Tuesday, September 16, 2014

First, Assume a Different Boston

The good citizens of Boston 2024 Partnership, the folks who wish to being the Summer Olympics to the city in that seemingly faraway year, think it's a wonderful thing Boston has a compact city core convenient for pedestrians and public transit. Their excitement over this geographic truth somehow became the lead story in this morning's Globe.

Here's the shorthand version of the lede. It MAY be that the International Olympic Committee is attracted to just a setting for its little get-together, so it MAY be the U.S. Olympic Committee will pick Boston as its nominee for 2024 host city over L.A., the Bay Area, and Washington, D.C. So the Partnership is very encouraged.

Good for them. No, honest, I mean it. There is no point in this group of influential businessmen and other movers and shakers to do any moving and shaking if there's not some evidence it isn't all in vain. It may not read like it, but  I'm on their side. I support bringing the Olympics to Boston, on the grounds I would enjoy it and so would others. I am even willing to help.

Free advice is my first bit of volunteer assistance to the Partnership. Gang, that story was no puff piece. It was a warning letter..

John Powers wrote the story. He knows as much or more about the Games, from its top-level politics to 2020 archery medal favorites, than anyone else on earth. And in between quotes from Partnership leaders Joe Fish and Bob O'Donnell, John sprinkled facts indicating that much of the Partnership's planning may still be in the Power Point stage.

Here's a couple of excerpts from Powers' nut paragraph. "It is not clear if the city is ready to commit to staging the Games." Also, "it is still investigating the feasibility and availability of sites in the vicinity."

Oh. Except for having secured the cooperation of necessary public and private institutions or having generated significant public support, Boston's Olympic bid is right on track. No wonder the bidders are optimistic.

I have my doubts about institutional support. As a former Cantabridgian shooed off of Harvard's unused athletic fields in summers past, I wonder if the school would just say, "Fine, let us donate our football stadium and anything else you need." But the Partnership is composed of influential people. If it believes that influence will bring civic institutions to their cause, it's in a better position to judge.

What I have no doubt about whatsoever is that the Partnership has yet to demonstrate any kind of outside game. If it is making efforts to convince the public of Greater Boston to get behind the Games, those efforts have not reached my attention.  And when its leaders have tried to rally public support, they've hit exactly the wrong note.

The "legacy" of the 2024 for the public is supposed to be a better subway system and a new soccer stadium. I suppose it's inevitable that a group led by a construction industry guy (Fish) would regard built structures as the apex of any community, but this is pretty weak tea to justify what would be in the best case a mass disruption of normal life for four million people for three weeks.

It's also selling the Games under a premise so mistaken as to constitute false advertising. The "legacy" of an Olympics is never stuff. The stuff winds up being downsized at best and abandoned ruins at worst before the next Games. The Games are sports. Sports are about getting away from normal life to make life more fun.

Holding a successful Games requires a huge level of civic cooperation. Even holding a clusterfuck Games like Atlanta in 1996 required it. There can't be any civic cooperation without cooperative citizens. As far as I can tell, the Partnership has yet to try and rally such citizens, or even to identify them.

Greater Boston is an area where an annoying large percentage of the public will tell strangers until they're stupified that "this is the greatest sports town in America (or Earth)." Yet the Partnership hasn't stressed the most obvious thing about the Games, to wit, they really are the greatest sports EVENT on earth. Great sports town should host great sports events seems like a pretty simple and effective PR message to me.

It's only effective, however, if its addressed to sports fans. The Partnership needs to be moving past the Globe to where the fans are. forums like the city's two regional cable sports networks and its two sports talk radio stations. Yes, they'll be treated badly by sneering skeptics. This is inescapable. After all, we're talking about media that currently are bitching about Tom Brady because the Patriots only won their last game by 23 points. Whining in the face of the prosperity is the most unattractive characteristic of the Boston fan base.

But if the skeptics can be fought to a draw, the larger body of neutrals can be turned into Games fans. This is or ought to be the Partnership's first priority. If sports fans decide the Games are for them, the group has a shot at its longshot dream. If that doesn't happen, there won't be a Boston Olympics, no matter how many powerful institutions sign on for the ride. There won't be enough civic cooperation by the general public to let those institutions get their way.

I have been blessed to have attended four Olympic Games, three Summer, one Winter. Whether or not they wound up benefiting the economies and infrastructure of Barcelona, Lillehammer, Norway, Atlanta and Sydney I neither know nor care. I know every spectator, volunteer and person in the street I saw  at each Games  appeared to be having a marvelous time. I know I left each one with memories that will remain vivid and cherished my whole life long.

Putting on the Games is expensive and doesn't pay for itself. That's a truth that needs no apology. So is putting on a big fancy wedding for one's daughter. Those happen every week in every culture, because parents love their children. The Games can and do take place because people love sports.

Putting on a party for the whole world isn't a sensible thing to do. It's a love thing to do. If the Partnership wants to get this burg on its side, it had best abandon its edifice complex and tell the whole and corny truth.

Promise Boston what you can deliver, memories to be cherished for a lifetime. That's what a "legacy" is, not another damn station on the Green Line.


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