In the history of the modern Olympic Games, the United States has had the most success of any nation. We’re not talking about medals here (and yes, sports fans, nobody is within a galaxy of the U.S. total of 2,680 gold, silver and bronze trinkets), but venues. America has been chosen to host the Olympics more than any other country, eight times.
Unfortunately, the failure of some of our bids to host the Olympics also have been, well, Olympian in scope. Boston added an ignominious chapter this month to the dark side of our Olympics history when it became the first U.S. finalist to withdraw its bid halfway through the selection process.
You read that right, folks. After being chosen by the U.S. Olympic Committee in January over three other cities (Washington D.C., San Francisco and Los Angeles) to carry America’s torch in the final bidding for the 2024 Summer Games, Beantown has shrugged its shoulders in July—about six weeks before the host city will be chosen in a vote of the International Olympic Committee–and declared “Nah, never mind.”
As this is being written, Los Angeles gamely has volunteered to step into the void and present its bid to the IOC. But with barely a month to get its act together, our bet is that the City of Angels has—forgive us, surfer dudes—about a snowball’s chance in L.A. of winning the final vote and hosting the 2024 Games.
The first sign of trouble with the Boston bid came in April, sort of like the odor that week-old New England clam chowder makes in your garbage pail when you forget to take out the trash. An NPR poll revealed then that at least half of Boston-area residents were opposed to the city hosting the Olympics, citing the potential burden to taxpayers. The poll coincided with the emergence of a vociferous grassroots organization that called itself No Boston Olympics.
It probably wouldn’t have taken but a few days for Boston’s late mayor, Tom Menino (who ran the city like clockwork during his impressive 20-year tenure in City Hall), to recognize these warning signs and respond to them, one way or the other. But the new guy, Martin Walsh, appears to be is a little slower on the uptake. He is, after all, still struggling to get rid of the mountains of snow piled up from last winter’s serial blizzards in Boston (no, we’re not making that up: there are still snow mountains in the middle of July on the docks of the bay in Beantown, where they were dumped last winter).
Mayor Walsh did a good imitation of Hamlet for the past few weeks over the question of whether Boston would agree it was responsible for any cost overruns incurred in hosting the 2024 Games (the IOC requires a signed commitment). There was some hemming and hawing over putting the question to a vote in a snap city referendum.
Finally, on Monday, Walsh bowed under the weight of the opinion polls. Opting to announce this international news in a telephone call to the local daily newspaper, the mayor told the Boston Globe that he simply “cannot commit to putting [Boston’s] taxpayers at risk.”
“If committing to sign a guarantee today is what’s required to move forward, then Boston is no longer pursuing the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games,” the mayor told the newspaper.
Yeah, it’s required Marty, just like it was seven months ago when Boston was named the U.S. finalist. That’s the way it works with contracts—no matter how long you stare at the fine print, the words never change.
Prior to Boston’s stunning entry into the log of failed U.S. Olympic bids, New York City also had a memorable stumble when the nation’s largest metropolis put its worst foot forward as the U.S. finalist to host the 2012 Summer Games. Here’s the Cliff Notes version:
New York decided in the middle of its bid to be the 2012 venue that it really didn’t want to build a new stadium for the Olympics, usually an essential feature of the Games. The stadium would have been constructed on the West Side of Manhattan, in the middle of the legislative district represented by Sheldon Silver. Silver, currently under federal indictment for several alleged felonies, was at the time the Speaker of the NY State Assembly and one of the most powerful politicians in the state. Even though the New York Jets NFL franchise had agreed in advance to a long-term lease if the new stadium was built for the Olympics, Silver apparently decided it would mess up his alternate-side-of-the-street parking strategies. Without a new stadium, NYC’s bid went nowhere (and the Jets moved to New Jersey).
And let’s not forget the memorable stench surrounding one of our winning bids, Salt Lake City’s bribe-laden grab for the 2002 Winter Games. We won’t waste your time describing that here–suffice it to say that the international bidding rules for the Games were significantly tightened after the FIFA-scale fiasco surrounding Utah’s bid. (But we will take a moment to tip our hat to Mitt Romney for coming to the rescue and making the Salt Lake City Games an unqualified success).
The lingering sour aftertaste of the bidding shenanigans that snared the 2002 Winter Games probably sealed the fate of Chicago’s bid to host the 2016 Summer Games. The Windy City was trounced by Rio de Janeiro, 94-18, despite an in-person pitch to IOC voters by a guy from Chicago who had just become the U.S. president, Barack Obama.
There should be some kind of penalty for crapping out of an Olympics bid long after your city has been selected to be America’s standard-bearer in the bidding process. Perhaps the Red Sox should be prohibited from appearing in the World Series for the next 84 years.
Then again, the way the Bosox have been playing lately, that could be a foregone conclusion. Maybe we could tell the New England Patriots their Super Bowl Champion quarterback has to sit on the bench for the first four games of the upcoming NFL season….
Should the president have the power to rescind a national monument designation?