Around Boston, all that whistling past the graveyard on two major sports fronts suddenly has been stifled by realized fears. One day after the city’s ham-handed bidders saw their pitch to stage the 2024 Olympics collapse spectacularly, NFL matinee idol Tom Brady had his claims of innocence in manipulating footballs again dismissed—and more accusatorily—by league commissioner Roger Goodell.
Predictably, the Brady news created the larger fuss, even though the gridiron fortunes of his New England Patriots—ordered to play four games without their superstar quarterback—have none of the economic consequences for the Boston populace that an Olympic project would. (Well, maybe they do, given the presence of bookies and plotting fantasy leaguers.)
Long ago, the drawn-out Brady investigation veered toward farce, with its conspiracy theories, Ideal Gas Law formulas, a Patriot assistant inappropriately taking footballs to the bathroom and The Destroyed Cellphone. Not that the NFL shouldn’t insist on fair play, or that Brady doesn’t deserve a day in the figurative stocks and hefty fine (based on the “more probable than not” conclusion about Brady’s under-inflation involvement).
Rather, the caper hardly rose to the level of a federal case. And certainly shouldn’t get more NFL attention than football’s effect on traumatic brain injury. Or the NFL handling of players’ criminal arrests.
So, meanwhile, Mr. Holmes, what about Boston’s Olympic scheme (scam?): In January, the U.S. Olympic Committee—shockingly, to Olympic insiders—chose Boston over Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., as its representative in the campaign for 2024. (The likely contenders are Rome, Paris, Hamburg, possibly Budapest and maybe Toronto.) Given the International Olympic Committee’s rejection of New York for 2012 and Chicago for 2016, Boston—an American city with even less public support for the Games than those two and an equal lack of existing venues—hardly made sense.
Immediately, the already flat Boston possibilities began to lose more air. (Without Tom Brady being a person of interest.) There were grumbles about the organizers’ lack of transparency while their blueprint continued to expand, both geographically and financially.
Costs ballooned to $8.6 billion and, just a week ago, a release of Boston-2024 documents reportedly revealed a predicted budget shortfall of $471 million. Taxpayers were reasonably concerned, if not downright freaked out. Andrew Zimbalist, the Smith College economist who has studied sports finances, noted in a Brookings Institution interview that the chief executive of Boston’s private bid committee, John Fish, is owner of a Boston-area construction company that made its pitch to the USOC without the approval or sanction of the city council.
Fish “applied in the name of Boston,” Zimbalist said. “By doing so, he was encumbering Boston with a substantial financial committment.” And angling for some serious construction work. As Zimbalist had written in a 2012 piece for The Atlantic magazine, there are “Three Reasons Why Hosting the Olympics Is a Loser’s Game:” The Games’ bidding process is “hijacked by private interests….creates massive over-building…[and demonstrates] little evidence that it meaningfully increases tourism.”
Full disclosure here: I consider myself an Olympic patriot. I have covered the Games 11 times, and believe in the value of the United Nations In Sneakers. The Olympics brings together people of all backgrounds and nationalities, peacefully celebrating and crying and doing brave things on the athletic fields; sometimes cheating or making dumb decisions but, through it all, lending some uplifting optimism about human nature even as it is reflecting real life.
The Olympics are worldly, a bit overdramatic, giddy, ephemeral. Absolutely worth carrying on. But they also have become trapped in a cycle of one-upmanship, spending far too much money for a 17-day festival and leaving behind white elephant stadiums and other facilities. (Proof: Four of the six cities that originally showed interest in bidding for the 2022 Winter Games, after staring into the abyss of possible financial ruin, have voluntarily dropped out, leaving only the Kazakhstan city of Almaty and—illogically—the non-winter city of Beijing.)
The story of a Boston Olympics in 2024 was not going to end well. And the best news about its withdrawal is that the USOC likely will put forward, in its place, Los Angeles which—31 years ago—established a gold standard for Olympic efficiency, marketing and fiscal sanity.
In 1984, after the Olympics literally was bloodied by the 1972 Munich terrorist siege of the Israeli athletes’ quarters and bludgeoned by a 1976 Montreal financial disaster and the U.S.-led boycott of Moscow in 1980, Los Angeles came to the rescue. Official sponsorships (an Olympic first) and the use of pre-existing stadiums provided such an enormous cost-cutting benefit that L.A. produced a $223 million surplus that continues to fund sports programs in the city.
The irony is that L.A.’s overall success and unanticipated economic prosperity released the beasts of gigantism and profligate spending—a prime example being Atlanta in 1996, when the Georgia Games’ budget went from Los Angeles’ $800,000 to $1.7 billion. (And when Atlanta’s organizing chief, Billy Payne, left behind a statue of himself in the Olympic Centennial Park.)
So, again, the Olympics appear in need of a fiscal savior. Why not L.A.? At least there is no NFL skullduggery going on there.