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Requiem for an Olympic Dream Ill-Conceived: My Five Takeaways from Boston 2024

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Author: andytarsy

I was always very skeptical but never decided to publicly oppose the bid for Boston to host the 2024 Winter Games. I did, however, write about the possibility of a good bid process starting us in the direction of better behavior– how the bid and perhaps the games themselves provided a good opportunity to demonstrate that as a city and region we have made progress toward inclusion. In fairness, mine was a very thinly veiled critique of the initial steps by the bid committee, which I was very disappointed by on a number of fronts. But I was never convinced that a good bid was impossible or even a bad idea either.

In any case – here are five takeaways that are important to me – and perhaps not to everyone. I am sure if you disagree, you know how to comment.

1. There should be no ad hominem attacks or mockery of those who tried to make the bid happen. From John Fish to Steve Pagliuca and the elected officials, everyone intended to do something good and something visionary. Whether they did it in a way you think is appropriate or effective is a different story. We should critique and criticize – it is more than fair to do so; it is important. At the same time, the line does not need to be crossed into personal attacks or mockery of decent, diligent people.

2. Whenever we are ready to fully acknowledge grass roots leadership, that would be great. Hopefully after the grass-roots election of Patrick as a candidate, the grass roots rejection of Coakley as a candidate, and the grass roots rejection of the Olympics, we can start respecting the grass roots for real in the Commonwealth. We are not a people well suited to top-down leadership based on conventional wisdom and “trust me.” The internet makes this even moreso — but so does the burn many who are repeatedly marginalized feel in their collective chest and jumping on board for the civic leadership’s “next big thing” is just not our style as a people unless it is earned. Are we done yet learning this lesson? The energy burned up on the Olympic bid can be the last time it happens, if we want.

3. The Olympic model may be ready for a permanent physical home – a place of its own. The best idea I heard was that the world build a permanent Olympic campus in one place and then rotate the responsibility of playing host there to a new nation every time – and in the in between years, let all sorts of other world events take place there. The magic will be gone? The TV revenue would be less? Not necessarily. You could re-interpret that campus every four years for a good deal less than starting from scratch.

4. Resist the temptation to say this confirms Boston is a “just say no” kind of place. Those like Shirley Leung will do it (again) but you don’t have to be that way. This episode is an example of civic engagement and tough questions that ultimately had inadequate answers. That’s it. It is not connected to any past episode of us doing whatever we did when other things happened in the past. Our narrative is whatever we want it to be. It is not a destiny that makes us naysayers. Calling us that is cheap headline writing and just plain old beneath us.

5. Let’s organize around what both pro and con forces said were the goals from the beginning. Pro or con, we seem to passionately want fiscal responsibility, transparency, infrastructure investment, affordable housing, long-term planning and equity. Superb. Let’s build a 2024 agenda around those great concepts.

Andy Tarsy is a consultant to leaders in business, government, non-profit and higher education institutions to close the gap between vision and impact. He is a Senior Fellow in the John W. McCormack School of Policy and Global Studies at UMass Boston.


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