Webb Nichols | The Truth about the Olympics
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The Truth about the Olympics

The Truth about the Olympics

The Olympics use cities. Sometimes the Olympics abuse cities. The Olympics are a brutal game of power broking, smoke and mirrors and the exploitation of resources, volunteers and history in the name of a very powerful and beautiful idea. That fact must be understood and accepted amid all the promises
made to all the competing cities, their citizens and public officials. And the City of Boston is no exception.

The Olympics have become a huge enterprise involving billions of dollars and considerable risk. While the further opening up of Boston to the rest of the world would be an opportunity and gift to show New England and Boston to the rest of the world, one must never loose sight of the reality of a city when the last visitor has left.

What is truly going to be left behind for those that remain?  What is going to be part of the city’s positive legacy to be shared and used by all in the future. A host city is basically a pawn in the hands of a few. The Olympic bid and the hosting effort, by virtue of its organization and planning challenge,  must be run by as tightly a structured organization as possible with clear top down decision making and distribution of responsibility and authority.

There can be no openings in the bottom of the boat to cause the effort to sink nor can there be spillage over the gunnels in waste, corruption or civic debt. Hosting the Olympics sometimes needs to be a very un-democratic process. And for that reason the leadership of an Olympic Bid effort must be of the highest integrity, responsiveness and transparency.  For they carry the trust and confidence of a multitude of citizens  who may never witness first hand an Olympic event but who may feel  the after effects of the Olympics for decades.

It is clear from history that the Olympic Organizing Committee must have a contract with city government and involved institutions that any and all of the red ink, if it occurs, is covered by the committee, its funding and its resources. The taxpayer must not be left holding the bag for a party few will participate in regardless of the promises of future benefits.

It is also clear that there must be a very precise division of authority and responsibility of tasks and projects to be taken on and funded by the Olympic Committee, interested institutions, city, state and federal government. Citizens are entitled to know who is doing what and to whom? Stakeholders are entitled to know what is required of them and what the expected outcomes will be.

There are many challenges that the Olympic Bid Committee faces:

  • Catering to the US Olympic Committee (USOC) in the domestic competition for host city selection which can be expensive and trying as one works at curry their favor.
  • Attempting to get in the minds of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to understand their thinking as to geographic, political and cultural trending in the final selection process.
  • Intelligence gathering in the analysis of domestic and international competition in order to look for weaknesses in other host city proposals and the opportunities to exploit one’s city’s assets.
  • Handling disgruntled individuals and organizations in the internal day to day bickering over assignments and rewards.
  • Managing the flow of information to the rest of the world so as not to rile up the local population,particularly those that will be directly effected during the 8 year preparation process which includes wide spread construction and sometimes failed related mitigating measures.
  • Giving important public figures “face time” so that they can get constituent credit for “being there”.
  • Fighting off “takeover” attempts by powerful people with more money and access.
  • Embracing “powerful” people and public figures with more access and money.
  • Keeping Boston’s interests at heart and keeping self-interest and one’s “15” minutes of fame at bay.
  • Keeping in mind that bidding, winning, building and implementing the Olympics is just a job, a job that must be done carefully, sensitively and respectfully.

The Boston Organizing Committee bidding for the 2008 Summer Olympics had a short but enthusiastic and committed run at the competition. The Committee and all those that worked so diligently were devoted to a low impact Olympic model using as much of the existing resources as possible, even employing ocean liners docked in Boston harbor. But the essential character, nature and promise of a city should never be compromised for a 10-16 day event.

Webb Nichols was the Founder of the Boston Organizing Committee for the 2008 Olympics

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