Editorial: Olympics and Boston proved a very poor match

Ask any couple that has gone from summer fling to serious courtship to the altar. All the stars have to align for it to happen and for it to last.

From the beginning, this pairing of Boston and the Olympics was a star-crossed match. The bid was always a long shot in a place that – without an ounce of irony – really does consider itself to be the Hub of the Universe.

Boston and Massachusetts absolutely could have hosted the Games. But it would have required a sea change in the way the Olympics movement thinks and operates. They would have to pursue us like a love-drunk suitor – and drop their philandering ways – to win us over. We’re not like all the others.

But that’s not the way this works.

You have to sell yourself to win the Games. And, Bostonians, by nature, are far from solicitous.

We don’t beg anyone to come here because we don’t have to. When the world visits – to walk the Freedom Trail, attend university, row the Charles, get life-saving medical care or pay homage at the Fenway cathedral –they are most welcome.

And come they do, in large numbers. Many of them who come to study stay because they fall in love with the place or one of its people.

The Olympic movement proved itself to be a poor fit with an American city like this one. Yes, we can be difficult, but in an endearing way.

We’re home to a highly educated, engaged, and empowered electorate that is accustomed to being a part of the day-to-day decision-making. We’re not content to wait on the sidelines for power brokers to give us their marching orders. We scrutinize, fact-check and second-guess. We talk back. We have options.

Nothing illustrated the piss-poor chemistry of this ill-fated match more than the ridiculous “joinder agreement” that required city employees to not only muzzle themselves if they didn’t like the idea, but also to publicly join the bandwagon – or else. That egregious demand, more than any fuzzy math or phantom transportation bond dollars, prompted otherwise fence-riding Bostonians to swipe left on the Games.

Yes, Marty Walsh belatedly struck the offending clause from the document. But the sour taste had set in. It was so out of step with the ethos of this place. And it presaged more bad behavior to come.

Mayor Walsh’s instincts were mostly on target. The mayor is an optimist, but not a reckless one. This marriage, in theory, could have yielded a considerable dowry, both in treasure for the city coffers and in legacy for his tenure.

An early skeptic on the whole idea before winning election, Walsh was presented with a tough choice for a young mayor: Reject the concept out of hand and set a defeatist tone. Or give it a shot and see how it played out. Walsh elected to play the cautious matchmaker. His instincts proved right again this week when he surmised that the inevitable break-up was imminent. He dumped them before they could dump us, the classic end to a cratering courtship.

Some will say we shouldn’t have bothered in the first place. But, as in love, if you never put yourself out there, you’ll never find that true match.

There are other ways for this city to advance— and we’ve figured that out together now for almost 400 years. Most of the time, our fickle ways have worked to our advantage. They have fueled a succession of progressive social reforms that has led the way for other American states and cities.

The city is booming. The cranes are everywhere. We have a good thing going.

One thing we know for sure from this experience: The Olympics is not a good match for Boston. But there are plenty of fish in the sea.


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