I have to admit, upon hearing the news that the U.S. Olympic Committee had backed Boston as the U.S.’s bid city for the 2024 Summer Olympics, I had a sudden urge to scream, jump up and down, and then run out of the house and down my street waving a banner emblazoned with five rings and a Boston 2024 logo. I was surprised by my own reaction since I don’t particularly like the Olympics, and have always felt more cynical than excited about the civic insanity that leads any city to knock itself out for the chance to host the world’s most expensive party.
I blame it on the influence of American Idol, which coincidentally began its 14th Season this week. I couldn’t shake the image of Boston as a nervous, but talented kid with a guitar, belting out a heartfelt verse of a familiar anthem, missing a few notes but showing flashes of brilliance, and ultimately being rewarded with a golden ticket to the next round. Having survived the audition, the kid bursts through the doors to where family are waiting yelling “I’m going to Hollywood!” while cameras capture every uplifting moment before we break for a commercial.
As you can tell from the preceding paragraphs, I feel like the competition isn’t really between Boston and other world cities, it’s between the believer and the cynic in each of us, the heart and the head, the image of the lighting of the torch and the after-image of abandoned Olympic venues falling into disuse and decay.
How did this happen?
In some ways, Boston was an unexpected choice. Los Angeles has hosted the games twice, and would have been a safe bet. San Francisco was an attractive option, but seemed to have a lot of local opposition to hosting. Washington always seemed an unlikely choice, being so strongly associated with the U.S. as a political entity. While the USOC isn’t likely to explain all of the factors that went into the decision, the point of the exercise was to select the city with the best chance to be successful with the IOC. The last time the U.S. submitted a bid for the 2016 Games, Chicago ended up being the first city eliminated from consideration, and the USOC didn’t want a repeat of that disappointing and embarrassing result.
So is Boston the U.S’s best hope? When 2024 rolls around, four straight Olympiads will have taken place in mega-cities (Beijing, London, Rio, Tokyo). Maybe the USOC felt that the time would be right for the IOC to choose a smaller venue. Indeed, the IOC has changed rules for the bid process to encourage a more “frugal” (the word hardly seems appropriate) approach to hosting. In other words, even if Boston is up against Rome, Paris, Hamburg… it might just have a chance.
One thing is for sure, Boston wouldn’t be able to simply “absorb” the Games. As the New York Times put it:
“Addressing concerns about congestion at the Games, where one lane of traffic on major arteries is devoted to Olympic officials and journalists, organizers have pointed out that the Boston Marathon draws about 500,000 spectators each year and that the city has been able to expertly stage events like the World Series. The Olympics, though, would be [the] rough equivalent of holding a Boston Marathon for 17 consecutive days.” (“Boston to be U.S. Bid City for 2024 Olympics” – NY Times)
As the initial excitement dies down, it’s probably wise to remind ourselves that there is a very long way to go. The official bid isn’t due for another nine months, and the IOC won’t make its decision for another two and a half years. Until then, we’ll have seemingly endless discussions about everything from the details of staging equestrian events to long-term economic impacts on the city and surrounding communities. And in the end, Boston might — in fact, probably will — be sent home empty-handed, with nothing but a handshake from Ryan Seacrest and a video montage of the process to console us.
And what if by some incredible combination of luck and skill Boston were to be awarded the Games? If the confetti raining down from the ceiling is for us?
It’s going to be hard holding our breath for the next 30 months.