. “The combination of exponential increases in Olympic revenues — the revenue of the Olympics in 1960 was less than $5 million — and projected revenue for Summer Olympics going forward can exceed $4.5 billion. The combination of the focus of Olympics at a reasonable cost and the dramatic increase in revenues allows for the Olympics to be very positive for a city.’’


Hmm. OK, then why do I feel like I’m sitting through an endless timeshare pitch so I can get a free night in a resort?

I asked Mayor Walsh if he thinks he might someday regret hitching his wagon to this Olympic thing.

“I won’t regret hitching my wagon to this thing as long as I stay true to my word and make sure the City of Boston and the taxpayers and residents of Boston are not responsible for any overruns of this Olympics,” he said. “I am not using taxpayers-financed money to pay for any of the venues or things like that.’’

Certainly the Globe’s editorial page has been more than fair to the notion of the Games in Boston. And I’ve read so many stories everywhere about potential sites for venues and athlete villages, sometimes I wonder if perhaps my Morrissey Boulevard office will be the finish line of the Olympic 100 meters, or dorm space for the 2024 Bulgarian archery team.

Still, the folks running Boston 2024 don’t seem to like us. Last Monday they bailed on meeting with the Globe’s editorial board because they did not want news people attending the meeting (on an off-the-record-basis), which had been planned for two weeks.


Late Friday afternoon Boston 2024 released its first quarterly progress report, a breakthrough moment of transparency from an organization that has repeatedly tripped on its own shoelaces.

“We’ve worked with the attorney general to implement a very high standard of transparency that will outline all major donations and costs to 2024,’’ said Pagliuca. “It exceeds all legal requirements of transparency for a nonprofit.’’

Hope so. Boston 2024 needs to make some good moves. It’s pretty much been one disaster after another since the Hub was announced as a bid city back in January. They first told us that Deval Patrick would be a lobbyist for $7,500 per day. Then they told us they would have beach volleyball on Boston Common — until we learned this meant cutting down ancient oak trees on the sacred space. They told us that Widett Circle — a tow lot we cannot find on a map — is actually Boston’s “midtown.’’ In old USSR style, the mayor signed a document pledging that city employees would not criticize Boston’s Olympic bid (this is what happens when you cut deals with the United States Olympic Committee). The committee said this would be the “walking Olympics,” then announced that the sailing competition will be held in New Bedford. Ever try walking from Copley Square to Buzzards Bay?

No doubt the biggest blow to Boston 2024 came when it was learned that part of the bid book — the part about the need for public monies in the form of a tax financing proposal — had been redacted from the group’s original public documents. Boston 2024 is now at work on a new plan (“version 2.0”) scheduled to be ready for inspection by Governor Charlie Baker by June 30. We’re all eager to see a real plan that would identify venues, explain financing, disclose public-private partnerships, and define the commitments of our colleges and universities.


“The 2.0 version will try to outline, in a fact-based way, all the benefits and all the risks of the Games,’’ said Pagliuca.

If the USOC doesn’t like what Boston is offering by September, the committee can switch to Los Angeles, or announce that the US will not put forth a bid city for the 2024 Games. It felt like a warning shot last week when USOC member Angela Ruggiero told the Boston City Council, “There’s no guarantee Boston will be the city in September.’’

In other words, “get your act together, Boston.’’

Pagliuca insisted, “The USOC has given us assurances that Boston is their city of choice.’’

Meanwhile, we wait for Boston 2024 to show us something, anything, that will turn the tide of negativity that appears to be killing this process. It doesn’t help when Pagliuca, the new leader, tells the world that he’s going to get this done in his spare time (“nights and weekends”) away from his big jobs at Bain Capital and the Celtics. When Olympic boosters attended an “insider’s perspective” breakfast at Boston 2024 headquarters last week, one of the first questions in a rather hostile Q and A with CEO Rich Davey was, “Where is Steve Pagliuca?’’


“I was not there because I had a conflict,’’ explained Pagliuca. “I was working on another aspect of the bid. I’ve talked to many of those people personally since the meeting.’’

The town of Brookline already has spoken. It was believed that Boston 2024 wanted to feature Olympic golf at The Country Club in Brookline, but Brookline citizens at a town meeting overwhelmingly voted to oppose the bid. One has to wonder if Boston 2024’s private donations are dwindling as controversy rages and polls indicate the majority of folks don’t want the Games.

Walsh says he understands the pushback from the citizenry.

“One thing I think we all learned from this, and the USOC learned from this is that — to use a baseball analogy — we went from spring training to the World Series in 48 hours. And we didn’t have a season,” he said. “The season for baseball is an opportunity to work out the kinks and make things happen and prepare for the playoffs. In this instance, we won the bid, competing with about four cities. The next day we were now on the world stage. All of what we’d talked about had been concepts, now it becomes a reality.’’

OK, maybe we should give them another look. Here’s an interesting event at the Ritz on June 17: “Lasting Benefits for Olympic Host Cities.’’ The press release from the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce explains that the panel moderator will be former Channel 4 sports reporter and Olympian Alice Cook. According to the release, Cook is “a silver medalist in pair figure skating from the 1978 Winter Olympic Games.’’

Alas, the talented Ms. Cook did not win a medal and there were no “1978 Winter Olympic Games.’’ Cook skated for the US in Innsbruck in the 1976 Winter Olympics.

Where’s Mount Vesuvius when we need it?

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy.